“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”
– Peter Drucker
How many times do we start a new workout plan, make little progress and eventually give up due to lack of motivation, boredom etc.?
It’s easy to walk into the gym, randomly pick up some weights, run on the treadmill and rely on your memory to choose the next exercise—but, is this the most effective way to reach your fitness goals?
An effective workout tracking system will help keep you accountable, stay motivated, focused and most importantly, help you stick to a workout routine for years.
Without this consistency, you may reach the end of every year with little weight loss, strength or muscle gains.
Luckily, keeping a workout journal doesn’t have to be complicated if you do it properly with this easy, simple and effective tracking system I’m about to show you now.
Let’s get started.
The Workout Journal
First off, let’s quickly review the different options of workout journals you could use.
Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference, but I would suggest you pick one that is quick and easy to use.
Here are the three main options I would recommend you pick from.
Option 1: Use a paper notebook
Yes, I know this is old school and a bit dry, but it can also be extremely effective for tracking your progress.
The physical act of putting pen to paper could also give you that little boost of confidence you need to stick to your exercise habits.
Make sure to get a paper notebook that is durable, rugged, easy to write on and preferably, small enough to fit into your pocket. This will do the job well.
Even though I’ve primarily used this for my general note taking and artwork, I would highly recommend the Moleskine notebook because it’s firm and can take a serious beating for years.
Also, if you wear full finger gloves during your workouts, it’s easier to use a pen and notebook instead of a phone to track your progress.
Option 2: Workout Journal Mobile Apps
There’s a wide range of Iphone and Android apps that are simple, flexible and easy to use for your workout journal.
A good handful of fitness enthusiasts swear by the Iphone app, Strong, for logging workouts. From what I hear, it also has a rest timer that allows you to auto or manual start the time.
Likewise on the Android, Fitnotes seems to be a good shout. It’s free and let’s you log your workout by sets (i.e. weight and no of reps), volume, view your workout history and so on.
Both these apps give you the option to copy workouts, save previous logs and create customizable graphs as well.
Personally, the Evernote app is my go to note taking app for tracking most of my workouts. It’s a free, simple and easy way for me to keep organised workout logs on my iPhone.
Option 3 – Excel Spreadsheets
Another useful workout journal tracker is the excel spreadsheets within your google drive and computer. You could also download free programme specific workout journal templates in excel format, then tweak them as needed.
This option gives you more manual flexibility to track your progress. And if you really want to geek out you can create your own graphs and pivot tables to see how much progress you’ve made.
Recording your workout journal
Regardless of what type of workout journal you decide to use, make sure to take notes and track metrics that will actually help you reach your fitness goals.
Here are some useful metrics you should note down in your workout log entries:
- Date and time of workout
- Planned workout routine (preferably do this a day before). This should include sets, reps, rest in-between sets and the actual weights you plan to use.
- Current bodyweight (this will help you track if you lost fat or gained muscle)
Most importantly, make sure you’re clear on your preferred strength, aesthetic or weight loss goals. How much weight do you want to lose or how much strength gains do you want to make?
Write this down somewhere in your workout journal and then work backwards to create systems that can help you reach those goals. You could also use ‘stakes’ to help you stay motivated for the next workout.
With these in mind, here’s a simple 3 step workout tracking system you could use. This has also personally helped me consistently make strength, weight loss and fitness progress for more than 5 years till date.
You can tweak this in whatever way suits you best.
Step 1: A day before the workout, write down your planned exercises.
This could look something like this:
Bench Press. 80kg. 5 sets of 5 reps. 60 seconds rest. Or in simple formulaic style…
[Exercise]. [Weight]. [Sets]. [Reps]. [Rest]
If you already have a workout or weight training programme, then this will simply be a copy and paste job that can be done in less than 30 seconds.
If you don’t yet have a workout training programme, search online for any simple beginner workout plan that will help you achieve your fitness goals.
Depending on the weight progression recommendation of your chosen workout programme, you may need to increase the amount of weight per workout.
For example, I’m currently on a strength training programme (StrongLifts 5x5) with a weight progression increase by 2.5 kg of each workout where I complete 5 sets and 5 reps without failure. 
Here’s a quick sample of a workout journal using a Moleskine notebook.
The red arrows and colours above are a quick explanation of what each word, sign and abbreviation means. Feel free to use any wording that helps you better understand what is written down.
With each workout make sure you’re incrementally pushing and challenging your body by increasing the weights used, switching up the exercises and reducing the rest period between exercises.
This will help ensure that you’re making consistent progress without getting too comfortable and bored with your workouts.
Step 2: Before you begin the actual workout: write down the date, time and bodyweight (if required)
Writing down the dates is essential for tracking your progress and staying consistent with your workout plans. You’ll get a real boost in self-confidence by seeing how many dates you logged and actually followed through on.
These small-wins will help push you to work out even on days when you don’t feel like it.
Tracking the time is also useful to help you figure out what times of the day you feel and perform best with your workout. Personally, my best workouts are typically around 9 a.m. before breakfast when my energy levels are at their peak.
Experiment with working out at different times of the day and find what works best for you.
Step 3: Record and Mark each completed set
Let’s say you just completed one set of 5 reps in the back squat.
After performing this set, simply create a mark or tally next to the entry in your workout journal.
Then, you can start your stopwatch time (I use the inbuilt Iphone timer) to begin your rest period interval as planned—then rinse and repeat.
Note: If your workout plan isn’t fixed i.e circuit, super-sets and so on, simply write down any additional details that pop up during the workout.
Likewise, you can easily swap the exercises in the workout journal for sprints, jogging and so on.
Consistency is the key to achieving success in any endeavour. Too often we fall off the path due to frustration, boredom and lack of motivation.
Keeping an effective workout journal is a simple, flexible and easy way for you to track your workouts and make consistent progress towards your fitness goals.
Regardless of what method or system you decide to use, stick to it for a few weeks and you will be amazed to see how much progress you’ve made.
- StrongLifts 5X5 is a simple and effective strength training workout programme. It typically consists of 3 full body compound exercises performed in 5 sets of 5 reps, 3 times a week. You can read more here.
- Credit to users on Reddit Fitness forum for inspiring some ideas here, including the excel sheet graph.