Lift Heavier Things By Tracking Your Progress

If you work out on a regular basis, you need to track your progress. I remember learning to track bench press with a printed Excel sheet in a high school weight lifting class. For some reason, perhaps because CrossFit has so much variety, it took me a while to get serious about tracking my workouts.

When I started CrossFit in February of 2011, I would get into a routine where I would show up for a workout, try to remember what weight I lifted the last time, and add some weight for the current session. This worked out really well when I was beginning, mainly because I was jumping up so much in weight each time as I started to get in shape.

After a while, I noticed that my rate of improvement was diminishing and even leveling off in some areas. The problem—which I only noticed in hindsight—was mainly due to my not being able to remember how far I had pushed myself in a previous workout. Starting at a computer screen at 5:30 AM, I wasn’t doing much research on previous weights before heading into the gym.

So earlier this year, I started tracking my workouts in a couple of Google Docs.

Apart from actually showing up for the workouts, tracking my workouts has been the single biggest contributor to my improvements this year.

I started two spreadsheets in Google Docs, Named WODs and Ben’s Lifts. I check them accordingly before heading to the gym. I even have them saved as favorites on my smartphone in case I need to look them up while I’m there. Here’s a screenshot of my entries for Deadlift this year:

image

It’s not too complicated. All you really need is the movement, date, rep scheme, and weight, but I added my 1RM, 3RM, 5RM, and a Notes fields, which turns out to be quite helpful. You notice on June 29, it had been over three months since my last 5×5 Deadlift. I was quickly able to see that I had struggled at 275 for my last 5×5 but thought I could push myself to 285. If I hadn’t been tracking my progress, I probably would have guessed based on my last 5×3 and probably would have ended up at about 265.

There are a ton of different ways to track your workouts. A lot of CrossFit blogs encourage you to post your scores to the comments (I really like this, mainly because it encourages a positive community, but it can be hard to look up old scores). Our box recently started using SocialWod to automatically track our white board. Again, I really like this for the community aspect.

Even with all of these great methods, I still recommend coming up with your own simple tracking system. It’s the best way (in addition to showing up) that I know of to help yourself improve at the gym.

Have any thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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4 Responses to Lift Heavier Things By Tracking Your Progress

  1. P$ says:

    Great post Ben! So happy to see your progress continues. I user evernote as it’s easy to maintain and allows you tag posts for searching, plus you can access it on your smartphone or simply pop off an email and it posts automatically. easy is the name of the game for me. Any tracking is good tracking, the key is finding one that works for you life style that you can maintain. I’ve got numerous old notebooks full of wods, needless to say technology has replaced said notebook.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Jess says:

    Ben,

    You’re awesome. It’s been really cool watching you evolve at CFQ.

    Question – do you track WODs that aren’t named? For instance, this morning was 21-15-9 of SDHP and OHS. Where would that go in your sheets or do you not track those?

    • I don’t individually track those, mainly because it’s hard to know if we’ll ever see the same WOD again. One thing I wish CFQ (and all boxes) would do is have more WODs that are “benchmarkable” on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be regular hero or girl wods, but any wods that we can track and benchmark.

      I find this especially needed when it comes to conditioning wods. I’ve found lots of improvements in strength areas because they’re so regular and easy to benchmark, but the sheer variety of regular wods make it hard to use time and/or rep count as a motivator to improve conditioning. For example, if I saw today’s WOD and knew that 6 months ago I did it in 10 minutes, I could push myself to do it in 9 minutes this time. It’s hard to do that when you don’t know which WODs are programmed with regularity.

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