Training Diary – A Holy Grail or an Inconvenient Commitment?

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A training diary is your non-living training buddy that has all the personal data about yourself. Find out why you should start using it!
Starting to fill in training diary plan

In order to become a successful athlete, you need to set goals and work endlessly. But is working hard enough?

As important it is to work hard, it is equally important to work smart. It is super easy to lose focus when the pressures are high.

A well-organized training and rest schedule is essential in having the most efficient and beneficial training sessions.

How to keep track of your progress and health? Is a training diary really the solution?

Let’s find out!

Table of Content:

What is the training diary?

A training diary is like every other diary that consists of valuable data that is clean, correct, and up to date. In order to have a successful training log, you have to have different worksheets, plans, and calendars.

Usually, the training journal is set up in a 12-month diary, but may not follow a calendar year.

Example of a training diary spreadsheet for gym – image source

The most simple form of a training diary is just writing down data for training type, volume (time, distance), competitions, and conditions.

If including more personal data about yourself, your feelings/motivation, and nutrition, you will notice how your body and mind react to different training sessions. 

Useful data to always include

  • General Data
  • Heart Rate Data
  • Subjective Parameters
  • Mental Parameters

NB! Do not record every detail of the data that you can think of. If there is too much data, it will take too much time to analyze it.

How a training diary will help you train better and smarter?

A training journal might be one of the most valuable items for an athlete. It helps to plan and organize future training sessions, analyze the process, and keep an eye on the recovery process in order to avoid over-training.

When taking notes to your training diary, keep in mind the symptoms of overtraining

Workout log helps to select the best training schemes or avoid some common mistakes that were made in the past and turned out to be unsuccessful for the athlete.

The right focus and motivation

Waiting to see your progress, training after training might get very frustrating.

It is easy to lose focus of the bigger picture and lose appreciation of small steps and victories.

Taking your time and writing down important data helps you to understand your progress and appreciate even the smallest steps of progress.

This way you can analyze weeks or even months’ worth of data and regain confidence in your training. 

Over time, athletes can see how strong or how fast they have gotten, compared to exactly where they’ve been a month or a year ago.

Noticing patterns

Recorded data in a training diary will become more and more useful in time.

At first, you might not understand or know how to analyze your stored data. Within months or years, you will start noticing and understanding patterns.

Like having more energy after easy training sessions or losing energy and motivation after long nights spent for traveling or partying.

Or even analyzing your training scheme before an important competition will help you to fix and optimize your training process.

That is very much relevant for amateur athletes. They are mostly ready to train more and harder, but often do the wrong things that won’t move them in the right direction.

Self-reflection

Understanding what led you to your victories or success is a very important part of a self-reflection process.

For example, what led you to your personal best achievement or what actually makes you feel positive and motivated after or before training or competition.

This kind of information allows the athlete to replicate good performance and avoid repeating a bad one.

Like data about training, recovery, and nutrition are essential for this kind of self-reflection.

Mental strength 

The practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings in the training diary is very helpful for an athlete’s mental strength.

Writing down your positive or negative emotions helps you to understand and control them better.

Over time it will make an athlete more focused on his goals and resilient to depression or burnout. 

Avoiding over-training

The problem of over-training arises when athletes underestimate the value of recovery and push their bodies to the limits.

In a simple manner, if an athlete exercises, his body actually starts to “breakdown”.

Following the completion of the training session, the body will begin to “rebuild” during the recovery period.

If the athlete starts training too soon during the recovery period, the body will simply begin to “breakdown” before it has fully recovered. If this happens repeatedly, the athlete is prone to overtraining injuries. 

Thanks to a training diary, the athlete can keep track of his recovery periods and avoid future injuries or even mental imbalances that come from over-training.

Ways how to prevent injuries in sports
How to prevent injuries – simple ways what to include to your training diary

How to get used to this new habit called training diary?

Anything that helps you to improve yourself gets a warm welcome straight away, but keeping a new habit is a skill of its own.

At first, It’s easy to get blown away by all the positive outcomes of a training journal, but the basics are the same as if starting any other new healthy habit. 

Start small and slow

Figure out your goals, that are realistic and down to earth, and put them down in your training diary.

Analyze what kind of data do you really need to collect daily/monthly/yearly and weather you see actual value in them.

Make it as easy as possible 

When creating your custom workout log, make your research, and try to find as many different templates as possible to choose from.

Don’t be afraid to tweak it from time to time and if you see something that isn’t comfortable to use –  change it!

Your training diary should be as easy and as comfortable to use as possible, so every time you start updating your data, you look forward to it.

Keep the habit at any cost

Creating the habit and actually sticking to it might be the hardest part for the first year.

At this point, you might not see the full picture or know how to use or analyze fully the collected data.

Keeping track, finding the best time, and motivating yourself to fill out your training diary is essential.

Whether it is straight after your training, in the evening before you go to sleep or in the morning while drinking your first cup of coffee or tea, always take the time and enjoy the process. 

Main reasons why to keep a training diary
Reasons why should you keep a training diary – image source

The KPI’s you need to know for your training diary

Prioritizing and goal setting

“What will it take for you to be successful this season”, that’s the key question you should start with.

Take your time, be honest with yourself, and analyze your performance up until now.

Grab a paper or open an excel sheet and draw up a list of key attributes that have the biggest impact on you.

Think about the demands of your sport, the needs and beliefs of your team, and your personal strength and weaknesses.

Step 1

List everything you can think of that will make you more successful this season

For example

  • Determination
  • Organization
  • Good practices
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • A healthy lifestyle
  • Improving your technique
  • Smart tactics
  • Mental toughness

Make sure to go through the list and eliminate all the repetitive words.

Step 2

Start eliminating factors that you feel are less important or don’t feel like have any greater impact on your training.

In the end, you should have only 9 important factors in your list.

Step 3

Start setting goals for yourself! Identify a final target goal for each factor, then break your target goal (long-term) into two short-term goals.

General Data: what and how much?

Before you start creating your future training diary, you should go through the data that is important for you and relatively easy to collect on a regular basis.

In any means, you should avoid gathering data that has no value in the long term. 

One of the common data you’d want to keep track of:

  • Weight
  • Muscles measures
  • Nutrition
  • Recovery time
  • Hydration needs
  • Daily/Weekly stretching
  • Training details (frequency, Intensity, Duration)

Heart Rate Data: Why is it important?

It is important to keep track of heart rate during your different training sessions and at its highest and lowest peaks.

Knowing your heart rate can be valuable in helping you achieve those goals you have set for yourself, in the long- and short-term.

To use your heart rate to monitor your exercise intensity, you first need to calculate your maximum heart rate.

This can be estimated by subtracting your age from the number 220. For example, someone who is 25 years old would calculate his or her maximum heart rate as follows: 220 – 25 = 195 bpm

Heart rate at TrainingDescription
190 to 195 bpmThe closer a person gets to his or her maximum heart rate, the harder it will be to sustain that level of intensity for a longer period of time. At a lower intensity, a person would be able to sustain the exercise much longer. For example, a 25-year-old can have sustainable training at this level of heart rate 10-20 minutes.
170 to 185 bpmFor example, a 20-year-old who exercised at about 170 to 185 bpm would be at the intensity of athletes running a 10k, which usually takes somewhere around an hour. 
140 to 160 bpmThis level is also called “base pace”. This is the level of intensity for someone jogging or having a power walk. For example, athletes would use this level of intensity during an ultramarathon for 6 to 8 hours.
Below 140 bpmConsidered in the recovery zone, which is important for anyone exercising. 

After keeping track and analyzing your heart rate data, you will be able to understand if your training sessions are sufficient and have the actual outcome you are looking for.

It is easy to get lost during some heavy sessions while pushing yourself to the limits, but will it really give you any actual results?

Daily and weekly routines

Working smart is as important as working hard, and in order to use your time most efficiently and also to actually be efficient, it is important to keep a well-organized diary. 

To know exactly where your time goes, there are three important categories to keep track of daily and weekly: 

Fixed Time:  involves tasks that must be done every day (generally the same for every day of the week)

Task Time: that you are committed to, but are not necessarily done on a daily basis 

Open time: your free time, when you do whatever you feel like

Step 1

Understand the activities that you do on an everyday basis, such as sleeping, practicing, training, social time and etc.

Step 2

Estimate how much time you spend on each task.

If it’s difficult to understand the exact time spent on training then just simply identify the range, rather than a specific single number (practice = 0-3 hrs/day).

Step 3 

Calculate the amount of “task” and “open” time available for each day of the week by subtracting your fixed hours from the total number of hours in a day (24 hrs).

One of the benefits of doing this activity is to figure out how much time you have to dedicate to your sport by thoroughly accounting for all of your non-sport commitments.

Mental Parameters: Being focused and staying positive

A professional athlete knows how to deal with negative emotions and mistakes and this is something every starting athlete should learn as soon as possible. 

You should know how to deal with mistakes automatically, efficiently, and confidently. Refocusing keeps you positive, on task, and over the long term, it reduces the duration, frequency, and magnitude of your mistakes. 

To master your mistakes and emotions, you should always follow these steps: 

  • Identify sources of distraction,
  • Recognize how you react in these situations (thoughts, feelings & behaviors);
  • Think about what you should focus on and how you should react then practice reacting appropriately
  • Think about refocusing…vividly imagine yourself being focused 
  • Practice focusing & develop your concentration skills by being focused while training
  • Set process and performance goals that help you to focus.

How to identify the emotional state where you perform the best?

Step 1

Dedicate a sheet in your training diary specifically to find out your zone of optimal functioning.

Divide the blank space into two and describe at least two “best ever,” and two “worst ever” competitions.

  • When and where was the competition?
  • What was the result?
  • Was there anything special about the competitive environment?
  • How did you perform?
  • What were you thinking & feeling (before, during, and after the competition)?

Step 2

Based on these “best-ever” and “worst-ever” performances, identify common, significant emotions that are either associated with great, or with poor performance.

Both positive emotions and negative emotions can be helpful. Likewise, harmful emotions (emotions that cause you to perform poorly) can be both negative and positive.

Use the following lists of positive and negative emotions to identify:

  • Helpful positive emotions
  • Helpful-negative emotions
  • Harmful-positive emotions
  • Harmful-negative emotions

Step 3 

Then use a scale from 1 to 10 to determine what your ideal intensity level is for each emotion.

This exercise helps you to understand your emotional state better and in the future avoid some certain emotions that could possibly harm your success during training or competitions. 

In the end, is a training log worth the hassle?

Yes, definitely yes!

At first, it might seem like an inconvenient commitment that your coach might ask you to take up but after further homework.

It is clear that a proper training journal will make you a better athlete! 

Take a nice weekend to yourself, to find some nice templates, and create your own custom Training Diary and stick to it!

Within just months you will be able to keep track of your progress, motivation, and health while becoming the best version of yourself as an athlete and person!

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