I picked up the habit of journaling years ago from my former Personal Trainer, Drew. He got me one of those little itty-bitty-tiny-hand-sized notebooks where we would write my workouts in along with the weights I did, scales and times I completed them in. It was by no means fancy, but it was efficient. I still have that journal and am grateful for it, not just for the entertainment value . (I laugh at the scales I used or the “heavy” squat days I had). It is really easy for me to see how much I have improved since then and how much I continue to get stronger. Incidentally, my trainer had told me when I started working out with him, that he became certified as a trainer when he was in the army, which he was just coming out of. A few years later, when I found that very same journal, I was struck by how oddly similar the workouts were to CrossFit. I saw things like “Jackie” and “workout for time” scribbled in. It turns out Drew had been certified specifically in CrossFit (and either he neglected to mention that minor detail or he did and I just had no clue or appreciation for what that was). I discovered I was doing CrossFit well before I consciously made the decision to. At any rate, I have been journaling ever since.
The benefits of keeping a journal are quite obvious, yet so many of us do not do it! It is a way to track progress, and declines as that does happen. It is a way to track benchmarks and 1 Rep Maxes (RM) and things of that nature. When you see a workout and the coach says, “You should be snatching about 70% of your 1 rep max,” you don’t irritate him/her by saying “Errr but I don’t know what my 1 Rep max is.” Tracking helps guide us to know how much to lift or how to scale based on our workout history.
Call me old school, but my preferred method to journal is in an actual physical one. The journal I currently am using is just a simple lined paper one. I like to have it to flip through, sometimes to go down memory lane and sometimes to check and see what I should be doing for that day’s workout. I also journal on the app, Sugar Wod for different reasons. I use that more for the social aspects of it: to fist pump my athletes and give positive encouragement in comments. It also automatically stores benchmarks, hero WODs and 1 RM’s making it easier to have a place to go to as reference. As I also tend to workout in the first class of the day, I would like to think my commentary and tips help the athletes in the later classes.
Regardless of your method, be sure to include details in your journal. (I found this really great quick read on journaling here with some tips and methods). I personally do not have a formal method but I always add my own commentary in it. For example, if an old injury was flaring up, I’ll mention that to explain a scale I did. From time to time, I’ll put notes to the effect of “felt really sluggish” or “was too tired”. Or on the contrary, “holy shit, I actually did that RX”. I even use simple smiley faces and frowns.
I strongly recommend not just tracking successes but failed attempts as well. I will note when I fail at lifts, particularly when it comes to retesting 1 RM. I want to know that maybe in November I failed at a 140 pound squat clean so that when I retest it a few months later and succeed, I can celebrate. Also as we know, not every day is going to be our best day. We may be weaker for a given number of reasons (more info on that here). Noting reasons or “off days” keep me grounded.
It is so very and utterly essential to write down what your specific scales are when you do not go RX. I note, for instance, how many ab mats I used if any for Hand Stand Push- Ups (HSPU). Maybe I did the last workout with 1 ab mat as there was a higher rep scheme, but today when the workout calls for HSPU at less reps, I may opt to do them without an ab mat.
The same is true for so many movements, like pull ups. Back before I could do them without a band, I would track what color band i used so that I could gradually and smartly wean myself off of them, which I did successfully after just a few months. I can’t really speak to the science of seeing written data, but I can attest to there being a compelling mental or psychological element to it. It often helps me mentally prepare for the work at hand. There are days where I will see the RX workout and think, “I can’t possibly do the prescribed Shoulder to Overhead weight at 105 pounds for 30 total reps. That is just beyond me.” Then, I will find a past journal entry where I did do that same weight in a workout. Recalling I did it before (even if it was absolutely miserable) motivates me to do it yet again.
For those who use or are considering using SugarWOD, I strongly recommend you treat it like your own personal journal as otherwise, it can be deceiving at face value. Rx is Rx. It’s a fair playing field in that it is a given everyone is doing the same exact workout. When you see times and scores of your fellow athletes, it is evident who went the fastest and who had the most reps. When it come to the scaled sections, it is more complex (which I also should note, it is why CrossFit is really for everyone. It demonstrates how many different ways there are to scale to your level. #shamelessplug). More details are better than none. If you use bands in ring dips, or do push-ups in lieu of HSPU or maybe you do less weight in cleans, whatever it is, include it in your notes. Again, you will want those details down the line to benchmark. I digress a bit but I feel compelled to mention this pearl of wisdom: You may have gotten the slowest time doing a scaled workout but it is quite possible your scale was the hardest. Use discretion when you either celebrate your finish or wallow in it. Keep in mind it is not apples to apples.
Journaling takes minimal time when you keep up with it daily or even weekly. Make it a part of your workout routine and that will prevent you from feeling burdened by it. It is a great tool for CrossFitters (and other athletes might I add). Think of journaling much the same as you do performance reviews at work. It is a way to set goals, track them and measure them regularly. For journaling to be effective, it needs to be much more than just logging for the sake of it. I had a conversation about this with one of my coaches at Concourse CrossFit, Ricky Sandoval. If you just write it down for the sake of writing it down, it is not really serving any purpose. It would be like counting calories for the sake of it without using it to actually tweak your diet or evaluate food choices. There is power in knowledge, and having a workout log history can only help you in constantly progressing.
If this has encouraged you to journal, please comment and let me know how you are loving it! (Or hating it but I am confident that will not happen).