29 Jul 2019

The Importance of Training Logs and Diaries

Fitness and workout advice

Over the past several years, there has been an explosion of technological advances within the health and fitness industry around exercise apps.

The exposure to a wide variety of resistance, cardiovascular and skill-based exercises, pre-programmed exercise sessions are at the ready within the prescribed exercise app. Some of these apps allow the user to record the weight lifted or other relevant information to enable you to track your performance. And from that, information analytics can be given to you, such as estimated V02max or resting heart rates.

Before the beautiful apps that exist today, training logs or training diaries were usually self- developed blank note pads that required many hours of penmanship. It also needed the individual to have some fundamental knowledge around exercise programming and exercise physiology (how the body adapts to exercise). With technology, a portion of this knowledge is performed for you, which has its pros and cons. Faith in the designers’ ability to program a safe and incrementally harder program is required but has limitations in relation to last-minute modifications if a user has had a poor night’s sleep or not recovered from the previous training sessions.

So whether you use an app or the old school note pad what the value of recording your training sessions and how you performed within those sessions is?

To use an accounting analogy, you complete a balance sheet to record the business income/ sales and expenses to observe how the business is performing. Are sales down? Are expenses up? Is the business moving toward a profit year after year? All the questions can be answered by reviewing the balance sheets from information that has been added by the day to day trading of the company.

In the same light, recording all the elements of the training session(s), warm-up, conditioning, and cool-down exercises, how much sleep you are getting per night, how you feel each day observing how sore your muscles are, what you eat each day, will assist you in identifying if you are positively adapting to the exercise programs undertaken. Anyone who has used the services of a personal trainer may be familiar with them requesting you record this information or will see the trainer record the performance of the client during the training sessions.

Why is that?

Apart from observing the client's exercise technique and the perceived exertion (monitoring the level of effort within the session), the other elements like sleep patterns, nutrition, and how you feel after each session allow the Personal Trainer to confirm whether the program is overloading the body correctly. Using the ‘Law of diminishing returns’ as an example of what a Personal Trainer is observing within an exercise program will help you understand why it’s essential to use a training diary/ training log. The law simply states that for the same stimulus, the body has a point in time where it will continue to adapt positively. A specific example will be if you perform the same volume of push-ups for a given period. In the initial sessions, the body will increase in coordination, strength-endurance. But there will be a point that these adaptations will need a slight increase in the stimulus (increase in repetitions, decrease rest periods) to continue adapting. If this stimulus is not provided, more than likely the body regresses or plateaus from these initial adaptations.

So with this example, if you are looking to start a training diary/training log, what are the parameters of safely and effectively overloading the program so that you prolong states of plateaus and or overtraining?

Let’s look into the ‘Principle of Progressive Overload’ to assist in the fundamental knowledge of developing safe programs and what to monitor in the training diary.

The principles fundamental framework is based around providing an incremental increase in the exercise program. The range of overload can be between 5-15% per week. A common mistake is overloading per session. For example, if performing a barbell squat, lifting 50kg for ten repetitions for four sets. The following session which might be a few days later, the person will increase the weight by 10% equalling 55kg, and keep the other elements the same. Now, this will be ok, not ideal, in the initial sessions but what you will observe over time is that the jump in percentage for overload from increasing the weight will reach a point that the body will not adapt at a desirable rate, hence why overload is looked at from a weekly standpoint.

Resistance training: overload suggestions: using only repetitions as the overload element.

Repetitions per muscle per week: 128 = total sets x repetitions.

Total all the exercise performed targeting that muscle/muscle group

Squats, lunges, step up, 45* Leg press performed twice a week two sets an exercise = 16 sets

Eight repetitions each exercise.

16 x 8 = 128 repetitions – 10% overload for the following week is 12.8 repetitions so let’s say 12 repetitions.

The next step here is to distribute these extra repetitions into all the programs where these exercises are being conducted. Keeping this example as simple as possible, let’s repeat the same exercises and frequency, by adding one repetition to each set until all 12 repetitions are completed.

Now let’s look at the other side of the equation for reasons to use a training diary, which is to monitor for overtraining.

Everyone in some point has experienced Delayed-Onset muscles soreness (DOMS) to some degree, or a lack of motivation to train or eat or felt moody for no apparent reason and not linked these things to overtraining. How do you know if you do not record your workout? How do you know if you are not monitoring sleep patterns, resting heart rates, desire for poor nutrition choices?

Signs and symptoms of overtraining

Excessive DOMS (list below is appropriate time frames to experience DOMS)

Low-intensity low volume 24-36 hours

Low-intensity high volume 48 -72 hours

High-intensity low volume 36 – 48 hours

High-intensity high volume 72- 96 hours

Lack of motivation


Lack of sleep/insomnia

Moodiness / irritability

Acute injuries

Lack of performance

Lack of adaptations


A decrease in immune response (becomes ill easier than usual)

Sudden drops in weight

Muscle atrophy

The picture has been painted, and now you can see the beauty of recording your workouts, nutrition intake, sleep patterns, everyday mood. These elements will assist in educating yourself on how your body adapts to exercise, observe strength gains, rise in energy levels as you become fitter, or begin to link negative behaviour to overtraining or work stresses potentially. All the best with finding a diary that suits you, whether it be online/ smartphone or old school note pads.

If you are new to online training apps, try the link below for the best training apps for 2019.

Tom's Guide


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