Training logs vs. Training journals


I've written about paper training logs and digital training logs. But training logs may not be as helpful to you as a training journal. The difference?

  • Log = what you did

  • Journal = your reflection about what you did

Having a comprehensive training log of the reps, sets, numbers, times, days, exercise description and settings, etc. may actually be of little use to you. Honestly, I could probably get everything I need from logging my training if I only logged 1/10 of the training sessions I already log now. How much weight I push or what moves I do do not change that often or that fast because I've been doing this for awhile. But I continue to log because it's already a habit of mine, and I'm very efficient at it so it takes me only 1-3 minutes per training session. So why not? Anyway, what may be more useful for many people, however, would be a training journal of your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about what you are doing and did. Here are some things you can include in a training journal:

  • Thoughts, feelings, and ideas

  • Pictures, diagrams, sketches

  • Snapshot of your life at that moment

  • How's your health? Do you feel good?

  • Do you like where you train?

  • Do you like your training?

  • How's your enthusiasm for training?

  • How's your way of training?

  • Exercise selection, is it good?

  • Exercise technique, has it changed?

  • Any gut intuitions about what you do?

  • Compare your training now to 1 or 2 years ago.

  • Compare what you wear for training now to what you wore for training 2 years ago!

  • How's your living situation affecting your training?

  • How're your relationships affecting your training?

  • How do you feel about training now compared to a few years ago?

  • Life changes that have happened in the past 4 years? How are they affecting your training?

  • Is there something you used to do that was good for you? Why'd you stop?

  • Any trends or themes or patterns you notice about past training periods? What defined them?

Do elite athletes keep training journals?

Many do. Here are three examples:

Best in bodybuilding - Dorian Yates


Dorian is a 6 time Mr.Olympia champion. Here's a quote about Dorian Yates from the book Muscle by Jon Hotten:
"He was a lone obsessive and his body became his means of expression. He was a singular force, an individual taking hold of his destiny. He was alone in the world, and he withdrew from his past. His father was dead. His mother and sister had moved away. His mates went out and lived the life that he wanted to escape from. They drank, they partied, they chased women. They lived for today. Dorian Yates lived for another day entirely. His friends would ask him when that day might be, what he was trying to do. He didn't know. All he could tell them was that he felt that something good would become of him. He kept detailed diaries of his training. In his steady printed hand he noted every session; splits, reps, sets, durations, recoveries. More than that, he noted feelings, emotions, repercussions. He rested more than he trained. He studied nutrition. He weighed out his food and ate it at such regular intervals that he no longer needed to wear a watch. He could tell what time it was by how his stomach felt. He met a woman who could understand his life. Her name was Debbie. Although they lived apart at first, they had a son named Lewis. By the time he was twenty-five, he owned the Temple gym."

I'm going to make a bet that Dorian's training logs/journals became less intensive as he championed forward in his bodybuilding career, but I'm also making a bet he continued tracking some things until his retirement from the competitive circuits.

Best in martial arts - Bruce Lee


Bruce Lee was a prolific journal keeper and writer. You sort of have to be, you know, if you invent a new martial art (Jeet Kune Do)! Think about what an incredible accomplishment that is. Especially since Jeet Kune Do is still around today. That's insane if you think about it... Bruce meticulously kept records and writings up until he died in his early 30s.

Best in tricking - Scotty Skelton

Tricking is still an underground activity with little potential for monetization. No marketing = no public awareness. So the public isn't aware of who makes up the tricking upper echelon. So while not famous outside of tricking, within tricking everybody knows who Scotty Skelton is. Scotty is an Australian trickster, and is the first person in history to land a triple cork.

The triple cork is a big deal. Being the first person to land the triple cork was the biggest "first person to land something" event that ever happened in the tricking world. Nothing in tricking will ever create a buzz like that event created; it immortalized Scotty. Scotty has mentioned to me before about his habit of keeping several intensive tricking journals, binders, training logs, both in written and video form. Pretty serious stuff and very motivational.


Revolutionize your training

I guarantee reflecting upon the right thing will revolutionize your training. You will see mistakes that can be corrected. You will see empty spots that need filled. Using a training journal for reflection is one of the best ways to see these things so that you can change them, (or change them back to the way they were). But you won't see anything, and you will not know what that right thing is that will revolutionize your training, unless you reflect upon something. Anything! So just do it. Training journals are the best way to reflect. The only excuse for not doing some journaling for your training is laziness. Type. Write. Sketch. Even just a solid 1 hour reflection four times per year could be of tremendous value to you. You can do this: schedule a 1 hour training journaling session for the first day of every season moving forward. Use a calendar app or something to remind you. Build on it from that.

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  • Jon Call on

    I asked him to take a picture of all of his journals but he never got back to me with that. He’s pretty busy. So I just took a snapshot from his video. He really did keep a mess of training journals, but you’re right, that snapshot I took isn’t relevant to that then.

  • How To Gain Size and Strength | pathtopolymath on

    […] and how you believe your life is effecting your workouts. Here is a good article on the subject, […]

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  • Armando on

    i’m feeling new positive changes in my training and… I’M NOT WRITING THEM!!!, suddenly i feel stupid for not having a journal (i only write sets, reps, etc.)
    today i will start writing a jornal, thank you for this wake up call jon :)

  • hans on

    i’m not so sure about scott’s journaling there. those words are just lyrics to the song that was playing at that moment in the sampler. he might actually really keep a journal in real life, or he wrote the stuff for the purpose of his sampler, i have no idea.

    great article as usual. i like how mr yates is depicted as a machine in his attention to detail. i used to have this ‘book of reps’ of every session i have.

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