Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Keeping a Training Log

by Mark Rippetoe | January 14, 2020

Data is important in actual training. If you just go by the gym on the way home to mess around with the dumbbells and ride the treadmill, don't bother writing it down, because it doesn't matter what you do from one workout to the next anyway. You're just punching a ticket, burning a few stray calories, and making yourself proud of yourself for doing something hard that you'd really rather not be doing anyway. 

But if maturity has finally set in and you have determined to actually accomplish something, you must keep a training log. Training is a process composed of separate incrementally-increasing stress events that collectively accumulate into a physiologic adaptation. Over time, this designed and directed process produces progress toward a performance goal. And each of these separate stress events are important, in that they trend in the direction of progress towards the goal. Each training workout is a critical step upward, in contrast to each trip by the gym to ride the treadmill and play with the dumbbells. 

Human memory is a less-than-perfect thing. Can you remember exactly what you had for lunch last Thursday? How about the last time you had tomato soup? How old are your gray socks? Some data is not very important, but when you start training, the data generated by the previous workouts determines what today's workout will be, and what you should expect of the next one too. Processes generate trends, and data quantify the trends. 

Your training log is the data you will use to monitor and direct the process. It is absolutely critical to keep a log in a usable and accessible format, a durable record of the process of acquiring the physical adaptations your performance requires. It should be with you during the workout, so that you can record information relevant to the process beyond just the weights, reps, and sets – cues you stumble upon accidentally that positively affect performance, new ways to think about your focus points, things you learned from other people in the gym that day, reminders about equipment, injuries and their status, and any other information that can contribute to your progress down the road. 

Here in the 21st Century, everything is done on electronic devices. That's fine, because the best training log is the one you will actually use. But let me show you something:

stack of training logs with years of data

These are my training logs, back to 1982. Starting in 1986, every work set was recorded, on paper. None of these files crashed. I used to log all my sets, but switched to saving trees and just kept the work sets recorded after I learned that my warmup tonnage was of no use in the training record. Now I keep a very concise record of all work sets of every workout that allows 15-20 workouts per page, so that in an open book's two pages I can see 2-3 months' training. I'm not training seriously now, but I am training, and I couldn't do it effectively without a record of what happened previously. 

If I was sharing my training with a coach, an electronic file would be easier. But this is also a shareable electronic file:

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