“Please, just keep a training log.”
By Erik Bies DPT, MS
Your individual experience matters when it comes to gaining strength, endurance, and overall capacity to exercise. Once you have established goals, the steps towards achievement are not as easy as following through on a pre-determined plan. Having a plan is the right way to start, but you can do better by tracking your training and adapting it as you go.
Any well thought out training plan is not worth the paper it is written on if there is no assurance the desired challenge and adaptive responses are being met. A training log can help you recognize the training methods through which you best gain fitness, reassure you and provide confidence, help you recognize signs of injury and illness, and enable you to track gains and maintain motivation.
- Recognizing training methods that work for you:
As humans, we do not adapt identically to the same stimulus. Track and field offers a fantastic representation of the diversity in human athletic performance and genetic predisposition towards specific events. Compare Usain Bolt, 100-meter world record holder to Galen Rupp, the top U.S. distance runner. It is impossible for Usain Bolt to perform the workouts of a 10,000-meter runner and become a world-class distance runner. Similarly, if Galen Rupp, the top U.S. distance runner, trains like Usain Bolt, he will never equal the top speed of 100-meter world record holder. Most of us likely will fall somewhere in the middle having neither the tremendous stamina of a great distance runner, nor the power to run 100 meters under 10 seconds. We can only be the best at being ourselves. However, if you are the average Joe or Jane training for a personal best 5-kilometer road race, it would behoove you to recognize your best training strategies.
Logging your training will enable you to figure out what style of training you respond best to. Finding the right mix of repetition and variation in training is an ongoing process, not a precise recipe to be followed. You should consider how rapidly you adapt to certain stimuli, how quickly you recover, and whether you routinely end up injured after certain parts of a training cycle? Repetition enables you to see progress, and can be very specific to a goal race. Variation helps keep the adaptive processes going.
- Confidence building through the telling the truth to yourself:
Keeping a training log provides an honest view of the past. It is human nature to feel that if you were successful in the past, you believe that past training went without speed bumps. Conversely, a bad performance may lead you to believe your training was poor. Keeping data from key workouts can give you the truth if your training is working and help you to trust your training when you feel like you are in a slump.
- Maintaining motivation through repetition of key workouts:
Variation in training is no more important than repetition. Tracking repeatable key workouts to measure gains in fitness, skill, strength, et cetera can be crucial to maintaining motivation for a task. Keeping a log will help you to determine when repeatable key workouts are best performed to keep you fresh and motivated to improve.
- Training log logic:
There are no rules to keeping a training log, but I recommend always recording how you felt, or your perceived effort. Overall, a training log boils down to keeping relevant data for the purpose of the exercise session. For example a 5-mile base endurance run may require no more than your perceived effort and total time. On the other hand, if you are running a key workout you plan to run again in 3 weeks, it may be helpful to know lots of variables including time of day, temperature, repetition splits, rest intervals, and particularly how you felt after the workout. Many fitness tracking devices keep the distance and pace data for you. You must be responsible for tracking your perceived effort.
Hope this helps!