The keys to making progress with training are (A) knowing where you’re at, (B) knowing where you want to be, and( C) being honest with yourself about what it will take to get from A to B.

by Kristina Pattison, DPT, CSCS

The first step in knowing where you’re at is objectively tracking your workouts over time. Creating a training log is easy. Start by identifying your most important variables of training in two categories: input and output.


Some examples of input include: miles run, vertical gain, minutes completed, steps, days per week, sets, reps, etc.


Some examples of output include: speed (miles per hour)*, vertical speed (gain per hour), reps per minute, max weight lifted in a specific rep number, heart rate, cadence, etc.

*Note: output variables become input if they are kept fixed, such as when running at a consistent speed or heart rate. Think of input as what you control.

Athletes who want to progress must capture a clear picture of not only what they are doing but how they are doing it. Output variables give you a sense of how you are performing in specific dimensions over the course of your training. Which is absolutely necessary to progress your physical training toward specific performance goals.

Here are some simple steps to start or evaluate your training log:

  1. Track what you’re doing in 1-2 ways (input) and how it feels (output) in 1-2 ways (e.g. ran 5 miles, 60min, on soft snow at 5am effort 7/10 felt great but hard!)
  2. Aim to keep track of objective inputs and outputs for every day you exercise* (e.g. crosstrain day: elliptical 35min effort 4/10).
  3. At the end of a time frame total your inputs and average your outputs (e.g. total time this week 4 hours; avg effort 5/10).
  4. After a few weeks, identify some trends in your log: (e.g. HR lower at the same effort on bike versus elliptical—will record HR from now on).
  5. With this information you can identify other useful information to track or adjust.

*Note for someone who uses multiple exercise modalities—swimming, running, biking, nordic skiing—it may be worthwhile to keep track of time versus miles and effort or average heart rate versus speed.

There are many apps designed to track this information for you. However, in the beginning, personally interacting with these values is the BEST way to get to know them and get to know yourself. While recording your data, the numbers will get more real (like when paying with cash versus a debit card). Before long you’ll begin to see how you can have control over your output. And that’s when training gets exciting.

As time goes on your performance outputs will set benchmarks for new goals. This is why so many runners are addicted to running. Now go run!

For more on training principles see here: UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES OF TRAINING

For more on goal setting see here: Dreams to Goals

Next up: Progressing Your Training Safely and Realistically

*featured image: Dakota Umbel starting a training run in the Rattlesnake Mountains, Montana by Kristina Pattison



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