How To Maximize Your Gains Using Proper Record Keeping -
Brought to you by PVL Supplements and written by Tim Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT

If you’ve been training for some time now, you may have noticed that fewer and fewer people actually take the time to record all of their exercises, along with all the pertinent details. This is a common (yet serious) mistake, if you’re serious about maximizing your immediate gains, plus long-term development. There’s a lot more to it than a simple set/reps matrix, and knowing all of the pertinent variables such as resistance used, sets, reps, rest periods, specialty techniques and other notes, is actually vital to your progress.

To that end, here we’re going to break down the most effective ways for you to maintain a training log. It’s essential not only to record the specific details of the exercises you perform, but also other practical information that will help you monitor your performance week after week. Only in this way will you see yourself on track to achieving your specific goals, whether it be muscle building, strength gain, weight or fat loss, endurance, or power output such as a one-rep max (1RM). After all, each specific objective requires the adherence to its own respective protocol. Muscle building is most readily achieved by performing sets in the 8-12 rep range, for example. Gaining strength is accomplished more readily with sets in the 3-5 rep range, and so on.

Intra-Workout Details

  1. Record the time, date and location of your workout session.
  2. Include any intangible variables such as your level of fatigue, the weather, how much sleep you got the night before, plus any noticeable aches and pains such as a sore shoulder, etc.
  3. Record each exercise performed, along with the number of sets, reps and rest periods involved.
  4. Make sure to include specific notations on “abnormal” reps performed such as:

“C” – Cheat Rep
“F” – Failed Rep
“P” – Partial Rep
“AO” – All-Out Rep
“H” – Help Rep
“D” – Drop Set

Here are some examples:

If you happen to complete 8 reps of a set, and the very last rep required everything you had and you left nothing in the tank (i.e. you would fail if you attempted one more rep), you would notate this as 8AO.

If you happen to complete 5 reps of a set, then you failed on the 6th rep, but continued to perform two more reps using cheating form (e.g. leaning backward during a standing barbell curl), you would notate this as 5F+2C.

If you happen to complete 8 reps successfully, then lowered the weight (e.g. either with the help of a spotter, switching the key of a weight stack, or simply using a lighter barbell or dumbbell), and you made this move twice for three reps each, you would notate this as 8+3D+3D.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to it than simply recording three sets of 10 reps. Knowledge is power, and knowing as much specific information as you can is a very important step toward maximizing your progress.

Finally, always, always remember to record your rest periods. If you’re performing a speed workout with only 30 seconds rest between sets, this is going to be significantly different than taking three minutes between sets. The former is best suited for resistance training with a cardio/aerobic element and fat loss, while the other is best suited for increasing strength and power.

Progressive Details

In addition to taking note of the details of every single set you perform, it’s critical that you keep a weekly or monthly log as you progress through a long-term program. In this way, you’ll be able to best monitor the volume of your training. Why is this important? Because you’ll be able to tell if you’re undertraining or overtraining – in both cases, your gains will not come as consistently or as substantially as if you were training at the most suitable volume. In other words, hitting that sweet spot or “happy medium” is key to sending your gains soaring.

Noting the days of your workouts will also allow you to go back and make reference to your days off for recovery and growth. This is as important to know as the rest periods you recorded in your intra-workout details. You may find that over time, you’re progressing from three days a week to four or five days a week. This is a good development – to a point. At five times a week, you want to be careful that each workout is not excessively intense, which can lead to overtraining and muscle catabolism.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to include in your long-term log all of the details of your nutrition, including how much water you consumed that day (which can very much affect performance), along with such things as how many cups of coffee you’ve drank which can put a charge into your workout. Things like overall calories, and more specifically, each of your macros (protein, carbs, fats) are very useful to know, both now and in the future when you look back on your progress.

To maximize your gains, be sure to keep the most accurate and detailed information as possible – happy training!

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