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The Training Journal For Weightlifting: What, Why & How

One of the most important things you can do as an athlete is keep a quality training journal. This is a simple tool for documenting your training, understanding how programming and lifestyle factors are affecting you, measuring progress, tracking PRs, and keeping you more engaged with the long term process. It’s an extremely low-cost / high-value practice.
Most obviously, you need to record your actual training—exercises, sets, reps, and weights. Along with this should be related notes to help guide programming—notes about misses, difficulty, energy, enthusiasm, focus, and how your body is feeling. Including the duration of each workout can also help guide future programming and serve as a measure of energy and focus.
It’s a good idea to also keep track of unusual lifestyle factors like poor sleep, additional stress or distractions, and similar to make sure you understand what’s influencing the objective elements when reviewing later—I promise you won’t remember in a week, let alone at the end of a training cycle.
This journal doesn’t have to be the record you keep permanently—it can just be the handy vehicle for transferring the information to your chosen permanent storage. For example, I keep all of my training records digitally—I use handwritten notes in the gym and enter them to my computer later. This lets me access them and find what I need far more easily.
In addition to these basics, I think there are 3 things every lifter should be considering and writing down after each workout:
  1. What did you do well and what allowed it?
  2. What did you struggle with and why?
  3. What are your goals for your next workout?
Here are the details for each:
What did you do well and what allowed it?
This is a chance to make sure you’re not overlooking the good by being overwhelmed by the bad as most of us naturally are. This is also a good way to be able to monitor your progress over time in relation to your goals and your typical struggles. Don’t just note what went well, but why it went well—what did you do to make it happen, so you can replicate it in the future?
What did you struggle with and why?
This is your chance to take a look at the problems you had, but this is not an emotional, despairing, beatdown of yourself for how terrible you are at lifting—this is an objective look at what happened, and an attempt to understand why. This is what allows you to take action to correct it instead of just wallowing in your misery and ensuring with your miserable, helpless attitude that you never improve. Always finish this part with concrete actions you intend to take next time to avoid or minimize the problems. I don’t care if you’re crying, but figure out what you’re going to do better next time.
What are your goals for your next workout?
Generate goals for your next training session. You can include those related to the noted struggles from this session for the next time you have that specific workout or exercise, but be sure you also include goals for the next session regardless of whether it’ll expose you again to any of these same problems. This can be simple objective goals like the weights you want to be able to make on each lift, and more subjective but equally important goals like how you think about an exercise, how you talk to or cue yourself, better ways to maintain focus, practicing visualization, etc.
In short, a well-kept training journal helps ensure you’re maximizing the effects of your training and your investment of time and energy—find the specific protocol that work best for you, and stick to it consistently.

Also see my morning journal routine here.

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