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Monitoring Progress In a Training Journal
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
Do you often wonder what might have caused that nagging back ache (or how you could prevent future recurrences) that kept you from completing your goal climb last year? Did you notice any significant differences when you changed your strength workouts to include multiple sets instead of just one? Have you been able to correlate improved hiking performance at altitude to the interval flat land-based training you have been doing in the city? Are you curious about the effects of different pre-climb or pre-race meals on your performance in the mountains or on competition day? By keeping a detailed training journal, you can more readily answer questions like these AND chart your steady fitness progress to figure out what will work best, of all the training techniques available to you. But what exactly would your training journal look like and how might it help?
What Is a Training Journal?
Training logs can be as simple as a piece of paper with your workouts written on it, or as complex as a notebook in which you record any and all relevant details including but not limited to how you feel, what you have done each workout, what you eat and when, and quantity and quality of your sleep. You can keep it to a bare minimum, recording strength sets, repetitions, rest intervals, and quantity and intensity of cardiovascular training, or you can get far more intricate with some of the following information that holds particular relevance for you and your training objectives:
- Goals for the specific workout, day, week, or month, and the extent to which you feel you have accomplished them;
- Physical and mental results of the workout, including resting and working (maximum or average) heart rate, waking basal metabolic temperature, focus and concentration, or how you felt before and after the event;
- Quality and quantity of both nutrition and sleep (what, when, how much, and how it made you feel);
- Future components you may want to change, including recovery time, workout intensities, foot or hand position on certain exercises, heights of a bench or step, weight to try, routes you want to include, calls to make to a nutritionist, masseuse, or chiropractor – these can often turn into your next short-term goals for the week;
- Specific accomplishments reached during the workout and how to use that information to motivate you for future workouts.
Journals or logs are as highly individual as the people keeping them, and can take whatever format and include whatever details you feel will be most useful to you. Some clients of mine actually keep a binder of individual workout sheets I have designed for them in the past, in reverse chronological order, so it is easy to see where they started and how much progress they are making toward their goals.
Training Journals for the Outdoor Enthusiast
For anyone who likes to chart progress and see incremental results, a training journal is definitely a valuable item. For trekkers, scramblers, skiers, trip leaders, hikers and climbers, this may very well take on a more practical function if you choose to extend the results to your outings, including:
- Gear Performance: what you wished you had included in your pack, what was a waste of valuable space or weight, preferential use of trekking poles, etc.
- Conditions: weather, footing on a favorite hike, avalanche debris encountered, snow or talus (see www.bodyresults.com/E2Bushwhack.asp for a humorous look at varied bushwhack terrain, and glissade.doc for a look at “glissade favorites” in the Cascades)
- Physical Performance: how your body did, weight you carried, mileage and elevation covered in what time, at what mileage you experienced any difficulties, including blisters, knee pain, shoulder aches, back stiffness or the like
- Nutrition: timing and quantity of snacks, meals, and hydration, and whether they were sufficient for your outing; any changes you might make next time
- Other: relevant information including enjoyment factors such as quality of route, snow, number of people met on outing, hiking partners, etc.
As a climb leader for the Seattle Mountaineers, my outdoor trip log typically includes notes about other individuals’ well-being and performance in addition to my own, notes which reflect not only my personal speed, but that of the rest of the participants on the climb, time of departure from the trailhead, anticipated and actual rest stops for the group, estimated times to given mileage posts and camp, turn around times, and gear used by the group as a whole, particularly if I will be writing up a trip report for others who may be interested in duplicating our trip in weeks to come.
How Do Journals Work?
By keeping a detailed log of your workouts, competitions, or mountaineering outings, you will be better able to track your progress, see improvement, and determine what works and what does not FOR YOU. Each of us is different, and performance inside the gym and outdoors will depend on such a wide variety of factors that sometimes it is difficult to figure out what has contributed to your success or failure on a specific day unless you have a detailed written account of some of the variables. Was equipment failure, inadequate nutrition, lack of proper rest before the outing, overdoing it in a strength or intervals workout a few days earlier, or lack of mental focus ultimately to blame for your sub-par outing? Did you start on any new medication or supplement that may have factored into your performance? What could you do differently next time? Or was it simply the crummy weather, lack of sleep the night before due to anxiety and excitement, or people on the trip? Answers to questions like these can help you improve in the near future.
What Might Your Journal Entries Look Like?
Yours will look quite different from anyone else’s and the key is to make it work for you. Some people with scientific minds might find it fast and easy to keep a computerized spreadsheet in something like Excel. Others might prefer the old-fashioned notebook more to their liking. I tend to use a 200 page 3.5x5.5” stocky 5-Star Mead notebook for easy transport but also have one Excel spreadsheet that records all my climbing activities (a “climbing resume” if you will) and another that has my PR’s (personal records) for all my relevant strength exercises (including pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, step ups and the like). A few sample pages from a few recent days of activity included the following details:
- Time workout started and stopped, as well as number of sessions in a given day (if workout was in several shorter parts)
- Time spent walking dog, carrying baby, route or terrain covered; time spent on yard or house work or other physical activity unrelated to traditional workouts
- Exercise tapes completed (or portions thereof) including average and maximum heart rate attained, time in target heart rate, and height of step used for step aerobics
- Energy levels before, during and after workout (pretty subjective – entries might include “felt awesome” or “dragging a bit” or “watching the minutes stack up”)
- Quality and amount of time spent sleeping or napping (a crucial ingredient for new parents and women in their last trimester of pregnancy!)
- Emotions preceding and following workout, as well as weather (humidity, temperature) and time of day (you may find you’re stronger in the middle of the afternoon but prefer doing aerobic exercise early in the morning, or vice versa)
- Weights used for strength exercises, sets, repetitions, and total time spent lifting or stretching
How to Use a Journal to Track Progress
Determine those quantities that are most important to you to follow and manipulate, and develop a systematic way to chart those in your journal. For example, if you know that you need to work on strengthening your knees and you have chosen variations on the step up (www.bodyresults.com/E2Hamstrings.asp) and also the reverse step up (www.bodyresults.com/E2kneetest.asp) as two climbing-specific exercises you want to include in your program, you may want to make some of the following specific notations as you progress through your training:
- step height used
- duration of set (tempo or time it takes to complete a single repetition)
- number of sets, repetitions, and weight used, and whether backpack, dumbbells, or barbell, plus position of barbell (held in front or behind neck)
- leg started (usually recommended to start with weaker limb first)
- rest between sets
- how your knees, hips, calves and feet (as well as overall balance) felt
- how your progress changes on hikes, climbs, or cardio training that you’re specifically trying to enhance with the chosen exercises
Without tracking some of the finer details above, you will not have a clear idea of what is clearly working in your program, when to increase step height, reps or weight, and when to go to a completely different exercise. Think of your training as a grand scientific experiment, and your body as the ultimate laboratory. Nobody can possibly know your body as well as you do. Training journals are a valuable tool to tracking and improving your performance. Give it a try!