After all these years, one thing I constantly find myself saying to my clients/athletes is, “Get a notebook.” I want them to have a physical record of what they are doing when they take class or do sessions with me. Even when I give explanations as to why it’s important, my conversion rate is low. To be fair, there are many more reasons to have a notebook than can be said in a quick discussion. Therefore, I decided to write this article to explain in more detail why a notebook is so important.
The Assumption – Training, Not Exercising: There is an important assumption I have made when writing what follows below. The assumption is that when you go to a gym or take a fitness class you are training, not exercising. Exercise is physical activity with no purpose or desired outcome. Exercise lacks goals. Exercise is activity that will make you sweat, that isn’t part of any particular program, that you may be doing because you like the way it feels, but when all is said and done may not even make you healthier. Exercise doesn’t need a program or a coach because it is not directed towards any outcome. If, on the other hand, you have a goal (improve metabolic markers, improve body composition, get stronger, develop a new skill), then to achieve it you must partake in structured physical activity, which is referred to as training.
Why You Should Have a Physical Notebook: There are a variety of reasons you should have a physical notebook if you are training:
It Helps You Keep Track of Things You Learn. During each training session or class you may receive some interesting pieces of information or some tips on how you can improve. For example,
- Your Coach gives you a better way to break up your reps in a conditioning piece.
- You get a tip on how to make that first muscle-up easier.
- Your Coach recommends a different scaling option.
- You realize you need to use self-spotting arms now and have to remember what pin holes they should go in.
- Your form is a bit off on a movement and you have to remember to work on it.
- You realize you perform better when you take an extra warm-up set in your heavy squats.
- Your Coach explains how a specific type of mobility is holding you back on your front squats and gives you a routine to improve.
- Your progress/score in class requires that you write a score for each 30 second work interval during your 10 sec rest periods.
If you write the above notes down in your notebook they will be there to remind you in future sessions. You’ll see them as you flip through your notebook. If you don’t have a notebook to write the observations in, you will be leaving it up to chance if you’ll remember them correctly (or at all)…and odds are you won’t.
It Helps You Take Your Next Step. What you do in each training session is dependent upon what you did in prior sessions. For example,
- 70% of your 1RM.
- 5lbs heavier than last time.
- 80% of your max heart rate.
- Aim for more reps than last time.
The above are all common training directives that reference past performances. Using a notebook will make sure this information is available when you need it. Otherwise, you’ll just be guessing, and more times than not you will overshoot or undershoot what is appropriate for you.
It Helps You Track The Unexpected. Maybe when you started training things didn’t go as planned that day. Maybe you weren’t feeling good from something you ate or from not getting enough sleep. You might be able to still train, but your performance might be less than ideal. If you make a note of this in your notebook, you’ll be able to refer back to it and plan future sessions properly (i.e, not changing your programming because you just had an off day). Similarly, if you’re having a particularly good day and you decide to change things a bit (i.e., going heavier/harder), you’ll want to make a note of that so that in the future you don’t mistake that day for a typical one.
It Has Nostalgic Value. There’s nothing like going through your bookcase years in the future and thumbing through your old training notebooks. The notebooks will literally have your blood, sweat and tears in the pages. It’s a great feeling.
But I Record My Training Online. A Notebook Is Redundant!: This is a common remark nowadays because there are many online platforms for delivering workouts and tracking training data. The way I see it, just because you track your training online doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a physical notebook too. I regularly track my training data online, but I also have a physical notebook. Here’s why:
Technology Can Fail. Servers can crash or go down for maintenance. In addition, cellular and wifi networks can go down or have connectivity/reception issues. This can make accessing your digital training information inconsistent, hard, or even impossible. If you are trying to access or upload information and you run into one of these problems, you start wasting valuable training time. Also, there’s really no guarantee that any online data is safe. So, think of your physical notebook as a fail-safe master copy.
Technology Is Slow. It is substantially quicker to jot notes down in your physical notebook compared to unlocking your phone, launching an app, finding the right place to write your notes, typing the notes in and then saving the notes. The same kind of time investment occurs when you use online tracking platforms to retrieve your information. Extra time is taken each way. And if you do intense conditioning, you certainly don’t want to be accessing your phone when you’re drenched in sweat, dazed and confused.
Summary: To sum things up, if you are training, get a physical notebook. If you’re not training and only exercising, then you can’t complain about not getting results, not developing skills, and so on. Well, of course you can complain, but your Coach is going to give you side-eye for the reasons listed above. On a more philosophical note, if we ignore goal achievement for the moment, training means you are on a journey and that you are trying to be better than who you were yesterday. It’s really about trying to become the best version of yourself that you can be. In other words, it’s growth process and a physical notebook is a symbolic reminder of this process. There’s always another page, chapter, or book waiting to be filled.