Glenn Pendlay: The Training Log
A longstanding pet peeve of mine is the fact that so many lifters are resistant to keeping a training log.
Why wouldn’t they?
I know we live in an instant gratification kind of world, and keeping a training journal won’t give you a new body today or even this week. But if you decide NOT to keep a journal you almost certainly begin the process of getting bigger or stronger with a huge handicap. Writing your workout down every training session isn’t hard, but it’s work. Not physical work, but mental work. But squatting is work. LOTS of work. And if you are not willing to write your workouts down some of that work is going to be wasted.
It’s about discipline.
Two things that go hand in hand are planning your training and writing that training down. One doesn’t work without the other. It is a sad fact, but most lifters have no plan. They go into workouts with ‘getting a good workout’ as their main goal.
Their goal should be to make progress.
If you made progress toward your physical goal, the workout was a good workout. If you didn’t, it wasn’t. Progress is an integral part of progressive resistance training. And it is hard to make progress if you don’t keep a training log. You have to know what you did last workout to know what you should do this workout.
There are a few things that are necessary to keeping a training log. One is the notebook you will write the information in. I know a lot of people these days are in love with using their smart phones for everything, and I’m sure tracking their workouts is one of them. You might call me old fashioned, but I don’t like it. You drip sweat on that phone one too many times and you just lost months or years of your log. Then there is the problem with compatibility and the speed with which platforms and systems change in the electronic universe.
For these and other reasons, I will continue to use a pen and paper.
Many different types of notebooks will work, but I like the cheap composition pads that can be purchased at most grocery and big-box stores. The last one I got had 100 pages in it which is about right. It is important to get the college ruled version because it has more lines per page, and enough lines to enable you to get an entire week on one page. This is important. Each entry should have the date first, including the year. If you don’t include the year, at some point in the distant future you will be looking at old training logs from 10 or 12 years ago and you won’t have any idea what year the training you are looking at is from.
For each day I write the date then inset the first exercise five or six spaces. I write the warmup sets first, then the work sets. I always try to write small enough that each exercise will fit on one line. If you are doing sets across you can either write out squat 200kg for 5 sets of 5 or you can write 200kg x5x5x5x5x5 but if you are doing ascending or descending weights you will have to use the second method.
If your training is programmed in a reasonable fashion you will usually have three to five exercises in a workout, and three to five workouts per week and all that will fit on one page. I only use the front of the page for the actual workout, and I know that if there is anything else I want to make a note of I can put it on the back of the page. I like to use one sort of notation for work sets and another for PR sets. I usually underline work sets, and put a circle around new PR’s. If it is a particularly noteworthy PR I have been known to also put a star by the set.
That’s my system. Use it or find one that works for you.
Once you have kept this log for a few weeks or a few months, you will find that future workouts are much easier to plan. You will begin thinking about the last set of your warmup progression before you do the first set, and planning the best jumps to take so that you are warmed up optimally and not tired out before your work sets.
You will have a record at your fingertips of what you did for warmups the last couple of workouts and how it worked out. This is the kind of information that can add pounds to your squat or inches to your arms. You will know what the plan is before you walk into the gym. And now you will be able to start stringing together the staircase of small steps that will take you from a 200 pound bench press to a 300 pound press, or from 13 inch arms to 15 inch arms.
Getting into the habit of keeping a training log will have such a huge positive effect on your training. It is a transformative experience.
I hear lots of people talk about why they can’t make progress. Lots of excuses. Too many.
I’ve never heard anyone come right out and say I can’t bench press 300 pounds because I am unwilling to keep a training log.
Keep a training log. Formulate a plan. Stick to it. Progress.
Glenn Pendlay is a top US Olympic weightlifting coach who has produced national champions at every level of the sport, from the Junior Olympics through Masters and Senior Nationals—over 100 national championships in all.
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