Writing down your workouts will make you stronger

(Obviously writing down your workouts doesn’t actually make you stronger, but progressive overload does.)

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise training (while maintaining good alignment and movement patterns).

When you first start CrossFit, progressive overload happens almost automatically. The first workouts that you do are challenging and after a while you realize that the empty bar starts to feel a bit lighter than it did before. You naturally add more weight to keep the challenge the same. This can go on for quite a while, but at some point, you stop adding weight to the bar. Partially, this is because you were becoming more efficient with your movement and your brain and body were starting to coordinate in ways they never have. But that progress eventually slows down and you hit the barrier of your current muscular strength. And for a while, you may continue to add weight, but your strength just doesn’t seem to improve. Two things could be happening:

  • You never write down what you’re doing, so you don’t know if you’re getting stronger.

  • You fall into a rut of always grabbing the same weight.

Here’s where the variety of CrossFit can be a challenge for improving your strength:

Over a one month period, I could hit front squats three different times and each time is a different stimulus. First, it’s a 5x2 strength set up to 70%. Then, they are in the WOD for 40 repetitions spread out between burpees, rowing, and pull-ups. Last, I have tempo squats for 3 sets of 3 reps.

Here’s what might happen:

  • I have an outdated 1 RM (because I never write stuff down), so my “70%” might actually be closer to 50%.

  • When front squats are in a WOD, I always grab the barbell and add 10s. Maybe 5s too, if the coach says these should be heavy, regardless of the rep scheme.

  • The last time I did tempo squats, I think I did XX weight, so I’ll do that. But, I didn’t remember that the last time I did tempo squats, it was 3 sets of 5 reps, meaning I should be doing more.

If I wrote down what I did in WODs and in strength sets, that would easily solve the above problems. Even if I didn’t have a new 1 RM, if I saw that the last time I did 100 lbs as my 70% and it felt easy, then I should probably add a little more weight this time.

In an ideal world, I will select a weight so that I can do the given workload, for the given sets, with perfect form, but couldn’t do more if you begged me. In other words, I’m always trying to work right on the edge of what I can control. This is easier to gauge if I wrote down what I did last time.

The point? If you want to consistently get stronger and keep workouts appropriately challenging, you’ve got to start writing down what you do.

How to Log Workouts

  • Get a notebook. Start noting.

  • Open up your Notes App (or similar) and start noting.

  • Get fancier and use a spreadsheet app.

  • Get a WOD or workout tracking app - myWOD (iTunes) (google play) BONUS! This one is compatible with our RSS feed and TTCF workouts will be fed right into your app

Write down what you want to improve. I recommend at least recording what you put on the barbell during strength and skill work. If you are able, add a note as to whether that was good, bad, too much, too easy, 7/10 etc. so you can keep learning more about yourself and your strength.

NOTE: Progressive overload doesn’t mean that you are always going heavier. It means that you are working on the edge of the load that your body can manage. As you get stronger, this likely means it will be heavier, but not always. Always maintain good alignment and movement patterns, even if (or especially if) that means deloading. You’ll be less likely to get injured and you’ll get stronger in the long run.