When you go to the gym, do you go with a plan? Or do you go through a set routine, one you’ve been using for the past six months or so? Worse, do you only do the exercises you like, using the same few machines or free weight movements?
If so, you’ll regret it. You’re not going to progress without an actual training plan, all written down in a training diary that tracks your exercises, plus sets and reps. A diary will also allow you to track your physical progress, so you don’t have to depend on (often faulty) memory to get an accurate picture of what you’ve been doing — and what you need to do next.
To give a personal example, I HATE the multi-hip machine. It’s an effort to force myself to use it. But the range of strength-building lower body exercises it provides cannot be duplicated by even a combination of three or four other machines. Plus, you work one leg at a time, so you put equal force on each side of your body. And you do it standing up, which is how you’ll likely use all that strength you’re building.
When doing a conditioning session, think of what’s best for your body’s progress, not what you emotionally feel like (or don’t feel like) doing. This is another reason why a training diary is a good thing. You can see what you did in previous workouts, and plan the next workout accordingly. But probably the best thing about a training diary is the subtle motivation it offers. If you have a designed plan all written out, you’ll be more motivated to follow it.
Here’s how to construct your training diary, for which you can use any inexpensive notebook: Start with a warmup to lubricate the joints and get blood flowing through the muscles. Write down the time and method of each warmup. Next, plan your workout by listing each exercise you intend to do, with the number of sets and reps, and the amount of weight you plan to lift. If there’s any change during the workout, like using a different amount of resistance, not completing a set, or unusual difficulty in lifting the weight, note the fact in your diary.
When designing your workout, look at each exercise in terms of muscle groups so you don’t double train any particular muscle. For example, some arm exercises also work the back muscles.
The poundage you lift for each resistance exercise should change according to which set it is. Start with a light weight to warm up joints and muscles for the movement. Lift your heaviest poundage in the second set, when your energy is still fresh and strong. NEVER save your heaviest lift for the last set. By then your muscles will be tired, your endurance will be at its lowest point and it will be more difficult to maintain proper technique.
Lower the weight with each set. However, here’s a secret for maximum gains: At the end of your final set, do ONLY two or three reps with the heavier weight you used in the second set. Then give your body at least two minutes to recover by walking around before starting the next exercise in your training diary.
By having a workout diary, you’ll be better at any activity, and the improvement in your athletic results will be amazing.