I've been a journal writer almost since I could hold a pen, but it wasn't until recently that I realised that the same tool I use (and recommend to my clients) to manage stress was just as useful in increasing the effectiveness of my workouts. It may seem odd that something as apparently sedentary as writing can help make a workout more effective. When you consider, however, that without careful planning and constant tweaking, most fitness routines will fail to achieve their desired results, it becomes a little less surprising.
I use my journal both to motivate myself, and to actively plan out my routines Ė and Iíve found it incredibly useful in three main areas when it comes to my fitness:
The first thing I need to know when Iím planning out a fitness routine is what I actually want to achieve. This may sound obvious, but many people still havenít realised that if they donít know what they want, theyíre very, very unlikely to get it. I use my journal to write about exactly what I want Ė to let myself dream about what it will be like when I get it Ė to brainstorm different ways I could go about achieving it Ė and to explore possible barriers that might get in my way (and what I can do about them)
I also use it for more short-term, detailed planning. Once I know what I want, I plan out the milestones Iím going to need to achieve to get there. When Iím really committed to making a fitness goal happen, Iíll also use my journal for day-to-day planning Ė deciding what needs to be done by when in order to make my next milstone.
As well as being helpful in forward planning, my journal is an invaluable ally in keeping track of what Iíve done, and allowing me to see whatís going on with my progress over time. This helps motivate me to push myself harder (itís always easier to put more effort in when you can see itís having the result you want). It also gives me the clarity to distinguish between having a bad day or two, and a situation where (perhaps because of overtraining or something similar) Iím starting to lose ground instead of gain it.
Useful things to track include body weight, distance, VO2 Max, weight lifted, repetitions, workout duration, energy levels and even degree to which you enjoyed the workout. In fact, if thereís anything specific youíre trying to improve with your fitness routine, tracking it will clearly tell you whether what youíre doing is working or not.
Finally, I also use my journal to do a brief roundup of each day, which then allows me to put the quantitative information Iíve tracked into some kind of context. Because everything in our lives affects everything else, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with your fitness routine can still affect it. If, for example, I notice over the past few weeks my performance has been starting to decline, I can go back through my daily journal and find out what else was happening just as (or just before) the decline started. That then gives me more information about how I can turn the decline around.
It also means that if I see a sudden spike in my performance levels, I can look at what else was happening at the time, and use that information to duplicate the performance.
The best kind of journal to use depends on the individual. Some people like sticking to the basics, and are quite happy with a notebook and pen. Others are happy simply using a word processor and spreadsheet on their computer. Iíve found, however, that when it comes to being able to track results over time, view them graphically, organize information, and search back through my records for something I wrote months or even years ago, nothing beats using dedicated journaling software. Try different systems and see what works for you. Whatever system you prefer, though, make sure you use it consistently it. The best journal in the world wonít do you any good unless you write in it!
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A Personal Trainer and Stress Management Coach for Optimum Life Ltd (optimumlife.co.nz), Tanja Gardner has been using Life Journal for as a journaling tool for over 3 years. To try it out free of charge with your workouts, visit tinyurl.com/c22bm
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