For New Year’s resolutions to work that involve making dramatic changes in your health and fitness, the first step is to write them down. The second step is to develop a workout journal designed to clarify your goals and chart your progress. Here’s how to do it.
The first pages of a workout journal should be devoted to listing specific, measureable goals and providing deadlines for when you want to achieve each goal. Again, you must provide deadlines, as this helps you avoid procrastination. Don’t say, “I want to be leaner.” Say, “I want to lose 12 pounds by May 1st.” Or say, “I want to reduce my bodyfat to 15 percent by April 15th.” From here, design a chart or table that lists your specific body composition goals and your deadlines. Here is an example:
1 Feb _____ (Goal: 182)
1 Mar _____ (Goal: 177)
1 Apr _____ (Goal: 173)
1 May _____ (Goal: 170)
Having these intermediate measurements will help you determine if you are on the right track. If you’re not progressing as quickly as you want, change your approach. As one example, you may find after your first intermediate test that your calorie intake is fine, but you might be consuming too much sugar in your diet to drop those extra pounds. Likewise, if you exceed your intermediate goals, you may want to revise your goal for the following testing date.
If physique transformation is at the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions, consider taking it a step further with photos and tape measurements. Take the photos at the same time each day, wear the same clothing, and try to duplicate the photo conditions (such as lighting and distance from the camera). For girth measurements, use a flexible steel tape (such as a Gulick tape, which is considered the most accurate as it ensures uniform tension). To ensure greater objectivity, have someone else take your measurements.
If an improved quality of life is your primary goal, consider looking at other measurements of health. Examples include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and resting heart rate. You can also include structural balance tests, such as the Klatt test that looks at factors such as knee stability; and strength ratios between pushing and pulling exercises, such as a Scott barbell curl and a lying triceps extension.
For resistance training exercises, consider measuring more than just 1-rep maxes. Having several rep-goals motivates you as it provides more opportunities to achieve success. For example, rather than just recording 1-rep maxes, you can also record your bests for 2, 3, 4, 5 or more reps. You can also set records for the number of reps performed with a specific weight.
Also consider using the concept of micro-loading, which is especially valuable for those at higher strength levels who make smaller improvements in strength. Whereas a beginner may quickly increase their bench press from 100 pounds to 110 pounds in a few weeks (or less), an advanced trainee with a 400-pound bench press may find that such an improvement could take months. For these individuals, or for those who are feel they are stronger “but not that strong,” consider using smaller increments such as 1/4 pound or .25 kilos. Ways to increase weights in small increments are lightweight discs, combination of pounds or kilogram plates, and the use of assorted weight collars (using combinations of plastic and metal collars).
For the actual workouts, there are excellent training logbooks available, but you can easily make your own with any spreadsheet program, such as Excel. There are also computer-aided programs, some that give you predetermined goals based upon your current maxes. The key is to use a system that lists all the major loading parameters, which include exercise order, exercise name, weight, sets, reps, tempo, and rest. Here is an example:
Exercise Weight Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A. Back Squat 100 1 10 4010 60 seconds
120 1 10 4010 60 seconds
140 3 8-10 4010 120 seconds
Unless you are using a volume-training program such as German Volume Training, you should generally prescribe a repetition range. Rather than writing 3x10, you might use 3x8-10 as shown in our example. With the first format you have to use submaximal weights to perform the prescribed repetitions, whereas with the second you can use weights that enable you to go to momentary muscular failure. Also, consider that honesty is critical to derive success from a training journal, so only record only the reps completed in proper form.
An intelligently-designed training journal allows you to monitor your progress and evaluate the effectiveness of your training program. No matter where you are starting from in your workouts, a training journal will keep you on track to fulfilling those New Year’s resolutions.