Some of you know that I’m a proponent of journaling daily. I personally have planners and journals overflowing in my home: partially because I’m a fan of stationery… but also because I love to write things down. All. The. Time. Today, I’m going to talk about the journal I use the most: my fitness and wellness journal.
I started fitness journaling after a really hard-hitting discussion/argument with my husband. I was using Instagram as my workout log for a while, and he posed a very difficult question: am I doing these workouts and posts for others, or am I doing them for me, so that I can achieve my own goals? I huffed and puffed (Hufflepuffed?!?! Sorry, I had to, I’m a HP nerd) and insisted that I used Instagram as a way to keep myself accountable to my goals. But it forced me to face a really troubling concept: whether IG was influencing or distracting me with ulterior motives… a thought which I honestly did not want to consider at all.
When I set out to start my fitness IG in the first place, I set two clear rules to myself:
- Post details about my workout so it is about the workout itself, and not about how I looked.
- Use this question as a barometer for whether to post something: “Would I do this behavior if I was truly alone in the gym or my basement?” If yes, then post. If not, then do not post.
I started posting and realizing that friends wanted to learn from what I was doing. I kept getting great questions and insights, and I wanted to continue talking about them. After all, there is nothing more fulfilling than doing something that helps you move toward your goals and simultaneously helps others! But Instagram is just like any other social media: that very goal of helping people by teaching them something new required the very thing I wanted to avoid: generating posts that encouraged likes in order to extend my reach to increase the number of people I helped.
So, I decided to decrease the frequency of my posts. I still do post occasionally, but I changed how I post. No more fancy music. Some editing was still in there, but minimal. Less frequent posting also means that, since IG is not a place I can compare my progress anymore (and let’s be honest, it’s not conducive to comparing notes between days anyway) I need another method to do so. Enter: fitness journaling.
Before I get into it, I want to emphasize this very important point: the best format/stuff/method to journal is whatever you will consistently record. It does you no favors to try to document everything at once, but only twice a year. The same applies to your method of journaling. Some people love having a structured format (like FitBook or GymGypsy) to help prompt them what to write. If that’s you, by all means, keep doing it! For me, I’m more of a bullet journaling gal (or BUJO, for short) because I just need to write it the f*ck down, and most templates will never meet my needs. To each their own! The point is, this fitness journal is for you and you alone.
As an aside: Even if you track your fitness in an app like Wodify or BTWB or SugarWOD (the list of apps goes on for days) you may still want to treat it like a workout journal, because otherwise you miss out on a lot of really critical and helpful information. You can definitely still use these prompts even if you don’t keep an actual journal!
With that in mind, if you’re at a loss for what to track: here are the 6 things I like to record:
Sets & reps of exercises
This is kind of a no-brainer, and you’re probably looking at me like, “No f*cking DUH.” But if you don’t currently log this, I would highly recommend you start. It allows you to see if you’re increasing in load over time, demonstrates if you’re improving, and as an added bonus, it acts as your “whiteboard” while you’re working out, providing you a key to reference if you’re not sure what exercise comes next. If that last reason is not a good enough reason, I don’t know what will be!
(Did you change weight between sets? Or did you use that weight the whole time?)
This one is another “duh” one for some, but not so obvious for others. Look, I don’t care how embarrassed (or proud) you are of the weight you used. If you don’t log the weight or equipment you used, you will never have a metric against which to measure your progress. (And besides, the fitness journal is just for you anyway! No one else!) Don’t just log weight, but log equipment, too. For example, 50LB in dumbbell form (2x25lb) will be much harder to move than 50lb in barbell form, because your shoulder and core stability is taxed significantly more with dumbbells than with a barbell!
It also allows you to monitor your workout intensity over time. 5×1 of any exercise at 100lb will feel very different from 5×5 at 25lb, and if you don’t log, you will never know if you’re going “heavy” for a day, and therefore will need a spotter or extra attention on your form, or if you’re going “light” and will be fine working on your own.
(What was your time on the WOD? Did you take your time between sets and rest more than you needed to? Did you keep intensity high? Did you rush through movements?)
Yes, a big part of this is logging your time if you have a workout “for time.” But I’d urge you to go a step further. Even if you always go to the gym for 1 hour every day, that 1 hour is pretty much never going to be 100% work at all times. Even a CrossFit class is not 1 hour of work. Maybe a half-hour class is, if you’re doing a HIIT circuit, but more often than not, you’re resting a hell of a lot more than you think you are. It’s important to log how much “active” time you had.
Duration of training (and subsequently your volume) also directly influences your training intensity. And no, constantly moving for a full hour does not necessarily mean you had a more intense workout than someone who constantly moved for 20 minutes. In fact, there is often an inverse relationship between duration and intensity… past a certain point. The goal is to hit an optimal level of intensity and duration. Here’s a great article by Breaking Muscle about the relationship between the two.
(Did you have good form? Or was it shaky?)
As you move up in volume or weight (or both) you might notice that form may suffer as a result. Or maybe you’re still a novice at a movement (A.K.A. me always when I try to do a snatch) and you need to tweak your form a little bit every time that movement appears in your workout for the day. If you notice your form gets shaky at a certain weight or rep scheme, this can help you prepare appropriately – either by scaling future workouts so that you don’t hurt yourself, or having a spotter or coach to help prompt you into better form.
You can even use this as a starting point for conversations about drills or accessory work that can help you build the muscles needed to improve your form (a special thing you can put into “lessons learned”… we’ll get into that in a little bit)
How you felt
(Did the weight feel heavier than you’re used to? Did it feel like you could’ve gone heavier? Are you sore?)
This one seems like a redundant repeat of “movement quality” but it’s actually totally different. How you feel is completely separate from your form (or at least it should be – you should try to have great form no matter how you feel).
That said, you might have felt like a bag of a**holes that day because you went really hard the day before. Knowing that, you are armed with knowledge as you look back on your days. Yes, maybe your form suffered in the last round of deadlifts, but also, you were a tired sack of potatoes, so maybe you’re actually capable of more than what you did that day.
(Did you learn something about your body? Are you asymmetrical in any movements? Can you work on mobility or drills to balance that “weak” side out?)
Again, this might seem like a redundant entry to “how you feel” but, this is very different, and I would argue the most important thing to document, other than exercises, weights, and rep schemes. “How you felt” is a data point that says, “These are the conditions I operated in.” But “lessons learned,” is… well, to paraphrase a quote I once heard from a full-bird colonel:
Numbers and metrics are just data points. Knowledge and comprehension happen when you connect those data points into a cohesive picture.
“Lessons learned” is how you internalize your performance that day. Yes, exercising is mainly a stress-relieving activity with health benefits. But it is also an incredible opportunity to learn about yourself a little more than before. Fitness can be an extremely introspective experience and can really bring mindfulness in ways that I cannot verbally explain. You develop a sense of awareness of your body, of your thoughts, of your pain, of your endorphins, in a way that you can only feel to understand.
Since this journal is for you and only you, this is where you can document things like,
“5×2 heavy snatch @ 85lb — form was wobbly: I psyched myself out about having a bar over my head; coach says do snatch balances”
…which is a LOT more insightful than:
“5×2 heavy snatch @ 85lb”
This gives us insight to how we were feeling, what the form looked like, and movements we can practice to improve upon our weaknesses.
Those are my 6 recommendations for fitness journaling prompts! However, you might notice that my journal also includes a wellness section. If you’d like to do something similar, here are 3 bonus items that I track (or try to track, at least):
(What did you eat? Did you track macronutrients? What did you drink? How did it make you feel?)
This one can be an overwhelming one to track, which is why I only put my food choices. However, I am also very familiar with appropriate portion sizes, and follow a template that I’ve been using for a while, so I no longer track portion sizes or macronutrients. If you are not as familiar, it can be useful to include a chart or template in the back of your journal to reference when you’re trying to determine food quantities. And then use a binary system instead:
- “Healthy” food choices for meals: 1, 2, 3, 4 (check off accordingly)
- Appropriate portions: 1, 2, 3, 4 (check off accordingly)
- Enough water: Y/N
It can also help to log caffeine and alcohol consumption here, as it can greatly impact your sleep and recovery. But again, only log what you can reliably remember to log.
(What kind? Did you see a positive/negative impact?)
In the age of endless supplement choices on the Internet, it can be hard to know whether a supplement actually works. If you track whenever you take them, you can assess how you feel over time. For example, I started taking a “sleep supplement” (which I will not name) and I noticed that I actually slept less deeply than on days when I did not take it! I would not have made this connection if I didn’t log the next item… *drumroll*
Sleep & recovery quality
(How do you feel after waking up? Are you groggy the whole day? Did you feel well-rested? Do you have any pain?)
I know there are really cool gadgets out there that help track your recovery, but if you’re like me and want to save money (limit how many wearables are on your wrist) then you can still track how your sleep was. Put how many hours you slept (or, if that’s mostly consistent, just indicate how your sleep quality was). Yes, wearables track that stuff, but apps like the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock are another great option if you don’t have one. I’m trying to get better at logging these, but even just “I woke up a couple times” can be helpful to determine if you need to drink coffee less or avoid certain supplements.
That’s all for today! Let me know how these journaling prompts work for you, and if I missed any that you use in your training logs. Good luck, and get after it!