If you've decided to take on any health/fitness related goals this year than you've likely considered how you will go about tracking your progress. There are plenty of options out there for you to try. There are fitness trackers in the form of journals, watches, necklaces, apps etc. I personally prefer the old school pen and paper in the form of a journal. I enjoy personalizing my progress and being able to retrace my journey. I've had a few clients ask me about how I track my training, which is what prompted me to write this blog post.
Let's begin with something to hopefully convince those of you that are on the fence about tracking your activity.
Reasons You Should Be Tracking
1. When shit hits the fan (which it will) you'll have something to look back on.
C'mon, we've all been there. You miss a workout here, you miss a workout there and all of the sudden you feel like you've completely derailed your progress. You become discouraged. You're disappointed in your perceived lack of commitment so decide to scrap the whole thing. If only you'd tracked your workouts you would've taken solace in (and felt proud of) all of the workouts that you DID get in.
2. It will help you reach your goals.
If you're not tracking your workouts than you're going to struggle to see progress. If you're working to improve your max lift, learn a new skill or blow your previous 5K time out of the water than you're going to need to be tracking your progress. How else are you going to know if your effort is taking you in the right direction?
3. It will help you steer and alter your training.
Let's pretend for a moment that your goal is to increase your max lift, but after reviewing the past few weeks of training you notice that you have plateaued and aren't getting stronger. You can use your journal to assess your training and nutrition. Your journal will reveal things like lack of sleep, lack of scheduled rest and lack of food as potential culprits hampering your progress. Now you can take steps to correct these problems.
I've had my fair share of trial and error when it comes to tracking my workouts and progress. When I first started weight training I carried an ENORMOUS binder around with me. A sure sign of a girl on a mission.
Here is a look at some of the fitness journals that I have used and still use.
Option 1: 'Five Star Fitness'
This tracker could also be called 'the el cheapo' since I purchased it at the dollar store. It is one of Five Star's ruled notebooks (5 1/2" x 3 1/2"). This is an original among lifters and you're likely to see a few kicking around the gym.
Price: $ (quite literally dollars at Dollarama)
Pros: It's size makes it very portable. The cost makes it easy to replace and maintain. It's easy to get started. Buy one after work today and hop to it.
Cons: Lacks organization. You'll have to flip through lots of pages to compare your lifts. Since there isn't timeline or calendar I found it didn't help me stay on track.
In the end this book left too much to chance for me. It wasn't obvious enough that I had been skipping workouts or forgetting to track my training, which I found frustrating.
Tips for using this method:
- You are your own motivation. Don't shy away from doodling and writing in quotes that inspire you. It can be fun to go through your workout book and see your journey.
- Rate your perceived exertion (intensity). You can rate the workout from 1 to 10 or you can use my personal favorite: the smiley face system. This would look something like :( (not good), -_- (alright), :) (good) and :D (awesome).
- Write down a few tips that way next time you remember where you were at. I'll add things like "failed at rep 8", "increase weight" or "improve form" to help me the following training session.
Option 2: 'The Fitbook'
The Fitbook is a nifty little food and workout tracker that takes goal setting very seriously. You'll set goals for 3 months time (the book covers the span of 3 months) and then set monthly and weekly goals. This book encourages you to review the good and the bad for each week.
Price: $$$ ($24 at Chapter's)
Pros: This book is crazy organized. Your inner nerd will be grinning. It's inspirational with little quotes scattered throughout the pages. It leaves no stone unturned. You'll track your strength training, cardio, classes, flexibility, food, nutrients, water and sleep. The nutrient tracker would be good for a newbie. Lots of explanation on how to properly use the Fitbook is found at the start of the book.
Cons: There aren't many cons here, except for my personal preferences. I don't like the nutrient tracker since it's useless for someone who knows nutrition. I also don't like that it forces me to track my workouts according to reps/sets/weight. I don't like that it encourages you to track calories burned in the cardio section.
I recently tried this notebook again (used empty pages) and found that it no longer suited me. So, I moved onto option #3!
Tips for using this method:
- Do your research BEFORE starting to write in this book. I recommend having a training plan before you use start otherwise you'll be frustrated if you're filling its pages with 'random' workouts (aka. went to the gym and dilly dallied).
- You'll need to set time aside each day for reviewing your nutrient intake and for the day.
- Be honest with the intensity of your workouts and the quality of your foods. They also make use of the smiley system!
Option 3: Agenda-Turned-Fitness-Tracker
Out of my desire to have a monthly view of my training I opted to purchase an agenda for tracking. I've learned good habits from my previous journals and enjoy that this gives me a little more independence with my journal.
Price: $$ (Varies on the agenda, mine was $12 at Staples)
Pros: The monthly view! I'm so happy to have that. I feel like that helps me stay on track. I like that it's bigger than option #1 (in this case I like that it is big enough for everything that I want to track). A missed workout is glaringly obvious, which helps motivate you to workout, but it also helps remind you of all the great workouts that you did get in (win/win). May not be organized enough for someone new to tracking or who needs extra motivation.
Cons: It's twice the size of the 'Five Star Fitness' tracker (some might find it too big. It would require a fair amount of flipping through pages again for comparison, but at least now there are dates and you can look a workout up by when it occurred in the monthly view. I've added sticky notes to help organize things into months. You could easily add more tabs to divide the agenda into weeks.
Tips for using this method:
- Make it clear what you would like to track. I divide a day into 'Meals' and 'Workout'. I have room at the bottom for any mobility/stretching work that I do and any thoughts that I might have.
- Using different colours to make things jump off the page would be a good idea, but so far my boxes and circles around words has been serving me well.
- Continue to use a rating system (1-10 or smiley faces) for tracking the intensity of your workout and give yourself 'tips' as recommended for option #1.
If You REALLY Want To Be Successful
Track it all.
- Shitty workout? Write it down.
- Take note of what made it a miserable workout. Were you lacking motivation? Were you tired? Hungry? Was the gym too busy? If these become recurring issues than you can take actions to correct them and improve your workouts.
- Awesome workout? New PR? New 1-mile pace? Write it down.
- That's what we're here to celebrate! Tracking your progress includes congratulating yourself for your efforts.
- Ate a slice of cake? Missed a meal? Ate the entire fridge in one sitting?? WRITE IT DOWN.
- Don't lie to yourself. Don't hide it from yourself (we're fascinating creatures). The only way to improve your habits is to acknowledge what is going on.
You will learn so much about yourself and your body from tracking your nutrition, training, sleep and mood. You'll learn what 8 hours of sleep does for you compared to 6 hours. You'll learn which foods lead to improved performance and which lead you to feeling tired. You might learn that that slice of cake leads to a migraine the next day or perhaps a high fat/protein breakfast works wonders for you. That's the whole point! Learn how to tailor your training and nutrition to you and your body.
It can be incredibly rewarding to learn all of this about yourself. The best feeling for me is when a client says "It's weird, but since I started doing this I no longer get headaches" or "I'm sleeping so much better and don't have cravings". That's the beauty of the fitness journal!
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Do you have any fitness journals or tracking systems that you like using?
Thank you for reading! Comments and feedback are always appreciated.