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The Curious Case of Workout Logs


So you walk in to the gym and coach starts going over the workout on the whiteboard. First on the whiteboard is a lift that you’re supposed to hit for a heavy triple. You’re thinking “What is a heavy triple for me?” but you don’t have the answer to that.


Coach then adds that it’s about 75-85% of your 1RM. Maybe that helps, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you can’t remember in the moment what your recent 1RM is for this lift. No worries, you decide to work up in weight until it feels heavy without sacrificing form. You start with a few light sets and around working set #4 it starts to feel a little challenging. You add 20lbs for set #5 and it actually feels heavy … but time is up.


Great, you worked up to a heavy triple! But did you get the most out of this session? Had you known your 1RM, or your 3RM, could you not have planned your sets better? You could have hit that first heavy-ish weight on working set #3 instead of set #4, then took smaller jumps from there. You would have had more time under tension, which is what we need to build strength. But instead, it was a bunch of warm-up weights followed by 3 heavy reps. No biggie, you’ll get them on the metcon.


The metcon that follows consists of 3 rounds of 20 Power Cleans at 95/65 lbs and 25 Wallballs at 20/14lbs. Coach advises that you should pick a weight with which you could complete all 20 Power Cleans unbroken when fresh. “Great … what on earth is that weight for me?” you ask yourself. You think 95lbs is heavy, but you did 65lbs the other day and that felt light. So you go with 85lbs today because Jordan is going 85lbs and they’re not stronger than you, dammit. There’s no way you’d let Jordan beat you on this workout anyways, it has Wallballs and they are your jam.


So you do the workout. First round, you do the cleans in 10’s. Your legs feel fresh so you push to get all the Wallballs unbroken. That was awesome! You’d never done that many unbroken before! On the second round, the Power Cleans go to sets of 5 and the Wallballs go 16, 5, then 4 reps. That definitely did not feel as easy as the first round. On your final round, you can hardly breathe, you do the Cleans in doubles and singles. It takes you four sets to finish the Wallballs and … Jordan beats you by 4 mins easy.


The workout feels awful. It started feeling awful 3 reps into the third round of Power Cleans. It was only really easy on the first round. What happened? You know what happened: you improvised. Your weight selection was based on a WAG (wild a** guess) and your wallball rep scheme was decided after the workout had started. So yeah, Jordan beat you.


But it’s not about Jordan, is it? It’s about your prep for this workout. If you’d gone with a more appropriate weight (let’s say 75 lbs or 80 lbs) and did sets of 5’s from the start, maybe you would’ve lasted a little longer before hitting your threshold; If you’d gone with 15 and 10 reps from the get go on the Wallballs, then maybe you would’ve had gas left in the tank on round 3. But instead, you were left thinking “that was harder than it looked”.


Extend this situation out to many workouts over the course of many weeks. How much more could you be getting out of your training? How much faster could you be running that mile now? How much weight could you perform 10 Front Squats unbroken with? How much more could you have moved the needle on your health markers and body composition? Every little bit matters. Every little bit compounds over time.


I hear you asking, “Well, hindsight is 20/20, how would I have known that before the workout?” and the answer is easy: log your workouts with notes. Yes, who has time to sit down and type up a wall of text after each workout … except it makes a huge difference. In part 2 of this post, we’ll explore why notes are important and what we should write in them.


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