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Books mentioned/recommended in this post:
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss
Do you routinely write down your fitness goals and track your workout progress on paper? Or are your goals just ideas in your head that you don’t record?
Your answer to those questions matters more than you may think. For example, research shows writing down goals increases the likelihood of achievement by a whopping 42%.
In another study, weight loss researchers demonstrated that participants who simply recorded their weight consistently lost significantly more weight than those who did not. Moreover, consistent trackers were more likely to lose the weight and keep it off for the long haul.
The TL;DR takeaway: If you have specific goals related to physical training or the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), writing down your goals and routinely logging your workouts is a no-brainer.
But how does writing your goals by hand increase achievement?
Writing by hand engages visual perception, the sensation of touch, and requires fine motor skills. This more profound sensory experience is one reason why hand-written note-takers outperform those who type their notes.
Memory and learning is not the only application of writing longhand, though. For example, you may think, “I’d like to improve my 2-mile run,” but writing down that goal forces you out of your head and into something concrete. Moreover, you’re far more likely to write down a specific, measurable goal like “cut my run time from 14:15 to 13:55 in the next eight weeks.” And when you write out your goals like that, you begin to override the subconscious part of your brain that doesn’t believe you can do it.
That’s precisely why sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr coaches athletes to keep a performance journal and write down their goals over and again. In fact, Loehr used this technique to help Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen win gold in the 1,000-meter event he loved to hate. Jansen was a 500-meter specialist, but every day for two years Jansen wrote “I love the 1,000” to begin his performance journal. Before employing this journaling technique, Jansen’s top finish in the Olympic 1,000-meter event was 26th. Two years later, Jansen won gold and set a new 1,000-meter speed skating world record.
Formatting a training log
Atomic Habits author James Clear suggests a training log accomplish three goals:
It should help you spend more time training and less time recording your workout. Creating a format ahead of time or purchasing a pre-formatted training log is key to success.
It should track essential information that helps you progress training loads and volume over time.
It should work for any type of training. Whether you’re lifting weights, running, or mixing training methods, your training log should be adaptable.
Learning a shorthand method for recording workout data will help satisfy the above requirements one and two. The most commonly used method is as follows:
Sets x reps @ intensity (load/pace/effort level)
You can record anything, but you can’t record everything. What is the most important data that you’ll track? In addition to the exercise prescription you used, you may also find it useful to track sleep quantity and quality, resting heart rate, and/or heart rate variability (HRV - learn more here). Tracking these sort of “metadata” trends over time can help you avoid overtraining and build productive habits. Habitually writing down what matters to you brings extra awareness to those activities. Instead of a fleeting moment spent considering your nutrition or sleep and its impact on training, the act of writing by hand will help slow down your mind to form connections not otherwise apparent.
Plus a surprising and unexpected benefit
In his #1 New York Times bestseller, 4-Hour Body author Tim Ferriss discloses that he’s recorded almost every single workout since he was age 18. In addition to being part of an important workout habit, Ferriss uses his training logs and photos to pinpoint the look he’s trying to achieve. Want to look like you did after that intensive strength training cycle a few years ago? Simply pull the program from the archive. Want to uncover those abs again? Check out how you were training the last time they were chiseled.
Using a training log to record your workouts and write out your goals works like magic. But don’t confuse it with a shortcut. Maintaining a training log is a habit that will pay small dividends daily. The results may be imperceptible in the early innings, but the long-term return on investment is massive as the dividends slowly compound.