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How can keeping a training log improve your progress?

These Classic Exercises Books....

Not long before lockdown we handed out a batch of classic school exercise books to our lifters, the same type that we certainly used for math homework at school... The purpose of this was to encourage everyone to keep track of each of their training sessions personally. This was to make a change from the method we previously used,where numbers are only tracked by the Coach and by some lifters who are already keeping a log book.

We are by no means taking credit for the idea, it is a well used and highly recommended part of training, but we do want to draw your attention to why you too should keep a training log.

So why should you keep a log?

Your training log creates a bank of information over time which is valuable to both yourself and your coach. In no particular order these are some of the benefits of keeping a log:

  • Tracking your general progress with training over time. Your log helps you to remember the weights you made in each session, so that you can determine what you will need to hit next time. This could also help predict weight that you will be lifting further down the line. It will help you to calculate the weights you need to lift when your program is mapped out in percentages.

  • No need to try to remember what weights you use. You will be able to just check in your journal what weight you used before, for all lifts, including accessories. So no more wondering 'what weight did I use last session??'.

  • Helps to improve motivation. Being able to visually track your improvement and meeting of goals and aims will help to increaase your motivation.

  • Stop you from losing count of your sets during a session! (Keep a tally in your notes)

  • Assessing expectations. Being able to look back over the weights you have lifted recently helps you to keep accurate tabs on what your current expectations should be. For example, you may not have lifted near your PB weight for quite some time, and being able to track this should help you not rush into attempting new PBs.

  • Improve your efficiency. A training log could help you to notice where you might be wasting time and could improve your efficiency when you train.

  • Track recovery time. Can be used to assess how much recovery time you require, which can help with future programming. Your log can help you keep track of your rest days to make sure that you are not overtraining. As logging your training helps you to pay more attention to how your lifts feel you can actually use this to notice that maybe you or your body aren't up for hitting some of the weights on your program that day - never feel that just because the number is on the page or in your program, that you have to attempt it no matter what.

  • Improve your accountability and mindfulness. Gives you a better idea of what exactly affects your training and motivation, giving you a stronger sense of your accountability and can help develop mindfulness. It also encourages you to do some of the things you might skip, for example, stretching, as you feel responsible for marking this down in your log.

What do you need?

The Non-Essentials

The stationary that you need for keeping a training log really depends on the detail you want to record and the amount of time and effort that you feel is right for you to put into the log. If you don't want to spend much time deciding how to format your notes, there are loads of ready to go training log notebooks available and plenty of free apps, where you can record set information. If you are more into record keeping and like detail then any blank notebook will do just fine. You will also want to make sure you always carry pens in your gym bag, maybe even multiple colours so you can easily identify between different types of information. Optionally, if you get super obsessed, you might even want highlighters, sticky notes or page markers...

What should you record?

We’re going to split this into two categories: basic information & information obsessive. Most importantly and at the very least you should be recording your workout plan (exercises, reps, sets and weights), the rest is mostly determined by how much you or your coach believe that this information will actually help you.

Basic information:

These are the points that we deem necessary or highly recommended...

  • Time, Date, Location.

  • An aim for your training session.

  • Bodyweight.

  • Workout plan: exercise name, sets & reps, percentage/weight as per your program.

  • The weights you lifted, marking any PBs and also any misses.

  • Extras such as abs, stretching, warmups.

  • The status of any injuries/niggles/pains.

  • Basic, relevant notes on your mood, thoughts, health, feelings, motivation, stress, energy, confidence, sleep quality, nutrition.

Information Obsessive:

For when this is just 1 month of training...

These are things that are good to record if you have an interest in all things that may affect your workout. These are also some of the things that your coach will probably be trying to gauge during your training. If you find this kind of record keeping overwhelming then these are by no means a necessity. These are pretty much elaborations on the basic notes mentioned above and can be used to give you a huge insight in to your behaviours.

  • How did the lift feel, anything you specifically noticed.

  • What went well or did you enjoy in the session.

  • Anything that perhaps didn't go well, and use this to frame your aims for your next session.

  • How is your own mindset during the session - are you being negative or positive with yourself?

  • Who you are training with, and how did that affect your training?

  • Anything you found distracting.

  • Is anything different to normal (training time, diet, hydration, training buddies).

  • Your food that day/time you ate around training.

  • Any stressors that are going on at the time.

  • For your coach's benefit... Any cues that worked well for you or anything else your coach did or said that helped/didn't help.

  • Hell, even if a song came on that worked particularly well to get you motivated.

If this amount of data keeping is not your thing or you find it overwhelming to keep up with always logging your training information, do not fear, you do not need to be as extensive as the list above. Even if you are only noting your sets & reps, weights and misses you will receive benefits from logging your training - the extent to which you journal is completely up to you. You can always take a step back if it gets a little overwhelming, of course the idea is not to let the time spent journalling take over the time spent training!


Keep the format of your training log simple so that it is easy to compare each session as you look back through the weeks, and also so it's simple to recreate in your notebook each time. Here are a couple of examples, one basic and one more detailed.

Basic Training Log Example

In this more basic example the time, location and date are logged across the top of the page with the workout plan and weights hit below. The only extra note relates to a shoulder injury. Obviously this is a great way to track what you have achieved in a session, in terms of weight lifted, and it will help you in planning your next session. However it is clear that not all of the benefits that you could get from keeping a training log will be achieved with this basic form.

More Complicated Training Log Example

In the more complicated example shown in the photo, you can see a lot more information was recorded for the same session. Although there is a lot more info, the layout is still simple: time, location, date and bodyweight across the top, followed by a session aim, the workout plan and weights achieved, and a more detailed, but concise notes section. This session log includes a session aim as well as a section for three things that went well, sections like this really help to increase motivation whilst training, and can help you to find the things that you might need to focus on.

Other Tips

  • Write your session aim and workout plan out before you go to training, maybe the evening before or whilst you eat your lunch for example.

  • Keep a list of goals and personal bests, with dates (!), at the front or back of your book.

  • Ask your coach what information they think would be beneficial for you specifically to record in your log.

  • You need to be able to compare sessions easily so it helps when the exercises are always given the same/correct name

  • Track your competitions too. What was your routine for the day? How did the competition go? What went well or not so well? This is so you can see what affects your results. Use this as a way of developing your routine for successful competitions.

The benefits of keeping a log are all incredibly useful to both you and your coach. Some people like to record more information than others, and that is fine! Most importantly you should be logging your training in some way. Although there are an infinite number of ways that you could log your training, the method you choose should be what suits your needs best on the day.

Let us know on social media or via email to any benefits that you have found from keeping a training log or anything that you have found particularly useful to track!

- Team Canterbury Strength

1 Comment

David Mannion
David Mannion
May 28, 2020

Very good blog and I agree its extremely important to write down what you did and when and to check over time if you are improving. I try to have a specific goal and a set time to achieve that goal e.g. 4 sets of 4 front squats at 105 kg. Each week I try a bit more than the previous week. So week 5 4 sets of 3 at 90 kg week 6 4 sets of 3 at 95 kg week 7 4 sets of 4 at 95 kg and so on. Its a great Motivator and Planner! Hope you Open soon.

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