If you’re reading this, you should be logging your workouts.  Unless you have a freakshow memory, you just aren’t going to remember all the important stuff – and if you do this long enough, all the days/weeks/months/years tend to blend into each other and before you know it, you’re going to the gym to hit shoulders only to pull into the parking lot saying “wait…I did shoulders yesterday” – it happens, trust me!

Bodybuilding is all about progressive overload.  Consistently asking your body to do more than it has done before and more than it wants to.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts or on social media, you also know I’m not a “lift heavy!!!!” kind of guy.  Tension is what matters, and so when logging we need to track more than just poundages if we’re going to track it successfully.  There are a lot of variables to consider and unless you track and monitor those also, you can’t be sure you’re actually progressing.

So let’s look at this – the anatomy of my logbook from a recent chest workout.

Note that each exercise is numbered – if I’m doing a superset, I’ll note the moves as 1A and 1B, for example.  The “3×15” is sets x reps (obviously), and below that the weights are listed for each set.  This is the basic framework and gives me the ability to improvise significantly if so desired – but I try to limit that and stick to script as much as possible.

As to the numbered notes:

  1. I go to multiple gyms, so I mark where the workout was completed to avoid confusion in future sessions (yeah, it happens).
  2. Space over here (and below the poundages as well) is reserved for a second, third, and fourth time through a workout – aiming to progress each time by increasing the max weight on a set, doing more working sets towards the upper end of the weight range (ex:  if you’re leg press goes from 300 to 400 to 500 to 600 over 4 sets, that 300 wasn’t nearly as challenging as you thought it was), or adding volume by hitting additional reps or adding intensifiers (more on that later).
  3. The target for each set was 5 reps, so above each poundage I noted the actual reps hit (this was a particularly good day so there’s a big range here – I’ll be tightening that up next time and trying to hit that 5th rep at 245 also).
  4. Tempo notes – I use a lot of tempo work (though less on a chest workout because it does tend to irritate my right shoulder a bit), here I’m specifying how many seconds I’m holding the squeeze and negative phases of each rep for.  Also note that the reps for this move are a range, another reason to track reps above the poundages – I was able to hit the top end of my rep range for each set, so I’ll be more aggressive on that front next time.
  5. Often in the gym you’ll have multiple options for a certain exercise, and not all machines are created equal.  This Gold’s location has an Atlantis and a Life Fitness pec fly right next to each other but the poundages are nowhere near equivalent – important to track which exact machine you’re using if options exist (note that I did this on #3 as well – I went into the gym with just “machine press” intentionally left vague so I could to whichever one was unoccupied when I was ready for it).
  6. On the cable fly I added a drop set, and noted it with an arrow indicating the weight that I dropped to, and marked the reps hit at each weight above that.  This was an improv moment because I could tell at the increased weight I was going to fall short of my rep target to I wanted to do something to squeeze a little extra out of those pecs.  Next time through I’ll be trying to get closer to the target but will keep that drop set in.

Generally speaking, I do like to follow a series of workouts for 3-5 weeks, depending on how effective they feel and how quickly I’m progressing through it.  A new workout is basically an entirely new set of variables – maybe I hit 245 on incline for 4 reps, but if I move that to 3rd (instead of first) and target 10 reps instead of 5, it’s a whole new game.  My general strategy as I approach workouts over the course of a month:

  • Pass #1:  establish a baseline.  Be detailed in your logging, make a lot of notes.
  • Pass #2:  aim for new highs and eliminate some of the lower weights that probably shouldn’t have counted as working sets the first time through.
  • Pass #3:  same goal as #2 – while the improvement from 1 to 2 will likely be significant, the improvement from 2 to 3 will be much smaller.
  • Pass #4:  handicap yourself.  Make things harder while trying to still hit the same marks from pass #3.  Work in isometrics during rest breaks to keep the muscle from fully recovering, making it less ready to go for the next set – if you can still match the previous target, boom – you’re still progressing.

As you can see just by reading my thoughts reflecting on this particular workout from last week, there’s a lot of insight to be gained from a workout log if you A) take the time to record it, and B) take the time to study it.  With all the work you put into crushing your training sessions, hitting your cardio, and all the time invested in meal plan and following a diet – take a few extra minutes to strategize for your next workout before you get there.  Look at your previous performance, and establish some targets that you want to hit.  Go in with the right mindset, and get it done.