One of my earliest experiences with weight training involved me going to the gym a couple hours before I was scheduled to go to the movies with this girl I had a crush on back in college. That day I spent almost an hour in the gym just training my arms, and this was with little to no experience in the gym. Big rookie move. To my surprise, by the time I met up with this girl my arms became stiff and I couldn't fully bend my elbows. Now I'm stuck as if frozen in time midway into a hug.
I took a couple months off from the gym after that experience. Soon enough during my Junior year in college I thought I'd get more serious again. However, the gym was a seasonal thing for me. I would slouch out three seasons of the year and then go hard, working out five days a week during the spring time. I made some big gains while I was living on campus during the summer because I had access to campus cafeteria food, which allowed me to eat on average 4k calories a day, split over seven meals. The initial spark for making data driven decisions came during this period, as I would count my calories with an app called MyFitnessPal and log my workouts with some bodybuilding.com workout logs and templates on paper. When senior year came around, I lost most of my gains halfway through the year as my offseason would stretch multiple seasons. I was under enormous stress during my senior year, and I thought I was too busy to workout. After graduation, I decided I would make fitness a lifestyle choice rather than a pre-summer ritual. I knew however that my life would not ease up and multiple obligations and responsibilities would have an impact on the success of living out this fitness lifestyle. I needed to treat fitness more seriously and be as effective and efficient as I could.
"Viewing your own training as an unparalleled inquiry into who you are as a biological machine. " - David Epstein
I made a commitment to working out three days a week on average no matter what, no excuses.
Jotting down my workouts on paper wasn't going to cut it anymore. It was time to go digital!
The advancement of mobile technologies and ease of use of mobile applications means that it is much easier to record your activities. Here are a number of apps I measure my activity:
Jefit - www.jefit.com
Sleep as Android https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.urbandroid.sleep
“What gets measured, gets managed.” - Peter Drucker
The purpose of collecting all this data is because it is data that matters and can be used to make more informed data-driven decisions. In this post, I will take specifically about tracking workouts. If you're not a savant, with extraordinary memory, and you value your time and want to progress your fitness at a more predictable and efficient rate, you need to have a workout log and a set routine. Keeping track of your exercises can help you pinpoint what exercises or routines work for you. It can also keep you more motivated by seeings how you progress over time. You don't have to be a professional bodybuilder or an athlete to track your exercises and health meticulously, you can invest extra detail in your fitness either way. If you invested in stocks or other financial products would you not keep track of how much money you put in and how much money you've made over time? Track your fitness to see how much you are getting back by whatever personal metrics you set in place. When it comes to your personal fitness, keyword personal, your body may not react the same way to a certain set of exercises that it would for another person. You should be a student of your body, study it and learn from it. You can guide and shape your progress over time. Do something and reflect and stop and reflect what you need to get better at and you always tweak what you are doing. One thing I've learned by tracking my activities is that data tells a story. And from that story you can see patterns and use past events to shape future events. You can attain fitness gains without doing all this tracking. The purpose is to do less and get more out of your training, especially if you are natural. Jefit gives me a good overview summary of my workouts. I can see the total amount of time, estimated time spent actually working out, time used for rest and time wasted (usually too much rest and slow progress on sets).
The story from that spike in my workout summary was when I met this elderly man that seriously looked like a buffed up santa. The majority of the time I try not to get into conversations at the gym because I know my timer is ticking, and I need to stay focused. I made an exception for this man as I was in awe that he had just turned 70 and was still in ridiculously good shape while still being natural. So I used the opportunity to listen to his background and absorb as much as his wisdom that I could.
In the three months snapshot I noticed my wasted time was increasing over time, know that I know this I could tweak my rest times or reposition workout routines to normalize things. I would make small adjustments over time to maintain overall consistency. [ The benefit of keeping track of data is that is gets even more valuable after you have been doing it for a while. This snapshot is a year worth of data and since I started tracking I was able to reduce inefficiencies in my workouts to get out as much value as I could.
The story of this data is on that particular drop I got to the gym late and had to leave early, so the number of workouts dropped significantly. For some people what you would have seen is a flatline the next day, as in the gym closing meant that the workout day was in the books, but not me. The very next morning I got in the gym and started over my whole workout routine that I was unable to complete the prior day. This graph keeps me in check, if I skip a workout it will show up here.
Increasing my workout intensity over time is important to make sure that I don't get complacent in a set routine. One could be extremely prone to this if they use a pre-programming routine. Making sure that you switch things up and become strict on rest time can help increase the intensity.
Jefit allows me to set pre-determined rest times so I can boundaries in place to maintain my intensity over a workout session.
Keeping track of my weight lifting records broken overtime helps me to be more aware of how much I'm challenging myself to test my limits. Workout session snapshot.
During workout planning I can choose to pick compound exercises or
Here is a progress snapshot on one of my favorite exercises the Barbell Clean and Jerk. The progress on another favorite exercise of mine, the Barbell Bent Over Row.
Having your logs in digital format means you can go back in time and see the day by day progress. Jefit provides a calendar log interface for their users to easily do that.
Here is an example of a workout session log.
Jefit's body part distribution report is great to help you maintain a balanced approach to your workouts. This data is also helpful if you want to better sculpt yourself for a more aesthetic look. I noticed that my back maybe over developed and in my next workout routines I may make adjustments to scale back.
Over time if you notice you have lagging body parts you can increase the volume of workouts and rebalance your body part distribution. I utilize the pro version of jefit to run most of these reports, but the price is well worth it at 4.99/month or 39.99/year. With this data I can do monthly check-ins to calibrate my rest-times and exercise placements within a routine. Since I workout all year long three days a week, I break my routines into four quarters with a routine per quarter. And each quarter is based off goals I want to accomplish, my prior fitness progress and insights from data I've collected from prior quarters.
Data helped me to maintain consistent and successful progress to drive my gains. Of course, it takes more than data. It takes discipline, persistence, consistency and technique to name a few. There is more to the story behind data and behind my progress. My goal for personal fitness is a lifelong one, and there will be many more stories along the way. It wasn't easy.
In the first four months into my training I was asked by my job to travel back and forth between Atlanta and New York for almost three months, from November through January. The demands of my consultancy work during that time made it difficult to get a good workout in, I didn't want to settle on the basic gym set which the hotel provided either. I knew I had 2.5 days of bandwidth per week. So I would fly to Atlanta Monday morning and fly back to New York Friday afternoon arriving at LaGuardia Airport between 6pm and 9pm after a 2 hour flight. Exhausted from a crazy work before and dazed at the airport, I seemed that draw out the will power and the discipline to go from the airport to the gym right before midnight everyone of those Fridays. I would then hit the gym Saturday and Sunday consistently and then fly back to Atlanta in the morning, and then I would repeat the whole process again. After this obstacle and finishing up my project in Atlanta, New York went through one of it's worst winters. I still consistently marched through the snow and ice and make my way to the gym, usually, a near-empty gym, with a brave few making the commitment. I built up a routine and mindset around the gym. I know welcome obstacles, and I am proud to say I've hit the gym three days a week on average without missing a gym day for over 370 days consistently. Thanks for looking reading and taking a look how I use a data-driven approach to making gains. Plenty of athletes, trainers and competitors apply strict routine, programs and data to becoming a stronger version of themselves. Your time is worth it enough to do the same if even at a more moderate level. I love the community of people that I've met over the years committed to their personal fitness and growth. If you feel like you can do better, do better, small data-driven steps can help you get there. Share if you've found this helpful or and comment your experiences down below. You can also contact me on twitter or by email.