When I was a kid I had a diary. It was Lisa Frank brand (of course!) with brightly colored penguins adorning the front and a cheap plastic lock that could be pulled open. Back then I wrote about the goings-on of my day (why yes, I did go to the mall and buy nail polish and then have a sleepover at my bestie’s house).

In high school I progressed to a nicer diary, with handmade paper and a wire moon hanging from the front. The pages of that particular diary ended up flooded with emotion, filled to the brim with ramblings of excitement and heartbreak over my first boyfriend.

But after high school, something happened. Maybe I got too busy with being an adult, or maybe it was just too difficult to explore all my feelings on paper. Whatever the case, I stopped writing in a diary. That is, until the day I stepped into a gym.

I know what you’re thinking . . . there is a *slight* technical distinction between a “diary” and an exercise journal. Nonetheless, once I got into the gym, I found it essential to document everything! Instead of keeping track of my day-to-day activities, feelings, and emotions, I transitioned to tracking my workouts. I busted out a notebook and recorded all the juicy details: classes I attended, weight, set, and rep schemes, time and intensity of cardio, etc. It kept me accountable, and I loved being able to reference what I had done and where I was making progress. I would often write down my fitness goals to help me visualize where I wanted to be and how I was going to get there.

Fast forward four years and some odd months later, and I’ve filled multiple journals. In fact, today I officially retired my third journal and moved on to the fourth! (Of course, retired journals hang out in my closet so I can reference them as needed . . . )

journal polaroidI still believe that using a journal is a great tool! When it comes to workouts, notes to include are:

  • Overall fitness goals
  • Date and time of day for the current workout
  • Reps and sets of each exercise, and weight used
  • Order of exercises, with possible supersets and giant sets noted
  • Time spent working and resting
  • Type, duration and intensity of cardio or metabolic conditioning
  • Group fitness classes attended
  • Notes on warm ups and cool downs, stretching included
  • Overall feel of workout (too challenging, too easy, just right?)

(As a side note, keeping a food journal in conjunction with an exercise journal can be an effective tool for those who really want to step up their game or need additional accountability and awareness in overhauling current nutrition habits. That, however, is a post for a different day 🙂 )

Noting the specifics of each workout can be tedious and might not be for everybody, but when it comes to tracking progress, ensuring variation and encouraging continual challenge and growth, journalling really is an invaluable tool.

In addition, there are numerous details that traditionally may be overlooked and excluded from the typical exercise journal. These five factors can make a huge difference in the quality of your workout, and therefore, your results!

  1. Sleep. How much did you get the previous night? Did you sleep well or not? Any naps? If so, when and for how long?
  2. Mood. Good or bad? Feeling grumpy, depressed, or anxious? Or maybe you had a great day and feel that you can conquer the world?
  3. Motivation. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. How excited and ready to work are you? Feeling pumped up, or more just looking to get the workout over with and checked off your to-do list?
  4. Stress. Do other factors have you feeling frazzled? Are you feeling overwhelmed, or rather focused and confident?
  5. Overall quality of nutrition. How have your food choices been in the last day or so? Generally clean? Or maybe you over-indulged a bit?

These tidbits, while perhaps not typically incorporated into traditional exercise journals, offer inarguably relevant insight into the conditions, and ultimately, effectiveness of each and every workout. Being aware of and documenting daily factors that affect exercise (beyond the exercise itself), can lead to insight as to which conditions are ideal for yielding the best exercise sessions. Maybe you notice your best workouts are done when you get 7 hours of sleep, as opposed to 9? Maybe you notice you are typically more motivated in the evening rather than early morning hours? Or perhaps feeling a little angry or frustrated gets you working harder in your exercise to blow off more steam? In any case, once trends have been noted, you can use them to make adjustments to your daily routine or mindset in order to boost your exercise, and ultimately, improve your fitness!

Moreover, since the journal is for you, you can be completely honest about what’s happening in your life and how it’s affecting your exercise. Yes, maybe you stayed out too late the night before, had too many drinks, and now your workout has gone to crap. Or you’re in the midst of a terrible fight with a loved one and having a hard time managing stress and focusing in the gym. Life happens to all of us, and, much like a diary, recording these tidbits in your fitness journal is a tool for judgement-free, constructive reflection.

In short, keeping a fitness journal is a beneficial habit. You can go old school (pen and paper like me!), or record entries electronically within various apps. Whichever route you choose, keeping a journal is an encouraging way to see where you started and how far you’ve come, and which factors can be modified to yield continuous results.

P.S.- should you chose to journal, have fun with it! Journaling is a a great tool, but it should never turn into a chore that you dread. To keep my journaling fun, and my journals inspiring, I started adding motivational phrases to the covers (at first with good old fashion scissors and glue, and now with a custom order from Journal Menu). Let me know if you have questions . . . I’m here for you!