Get the Most Out of an Exercise Log

An exercise log can help you reach your goals, if you know how to use it right. When you don’t know how best to use an exercise log, it can actually get in your way. Let me give you an example of when it can get in your way and then I’ll show you how to make it work best for you.

How detailed do you have to be?

Since we need an exercise for our example, let’s choose running (since I happen to love running). There are a ton of things you can log about running, and some may be more complicated than you think. For example, it would probably be pretty easy to agree that an exercise log should include the time duration of the exercise. It might be more difficult to agree on how to enter that time. I’ve seen some exercise logs that just ask for the total time in minutes, and others in minutes, hours and seconds. There are some that go so far as to ask what time of day you did the exercise and one extreme case that asks the specific time you started and the specific time you ended and it then calculates the time in between.

So you can see that with just one specific value there might be a half a dozen ways to add it to your exercise log. Why should you care? Well, how this relates to you vary widely depending on what your goals are (did I mention that you should always have a goal in mind with any exercise program?). For example, if you’re a professional and need to cut a few seconds off your time for a race that you know will take place in the morning hours during a certain season, then you might get huge benefit from log entries that tell you how well you perform during those hours and in a target temperature range.

Keep your overall goal in mind

On the other hand, if you’re an average Joe (or Jane) looking to lose 15 pounds, then you probably couldn’t care less about what time of day you ran or what the temperature was. The most important metrics (fancy word for what you record in your log) you have to keep track of might be related to heart rate and fat burning zones. The professional doesn’t necessarily care if he’s in the fat burning zone (because he’ll probably be in there most of the time anyway). So you want to have a different set of values that tailor to you specifically.

What do you want in each log entry

Before I give you the bad example I promised, let me briefly list for you just some of the fields that a runner may want to track. I think you’ll notice that in all of these, there is some room for personal interpretation, just like we saw with logging “time” above. Here they are (in no particular order):

Average Heart Rate
Time in Heart Rate Zone
Calories burned

An example of how to use an exercise log

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it gives you the idea. So here’s the bad example. Imagine that Jill wants to lose 7 pounds for a company summer swimming party. She’s got one month and decides that she wants to mostly change her level of physical activity, not her diet. This is probably reasonable, so she gets started. Since she’s gung ho about it, she decides she wants to track everything and starts to make a spreadsheet (she could also use a website or a piece of paper, but I digress). After her first run she logs all of the fields above. However, after her third run she’s in too big a hurry and realizes that she forgot to check her heart rate throughout her run.

As time passes it becomes more time consuming to log her workouts and so she just lets it go. After three weeks, she’s not so sure how far she’s running each week and so she doesn’t know how many calories she’s burning. Her exercise can start to suffer because she no longer has a clear path to completing her goal. Besides, since her goal is simple, she doesn’t find a lot of use for all the other information. Yikes!

Now let’s turn this around and imagine that she decides that to achieve her goal she’ll need to run three times a week for at least 30 minutes. To accomplish this she only needs to track Time and Distance. She decides to add Location and Pace and Calories burned too, since these can be automatically calculated. In order to make it easy to log, she uses an online service for her exercise log. This means she can spend a couple minutes of her cool down time at the gym logging each run.

Set a goal and keep it simple

The “moral” of this story (if there is one) is that the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule applies to your exercise log. The more simple/quick it is to log your workout, the more likely you are to stick with it and eventually get direct benefit from it. I’ve personally found that it’s much easier for me to stick with a simple program than one that is complex.

So, how can you get the most out of your exercise log? You start by making a specific, measurable goal. Once you have the goal, think about the minimum number of things you need to keep track of in order to reach that goal. Finally, sign up for an online exercise log. This will make it possible for you to keep track of your exercise no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Remember, the key is to make it easy for yourself to stick with it. In order for it to be motivating to you, you’ll first need to build up a little history.

Daniel Watrous is a runner and fitness enthusiast. In the last eight years he has run over 2,266.42 miles including two marathons. Thousands of people have used his websites and tools to achieve their health and fitness goals. He now maintains several websites that support his fitness and exercise habit, including an online exercise log. Learn more and get a personal exercise log here:
Exercise Log.