Tip: Do You Really Need a Training Log?

Newbies do, but how about advanced lifters? Here's why intuition and autoregulation is often best.

Train Like Grandma

Ask any little old Italian grandma for her sauce recipe and, after she laughs and hits you with the rolling pin, she might say, "A lotta tomato, some basil, some garlic, and a little bit of grandpa's wine." While you're pretty sure she deliberately left out a few ingredients, you might've also been expecting a slightly more useful and specific answer.

Maybe you hoped her instructions would sound like it was straight out of a cookbook: "Four cups of diced tomato, one tablespoon dried basil, four garlic cloves, three ounces of wine." But that's not how grandmas cook. They work by feel, not by the book. Sometimes, you need to train like grandma.

Training Logs: Pros and Cons

I used to be pretty convinced that a training log was essential for results. Without being able to flip back a few pages and see what you've done, how do you truly know you've gotten stronger? And by exactly how much? And how quickly or slowly?

Keeping a log is absolutely beneficial. It helps beginners aim for basic progressive overload with concrete "more reps or more weight" targets for each workout. Logs can also help advanced lifters re-trace specific steps like exercises, volume, and frequency that lead to big PRs (or big injuries).

However, I'm now understanding that a training log isn't mandatory. There's a lot to be said for simply showing up at the gym and playing the workout by feel, not worrying about recording every movement with plans to refer back, analyze, and treat like a puzzle piece within some grand scheme. The biggest benefit is that it forces you to really tune-in to your body and its capabilities for the given day.

If 225 is moving slowly, something's off and you shouldn't jump to 275 just because it's what you hit for 6 reps last week. Not having a log to refer to forces you to autoregulate and work within an "every day max," not some pre-determined weight the book says you're supposed to use.

If you're training for size, lifting by intuition is almost-definitely how the best-built bodies have trained forever. Some light warm-up sets and then adjust every set depending on how good the burn was. Simple, effective, time-tested, no notebook required.

Spend a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, ditching the training log and treating each workout as a standalone session. Each set and each individual rep becomes that much more important. String enough of those kinds of sessions together and you'll end up improving the quality of every workout in the future.