Tracking your workouts can provide accountability, show you how you’re progressing towards your goals, and help you plan your training schedule. It’s also just a fun thing to do if you love data or like looking back on old workouts to see how far you’ve come.
But to get the most out of your workout data, you should follow a few simple rules to ensure you’re tracking your training sessions accurately and effectively.
My 8 rules to follow when tracking your workouts are:
- Track your sets, reps, and the amount of weight you lifted for each exercise you perform
- Write down your weight and/or body measurements
- Take note of how you feel
- Write down what happened leading up to your workout
- Don’t forget to consider how a rest day can impact your next workout
- If you’re a female, keep track of your menstrual cycle
- Track what you ate and drank
- Keep track of your cardio workouts as well
In this article, I’ll dive into each of these rules, why they’re important, and why knowing all of this information when tracking your workouts is beneficial. I’ll also show you a simple way to track your workouts using the pen and paper method and review 5 of the best digital apps and tools for tracking workouts.
Rules To Follow When Tracking Your Workouts
Figuring out the most important details to keep track of in your workout journal can be tricky. Below are eight tips to keep in mind to ensure you’re logging your workouts properly.
1. Track your sets, reps, and the amount of weight you lifted for each exercise you perform.
If you keep track of nothing else, you should at least record how many sets and reps you perform and the weight you lifted each time for all of the exercises you do.
Recording all of this information will help when you do the same workout the next week so you won’t forget how much weight you lifted.
Seeing your program written out also makes it easy for you to determine if one area of your body is being worked more than another. You may be doing 8 sets of chest exercises but only 3 sets of back exercises, and you may not realize you’re accidentally favoring one muscle group until you see the movements laid out in front of you.
Related Article: How To Create Your Own Workout Program (Ultimate Guide)
2. Write down your weight and/or body measurements.
Including a log of your body weight, body fat percentage, and/or measurements in your workout journal is a good way to get a comprehensive look at how your training is affecting your body.
For example, you may already know to expect some strength decreases if you’re in a fat loss phase and experiencing a correlated drop in weight and body fat percentage. But you may not realize exactly how those body changes are affecting your lifts if you’re not keeping track of your progress.
On the other hand, you may start to freak out if you’re gaining weight and/or your clothes are getting tighter, and it would be easy to lose track of the fact that the weight gain is also helping you get stronger.
Writing these things down will allow you to more easily see the big picture of how your training and your body composition are all related to each other.
One caveat: if you’re recovering from an eating disorder or have other psychological issues to address when it comes to body image, I highly recommend not keeping track of your weight and measurements. It will just cause you to become obsessive about your body and can contribute to negative thoughts about how you look and what you weigh.
3. Take note of how you feel.
In addition to writing down the number of sets and reps you performed and the amount of weight you lifted, you should also write down how you felt going into your workout and how your mood changed during your workout.
Were you excited about going to the gym that day, or were you dragging your feet to get there? Did your mood stay the same or did it become better or worse during the course of your workout?
These things are important to know because they can affect your performance in the gym. You won’t remember how you felt on a random Tuesday afternoon and how your mood affected your workout unless you write it down.
4. Write down what happened leading up to your workout.
It’s also important to note the things that happened the night before or during the day leading up to your workout.
If your newborn kept you up for several hours in the middle of the night or you’re upset about a work presentation not going very well, you will probably not have a very good workout. And if you don’t note that, you won’t remember why your numbers suffered that day when you look back at your training log in the future.
5. Don’t forget to consider how a rest day can impact your next workout.
Taking note of what you do on your rest days and what your activity levels are like outside of the gym will help you determine whether or not you’re recovering properly. Whether you laid on the couch all day or went for a hike on a non-lifting day, it can impact how your workout feels.
Sometimes even light activity can make you more tired than you realize, and not doing anything physical at all on a rest day can make it more difficult to get going again the next time you’re in the gym. If you notice patterns emerging over time when you look back at several weeks’ worth of data, you’ll be able to adjust your recovery routine accordingly.
6. If you’re a female, keep track of your menstrual cycle.
Many women notice that they feel stronger or weaker during different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Keeping track of your period in your workout journal can provide you with some valuable insights into how to structure your workouts around different phases of your cycle. For example, you may want to try scheduling a deload week around the start of your period so you don’t have to train hard when you’re dealing with cramps or other side effects.
7. Track what you ate and drank.
Nutrition and hydration levels play a big role in how well you perform in the gym. Not eating enough can make you feel more tired than usual, and eating too much can make you feel uncomfortable or bloated.
Likewise, not drinking enough water before you work out can it make it more difficult for you to concentrate at the gym. Dehydration also affects the way your body regulates heat, and it can even affect your power output in the gym, especially if you’re training in a hot, humid environment.
If you’re already keeping track of your calories in an app like MyFitnessPal, you don’t have to rewrite everything you ate in your training log. A simple note about whether you are on track or off track for your daily calorie goals will suffice. All you need is a brief reference point so you can get a well-rounded look at how your diet is affecting your workouts.
Related Article: What Should Your Calories & Macros Be When Bulking?
8. Keep track of your cardio workouts as well.
A training log isn’t just useful for recording your strength training workouts. Making a note of your cardio workouts is just as important.
Let’s say you’re only doing running workouts now because you’re training for a marathon. You’ll need a way to keep track of how your distance and pace change with each run as you prepare for your race.
Even if you’re just running for fun, logging each of your workouts will allow you to track increases or decreases in your weekly or monthly mileage as well as how much your pace improves over time. This data can help you if you do decide to enter a race in the future because it will give you a reference point for how to prepare.
And if you do cardio in addition to your strength training workouts, taking note of how they make you feel will help you determine if you can add more cardio to your routine or if you need to scale it back.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
Tracking Your Workouts Manually: What To Include
One of the simplest ways to track your workouts is to use the pen and paper method. You can get a dedicated workout journal if you’d like, but any notebook will suffice.
This is my favorite way to track my workouts. Even though I get my training program through a mobile app, I much prefer to write things down when I’m logging my workouts.
Here are the steps I like to follow:
- Write the date and your body weight (if you’re tracking it) at the top.
- Underneath or next to that, write where you are in your training cycle. For example, if you’re on the second day of the third week of your cycle, you can write something like W3D2.
- Write the name of the exercise and how many sets and reps you’re going to perform with each weight. It should look something like this:
|1/3/2022 - W1D1|
|Back Squat||1x 10 w/ empty bar|
|1x 6 @ 95lbs|
|1 x 4 @ 135lbs|
|1 x 2 @ 155lbs|
|1 x 1 @ 175lbs|
|4 x 3 @ 200lbs|
- Keep a tally of which set you’re on. Using the example above, I’d write a tally in the 4×3 line after each set so I don’t lose track of how many sets I’ve already done.
- Record your RPE (rate of perceived exertion) for each set. If you don’t want to use an exact RPE, you can just write notes like “first two sets felt easy, last two sets difficult”. Writing down how easy or challenging your sets felt will help you determine whether you should increase the weight, sets, or reps or keep them the same the next time you do that exercise.
You can add more or less information if you’d like, but combined with some of the other rules I listed above, I find this data to be sufficient for me.
Why Should You Consider An Online Tool or App?
Even though the pen and paper method of tracking your workouts is effective, it’s not without its flaws.
For one, because none of the calculations can be automated, you’ll have to manually calculate percentages for each of your lifts. The best online or app-based workout trackers will tell you how much weight you should lift for most (if not all) of your exercises for each workout.
If you’re using your workout journal to also keep track of your body weight and want to find out your average weight for the previous week, you’ll need to use a calculator and do it yourself.
It’s also challenging to write on paper when your hands and arms are sweaty or if you’ve been using chalk. You’ll also potentially lose weeks or months of data if you spill liquid on your notebook.
Furthermore, a notebook and pen are two extra items that you have to pack in your gym bag, and they can be cumbersome to carry around the gym if you’re already carrying a water bottle, a lifting belt, or other pieces of workout gear.
Fortunately, there is a plethora of apps and online tools you can use to track your workouts on your phone if the pen and paper method isn’t for you. I’ll review 5 of the best ones down below.
Best Apps For Tracking Workouts
The 5 best apps for tracking workouts are:
- Fitbod – Best for Tracking Workouts
- Google Fit – Best for Tracking Daily Activities
- MapMyRun – Best for Tracking Running Workouts
- MyFitnessPal – Best for Tracking Meals
- Evernote – Best Workout Journal Alternative
Fitbod is one of the highest-rated, comprehensive, and intuitive mobile apps for tracking workouts.
Whether you’re training for bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or general health purposes, you can customize your workout to suit your goals. You can choose your experience level, how often you want to work out, what kind of training split you’d like to do, and how long you can work out for each day.
You can also select which equipment you have access to, which is a great feature for home gym users. As well, you can choose which muscle groups you want to focus on and get cardio recommendations for before or after your strength training workout.
I also love that Fitbod also allows you to see how recovered you are. It takes data from your previous workout to determine which muscle groups are the most recovered so it can help optimize your next training session.
As someone who enjoys CrossFit, one of the only things I don’t like about Fitbod is that it doesn’t offer recommendations for functional fitness training. I also wish that I could see a weekly or monthly summary of my workouts in the app, but you can enroll in emails to get a weekly report sent to you.
- Can customize workouts based on your schedule, available equipment, muscle groups you want to target, and training goals
- Video demos for more than 600 exercises
- Built-in rest timer
- Cardio workout recommendations
- Requires a paid subscription (but is still much cheaper than hiring a personal trainer)
- No way to see weekly or monthly stats in the app (though you can get a weekly report via email)
These days, it seems like every fitness app is focused on challenges, connecting with your friends and family, or shoving so much health data down your throat that it becomes overwhelming.
Google Fit is the opposite and offers a simple way for you to track things like steps, how well you sleep (if you have a compatible sleep tracker), and heart rate data.
It also has Heart Points and Move Minutes, which you earn by engaging in physical activity and getting more steps. This is a great feature if you need some external motivation to move your body.
Google Fit syncs with other apps like MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, and Calm, but it doesn’t sync to apps such as Garmin Connect or the Fitbit app, which is a drawback.
You can get around this by downloading other apps such as Health Sync or Fit to Fit, but this can be frustrating if you’re trying to limit the number of apps you keep on your phone. Some third-party apps also require a paid subscription.
- Clean, simple interface
- Connects to other apps such as MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, and Calm
- Can enable notifications to remind you to move
- Will not sync to certain wearable trackers like Fitbit or Garmin and their corresponding apps unless you also download other apps such as Fit to Fit or Health Sync
- Doesn’t track steps if you don’t have your phone on you
For an app that tracks your outdoor running workouts, you can’t beat MapMyRun. It allows you to create running routes so you can ensure you’re running an accurate distance each time you step foot outside. And if you’re a new runner or you’re looking for a plan to train for a race, you can access running plans straight from the app.
I love that MapMyRun allows you to connect to a smartwatch. If you don’t want to carry your phone with you when you run, you can record your activity on your watch and can sync the workout to the MapMyRun app on your phone when you get home. Some smartwatches will also allow you to download MapMyRun directly on them.
Another thing I love about MapMyRun is that the data is clearly displayed on the screen and the numbers are large enough to read, so all you need is a quick glance at your phone to determine your pace and distance.
One of the biggest drawbacks of MapMyRun is that there’s no easy way to create interval training workouts. But if you wear a watch from which you can access training plans, you can use that to time your intervals and then manually add your total distance and average pace to MapMyRun.
- Can sync to a smartwatch or wearable fitness tracker
- Large, easy-to-read display
- Can save routes that you run frequently
- Access to a variety of running plans
- Can only see heart rate activity with a paid account
- Can’t create intervals
While MyFitnessPal is a calorie/macro tracker rather than a workout tracking app, it’s a tool that anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle should use.
There is a free and paid version. The free version gives you a breakdown of your total calorie count and macro breakdown for the full day as well as an overview of how much fiber, vitamins, and minerals you’re consuming.
The app will default to a certain percentage of carbs, fats, and protein based on your goal (weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance), but you can change them in the goal settings.
You can also track how much water you drink, connect the app to a wearable fitness tracker, and keep track of your weight. You can even upload progress pictures of yourself if you’d like.
My favorite features of the app are the recipe and meal creation tools. If the meals you prepare go beyond just grilled chicken and white rice, you can import a recipe from the web or enter individual ingredients manually. You can also save meal combinations if you eat the same meals frequently.
With the paid version, you can see a macro breakdown per meal, see timestamps for each of your meals, and get access to premium meal plans. The free version is sufficient for most people, but the paid version is reasonable if you decide to upgrade.
- Can see overall calories and total protein, carbs, and fats for each day
- Can see daily micronutrient totals
- Ability to track weight and save progress photos
- Create recipes and meal combinations
- Can’t see macro breakdown per meal unless you upgrade to the paid version
If you like taking detailed notes for each of your workouts but the pen and paper method isn’t for you, Evernote is an excellent alternative.
You can download it or use the web browser on your Mac or PC and sync it to your phone. This is great for planning workouts from your computer at home and then recording your results on your phone at the gym.
Another thing I love about Evernote is that you can create separate notebooks. You can make new notebooks for each new training cycle or keep one notebook for strength training and one for cardio workouts.
Like most of the other apps on this list, Evernote has free and paid versions. The free version is pretty robust, but with the paid version, you get more storage, can create task lists, and connect it to your Google calendar, which can come in handy when you’re scheduling your workouts.
If you upgrade to the paid version, you can also connect it to your email. This is a great feature if you work with a coach who delivers your workout program via email.
- Available on both Apple and PC/Android devices
- Can sync notes automatically between your phone and your computer
- Can create individual notebooks for each of your workouts
- Paid version comes with a low monthly price
- Free plan only allows you to sync two devices
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Tracking your workouts is beneficial for monitoring your progress, keeping track of where you are mid-workout, and seeing how close you are to hitting your goals.
If you prefer to stick to the old-fashioned pen and paper method, you can track your workouts with any notebook or journal. But carrying a notebook and pen around the gym can be cumbersome, and you’ll have to manually calculate certain things like percentages of the weight you should lift.
For a digital workout tracker, I recommend the Fitbod app. It’s a robust, user-friendly app that will customize workouts based on your experience level, available equipment, schedule, and training goal. It also has 600+ demo videos so you can ensure you’re doing each movement correctly.
You can also use Evernote if you’re just looking for a digital way to take notes and save your training logs so you don’t have to carry a notebook and pen with you at the gym.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.