Most therapists would suggest that you keep a journal when you have problems.
If weightlifting or health and fitness are something that is important to you, and it’s a relationship you deem worthy—why would you NOT keep a journal?
You should keep a journal if;
you are someone who has a goal
you have hit a plateau/struggle at a weight you feel you should make
you have trouble recognizing the problems in your program
you struggle to develop consistency in training
you can not evaluate when you should push and when you should back off
What should your journal include?
Your journal should include measures that evaluate your physiological state and well as your psychological state--both are equally important.
Your journal does not have to be something that is incredibly emotional; it can be quite simple and state facts.
You can easily wake in the morning and take your resting heart rate. If you record that number and evaluate what happens over the week then you may see a pattern in your physical fitness and readiness to train. This information can be valuable when evaluating if you are over or undertraining.
For example--lets say that I take my heart rate everyday for 10 days and I see a gradual increase in my morning resting heart rate. I am going to use that data to reflect on my recovery procedures. I will ask myself about my sleep habits as well as nutrition and post training therapy.
The journal just provides a system of checks and balances.
You should also develop a scale of mental readiness to train. I use one that is really simple to follow. I rate my readiness and train based on my score.
My scale is 1 to 10; one being I feel as tho I can not lift the bar—10 being ready to win the Olympics. Typically I fall between 5 and 8-- I am yet to win the Olympics.
If I am rating really low on my scale I may just go for a walk at lunchtime or get therapy at our in-house PT office.
If I rate somewhere around the middle on my scale, I dial training back. Typically I will reduce the volume and intensity to 70% of what was planned if I am following a percentage based program.
If I am NOT on a percentage-based plan, I will typically just do mobility or a conditioning circuit that requires very little load and leaves me feeling refreshed after training.
If I wake up and am a 7 or better on my scale, I attempt to crush my program as planned.
When the psychological and physiological collide
To reiterate from above-- the journal is not just for evaluating the physiological aspect of training, but should encompass the psychological aspects of training as well.
In the Lab we see athletes all the time who are ready to make the next big weight, only to miss the lift because they are mentally unprepared. If they have been tracking their physiological changes over time we should know when they are ready to make certain gains in training.
If an athlete misses a weight we want to know why. That is where the physiological and psychological aspects of the journal mesh.
Once we have identified that the athlete is more than likely missing a weight due to psychological reasons, then we have our athletes keep a journal so they can reflect before, during and after their training. When the athlete approaches the weight that has been psyching them out, they can use their coping skills to hit the weight.
The first step in overcoming a mental hurdle often times centers around the athlete gaining control of their mind and their breathing. We like to see them go to a meditative state in which they visualize themselves approaching the weight, getting into the start position, then executing the lift to perfection.
Everyone thinks that visualization is a simple as seeing yourself complete the lift, but it is much more difficult than that. Some of the most successful athletes who I have worked with can literally feel the cold of the bar and smell the chalk as they mentally approach the bar.
That is having a successful mental approach.
Occasionally the journaling process will feel tedious and you will want to quit the exercise. Don't. Maybe back down how rigorously you journal, but never get out of the habit. Learning what makes you tick is a valuable skill--too valuable to let go. Keep journaling-- and keep crushing PRs!