How to Use a Training Journal for Big Gains

Training Journal

In order to get the most out of any training program, including high-intensity training (HIT), you need to make sure that you are progressing from workout to workout.

While you may occasionally be able to feel muscle growth happen on a daily basis — your shirts are tighter in the right places, the scale says your lean body mass has increased, etc. — the most obvious sign of progress is in your workout performance.

This is especially true for HIT trainers, because you will be performing a limited number of sets over a relatively small number of weekly sessions, so you have to make sure that you’re getting the most out of each moment in the gym.

So, how do you go about milking your routine for all its worth and making certain that you are progressing?

The answer is simple, but something that many lifters avoid like the plague: a training journal.

(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon listings for the products being discussed.)

The Benefits of a Training Journal

If you read muscle magazines, you probably notice that almost NONE of the featured big-time bodybuilders talk about a training journal, and that’s a shame when it comes to the impression it leaves on us mere mortals. The underlying message is that if we bomb and blitz our muscles every day like the pros do, we, too, can get huge and ripped.

The fact is, though, that even these behemoths had to progress through the ranks from beginner to intermediate to advanced to superhuman. Along the way, they got stronger and heavier every year, and most of them eventually opted for a little chemical “help.”

The ONLY way to ensure you make those progressions that are mandatory in order to eventually get as big and strong as possible is to track what you’re doing and then try to do better.

If you bench press 100 pounds for 10 reps today, you should be able to do 11 reps next time, or maybe bump that up to 110 for eight reps. But if you don’t write down what you did today, chances are you will forget where you are in your progression.

Should you use 100 pounds? Should you use 110? Maybe it’s 90 … who knows?

Only by keeping track of what you do from workout to workout can you know for sure what your next step should be.

How to Keep an HIT Training Journal

Keeping a training journal is pretty easy business, and HIT makes it even more straightforward since the protocol standardizes much of what you are doing each week. Here are some tips to keep in mind when building your own journal:

  • Make it portable so you can take it to the gym: a simple bound or spiral notebook works well.
  • Write down your exercises and planned weights BEFORE your workout.
  • Write down the reps you did and/or your time under load for each move as soon as possible while working out; try to record each set right after it’s finished.
  • Leave room on your journal pages to record the date of your workout, your start time, your end time, your weight, and any explanatory comments.
  • Review your previous workout before planning your next, and make sure you do more — weight or reps — from workout to workout.
  • Use your journal to decide when it’s time for  a change — lack of progress over a series of workouts probably means something is not right.

If you need some templates to get you started, HIT enthusiast Drew Baye has a couple that might serve you well.

Just remember, without a plan for where you’re going and a map that tells you how to get there, you will just be spinning your wheels. A simple training journal can help take the guesswork out of building your physique and make all of  your lifting goals much more attainable.