Critical Gear: The Training Log Pt. 2

In part 1, I focused on how to set up a basic log. Here, I hope to pass on a few useful tricks I found that transformed my log from a passive tool to an active one that helps me focus in the gym, tighten my technique, and prevent injury.


How many times have you hit the gym ready to go when an upcoming errand, unfinished argument, or unexpected change of schedule breaks into your thoughts like a Rick Roll and won’t let go, distracting you from training?

Trust me, you’re not the only one. In his book “The Organized Mind,” Daniel Levitin explains how this ‘urge to distraction’ exists in virtually everyone. The brain is trying to help you remember important tasks that you can’t finish right away by nagging you until you get them done!

When these thoughts creep into your gym time, find a spot in your log that you will remember but won’t look at during your workout. Since I use a paper log, I use a corner, just outside of the margin. If you’re using a workout-logging app, you can use the notebook/memo pad on your phone, or a helpful tasker-app like Trello or Astrid. Write out your errand list, the last-minute tasker, whatever it is, then consciously ‘close the book’ on the thought and get on with your training. It will be there waiting for you when you’re done.

For the last 2 years, I’ve done my training after a day at work, and I can’t tell you how many nearly-derailed training sessions I salvaged just by writing these thoughts down before they distracted me into oblivion.


You’re on your final work set of bench press for the day and suddenly realize something is off. “My eyes are closed!” You correct it mid-set, and with just that little fix, the reps feel lighter, more consistent, more ‘in the groove.’ Awesome! You go home feeling great. Unfortunately, the the next time you go to bench… you’ve forgotten the cue.

You are actively observing yourself as you train, and finding the self-cues that work for you is one of the most powerful things you can learn from your practice. Even if you have a coach, it’s critical that you pay attention to your body when you lift so you can provide your coach feedback… which means you have to remember what you did! This is what I call BYOC (Be Your Own Coach).

When you have a golden ‘aha’ moment, write down the problem or issue and the cue, tweak, or solution that fixed the problem, whether it came from you or your coach:

“Double check the rack. One of the pins was bent.” “Eyes open!” “Drag the bar!” “Pocket lats!”

Highlight it, mark it with exclamation points, asterisks, happy faces, whatever it takes… and rewrite it in your log when you repeat that exercise to remind yourself to use the cue. This is especially useful in CrossFit-style training where you may not see a particular skill/activity for a while.

If the cue works and the gain train keeps rolling, keep using it until the new movement pattern is ingrained into a habit.

Data Mining: The Good…

One of the greatest benefits of a log is going back through the old material and mining the motivational or educational gems. Looking back to the year before to see you’re doing easy sets of 5 with what used to be your max is a great feeling. These are some ways you can tailor your log to maximize your trip down memory lane:

If you go to a seminar or see a video with great information you want to incorporate into your training, consider writing it in a section of your workout log rather than mentioning it on a separate note sheet that might get lost or forgotten (I write notes like this on the last page and work backwards… but that’s just me). If you keep an online log for longer comments (like I do), put a note in your paper log to remind you there’s more info elsewhere.

Also, if you’re implementing a new program with a lot of details, write them all down on a page in the log, even if you’re not ready to incorporate them all. Occasionally, when I feel like I’ve ‘got the hang’ of a diet or training block, I’ll get an urge to go back through my log and see how I’ve progressed and how my program has changed. Almost inevitably, passing over these pages, I’ll realize I’ve conveniently ‘forgotten’ some details of my program (“I was supposed to be getting 38 grams of fiber a day?!”).

The Bad, and the Ugly

Record your twinges, aches, and other “that felt weird” experiences, even if they don’t necessarily hurt or prevent you from training. If you get injured, these can help you work with your coach/athletic trainer/PT to better correct the issue and help prevent future injuries. If you’re training on your own, this is doubly important (remember: BYOC).

Normally, when I get injured, it’s because I’ve done one of a few things:

  1. I introduced something totally new.
  2. My total volume was higher than usual for longer than I planned.
  3. I repeated a single exercise more often than usual.
  4. I felt a twinge in an area and dismissed it.

I highlighted all of #4 for a reason.

When I just started, I’d get blindsided by minor injuries. They seemed totally random. After a while, though, I started including things in my log like: “felt X in Y today during Z exercise- a little pain, but it faded quickly- didn’t impede training.” Lo and behold, almost every time I’ve wandered into  “ooh… that’s not so good” territory, I could go back into my log and spot where I’d noticed it weeks before. Basically… my aches and pains were my own fault.

Get in the habit of recording these little ‘yellow-light’ moments. They don’t have to stop or even slow down training, but after you gain some experience, you’ll learn which of these need to be tended and which will go away on their own.

Everyone knows the old expression: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” An injury can happen to anybody. Getting injured twice because we’re not paying attention to our mistakes?

Go Forth and Conquer

Training is an act of creation: you’re developing entirely new skills and capabilities while literally building new and better muscle and bone. As with any creation, you need a foundation, the necessary materials, and a way to measure and assess whether your creation is going as planned. Your workout log is that assessment tool, and I hope you come away from this article with some new ideas for making it a better tool towards building your personal creation: You.

Fare forward, voyagers!

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