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Raise a paw if “fitness journal” conjures the image of something like an arithmetic notebook: numbers on numbers on numbers.

Sound familiar? Well, get this: While tracking weight, reps, and sets is one way to make a fitness journal, it’s not the only way.

Here, fitness professionals expand the idea of what fitness journaling can actually do for you. Plus, the perks to pairing your post-workout protein shake with a journal entry.

Fitness journaling is logging any data that’s connected to your physical movement and health practice.

“It can be used to log just the metrics, or it can be used to log your feelings, intake, and more,” says fitness expert Ryan Daniel Beck, owner and creative director of bodyART Training Studios. “And it can be done in the notes app on your phone, in a blank notebook, or a journal designed specifically for workout tracking.”

Wait, a fitness journal can track feelings??

You betcha! And actually, fitness experts recommend that you do track your feelings.

“Many people treat going to the gym like just another thing on their to-do list,” says Portland, Oregon-based certified personal trainer Emma Middlebrook. As such, they enter the gym with as much mindfulness as they give to dropping off their dry cleaning.

Meaning: Not much.

Writing down the way you felt before, during, and after your workout encourages mindfulness, she says. “It shifts you into the current moment, and supports a mind-body connection.”

Fitness journal prompts:

  • What’s my goal going into this workout?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What emotional pains, physical aches, or mental health conditions am I experiencing that could impact my performance in the gym?
  • How hard was [insert activity here]? At what point did it become challenging, if it did?
  • Did I notice any asymmetries, pains, aches, or unusual soreness while exercising?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would I rank that workout?
  • What does my body need after this workout?
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“A fitness journal that *only* logs the numbers will reveal strength and endurance gains over time,” says Beck. This is useful for helping you see the big picture.

A fitness journal that tracks feelings and things like where you are in your menstrual cycle, hydration levels, recent stress levels, and more, can help you understand day-to-day variation.

For example, if your journal consistently reads, “period day 3, tried deadlifting, felt weak,” you can begin to plan your workout routine so that the third day of your period is a rest day. Similarly, you might notice that your workouts generally feel better when you do them in the evening than in the morning. In that case, you can shift your schedule to accommodate sweating with the sunset.

When your fitness journal shows you the trees and the forest, it is going to be moreuseful for supporting your fitness goals and overall well-being than if it just tracks the trees or just tracks the forest.

“Fitness journaling all the details shows you that you may have up and down days, but so long as you’re consistent, you’ll be on the up and up,” says Beck.

It can help you stop an injury in its tracks

For runners and lifters, especially, logging how much you’re lifting and how far or fast you’re running day-to-day can remind you to increase weight and strength g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y.

“People rarely remember how much they lifted day-to-day, week-to-week,” says Middlebrook.

On one hand, this can stall progress, keeping you working with the same weights over and over and over again without progressing. On the other hand, this can lead you to attempting to lift more weight than you’re ready for. The result? Injury.

Here’s where fitness journaling comes in: “When someone is keeping a fitness journal, even if they aren’t following a program, they are more likely to progressively overload,” Middlebrook says. (Progressive overload is a fitness ideology. It says that the key to our muscles getting stronger is continuously working them harder).

Numbers aside, Beck says writing down how your body is feeling and noting any sore-points can help you spot an injury-in-the-making. “The body has so many ways of telling us what areas we need to address before we sustain an injury,” he says. “If you translate what you feel day-to-day into a journal, you will become more in touch with your body’s aches and pains.”

Tracking the tiny details serves a larger purpose

“The difference between gold and silver for Olympic athletes is negligible,” says Beck. “Once you get to a certain level of performance, the tiniest things can make a difference.”

In addition to noting feelings and training program, high level athletes may also make note of things like:

  • exactly how many cups of coffee they had, down to the ounce
  • where they are in their menstrual cycles
  • whether they masturbated before training
  • the temperature of the gym

Why? Because all these things may affect performance. And writing them down gives an athlete the opportunity to notice a pattern. And if you can notice a pattern, you can adjust for maximal benefit.

Do you need to be an Olympic athlete to start tracking the nitty-gritty? N-O-P-E! Your fitness journal = your rules!

First, figure out your medium: hard copy journal versus notes app.

FTR: There *are* specific fitness journaling apps like MyFitnessPal, Nike Training, and FitNotes. And if you want to check ‘em out, power to you! But Middlebrook says, “In my experience, people get overwhelmed by apps and are more likely to stick to using just a Notes app.”

If you opt for a paper version, decide if you want a pre-designed journal or if you’ll enjoy the freedom of bullet journaling fitness-style.

The beauty of a blank journal is that you can transform it into whatever you want it to be. You’ll have the space to note how you felt during a lift, and whether a fight with you boo left you feeling distracted during your lift.

Next, start using it.

Then, keep using it!

“You’ll notice the benefits of tuning into yourself after the first entry,” says Middlebrook. “And the benefits will continue to mount and mount and mount after that.”

But enough reading about fitness journaling. Go get one and get to it!

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.