Tracking your workouts can be a great way to set goals, provide accountability and help you plan your training schedule.
If you’re new to fitness — or just want to start monitoring your progress — it can seem intimidating when you don’t know where to start.
With this guide from Fitness First, we’ll help walk you through everything you need to know about tracking your workouts, including all of the different ways you can track and how to choose the right method for you!
What does it mean to track a workout?
It involves keeping a record of various aspects of your workout, such as the exercises performed, sets and repetitions completed, weights or resistance used, duration of the workout, and anything else that you might think is relevant.
Why is it important to track a workout?
Tracking your workouts serves as a pivotal tool in your fitness journey, contributing to your overall progress and success. But why is it important?
- Enhanced motivation — Tracking your workouts offers tangible evidence of your progress and achievements. It serves as a powerful motivator, helping to instil a sense of confidence as you see your progress improve over the weeks. The visual representation of your efforts can inspire you to stay committed and strive for even greater milestones!
- Progress assessment — Keeping track of your workouts allows you to assess the progress you’ve made. By analysing your tracked data, you can identify patterns, strengths, and areas that may need a bit of improvement. This valuable insight allows you to fine-tune your training approach, optimise your routines, and make informed adjustments aligned with your goals.
- Effective goal setting — Tracking your workouts makes setting realistic and measurable goals much easier. By having access to detailed information about your workouts, you can set specific targets, break them down into manageable milestones, and monitor your progress towards achieving them.
- Accountability and discipline — When you record your exercises, you create a document that serves as a reminder of your commitment to your fitness objectives. This visual representation of your efforts acts as a gentle nudge to maintain consistency and stick to your planned routines.
What can I use to track my workouts?
From fitness watches to good old-fashioned pen and paper, there are a few ways you can track your workouts:
- Fitness apps — There is a wide range of smartphone apps specifically designed for tracking workouts. These apps often offer pre-built exercise libraries, customisable routines, and the ability to input data like sets, reps, and weights. Apps like Apple Fitness+, Nike Training Club and Strava can help you take on any workout.
- Pen and paper — A more traditional approach, this involves using a workout journal or notebook to manually record your workouts. This method is simple, inexpensive and allows for levels of customisation.
- Wearable devices — Fitness trackers, smartwatches, and heart rate monitors can track workouts automatically or through manual input. These devices often provide data on heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, and duration of the workout. Some of the most popular watches on the market can range from affordable Fitbits to the more expensive Apple and Samsung watches.
- Online platforms — Some fitness platforms, like Fitocracy, offer workout templates, exercise databases and the ability to log and track your progress over time.
- Spreadsheets and digital templates — If you prefer a more customised approach, you can create your own workout tracking using spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. You can also download free templates online, offering pre-built formats.
- Combination approach — You can also combine different methods based on your exact needs. For example, you might use a fitness app for tracking exercises and sets while using a wearable device to monitor your heart rate and calorie expenditure.
Ultimately, the best tool for tracking workouts is the one that suits your preferences, supports your goals, and is easy for you to use consistently.
What are the disadvantages of tracking your workouts?
While tracking your workouts can be beneficial, it’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its drawbacks.
- Time and effort — Tracking workouts can be time-consuming, especially if you prefer to record detailed information. This additional effort may feel burdensome for some people who would instead focus solely on their workouts without the added task of recording data.
- Obsession and stress — For some individuals, tracking workouts can lead to an unhealthy obsession with numbers and metrics. Constantly striving to meet specific targets or comparing yourself to others can create unnecessary stress and anxiety. It's important to maintain a healthy perspective and not let tracking become an obsession or a source of undue pressure.
- Lack of flexibility — Strictly adhering to tracking routines can create rigidity in your workouts. While consistency is essential for progress, being too focused on recording every detail may limit your ability to adapt and modify your training based on how you feel on a particular day. It's crucial to listen to your body and make adjustments when necessary rather than being solely driven by tracking metrics.
- Mental and emotional impact — For some individuals, tracking workouts can negatively impact their mental and emotional well-being. Constantly comparing oneself to others or feeling discouraged by not meeting specific goals can lead to feelings of inadequacy or demotivation. Maintaining a healthy mindset and remembering that progress looks different for everyone is important.
How to choose the right tracking method for you
When it comes to choosing your tracking method, you have to make sure it’s the right one for you, but there are a few things to consider beforehand.
1. Assess your goals
Clarifying your fitness goals and what you hope to achieve by tracking your workouts can be a great way to get you in the right frame of mind. Ask yourself:
- Do you want to improve your strength, endurance, flexibility or overall fitness?
- Are you training for a specific event or competition?
Understanding your objectives will help guide you in the right direction for selecting tracking methods that can cover all bases.
2. Evaluate your preferences
Consider how you prefer to track, record and read information. While some people will enjoy the process of manual tracking, others may enjoy automated methods using fitness apps or watches that they don’t need to think about.
Reflect on whether you prefer writing things down, using wearable tech or a combination of both!
3. Opt for trial periods
If possible, try out different tracking methods for a trial period to explore options and find out which one suits you best. Experiment with various methods like manual tracking or testing out certain apps — that also offers a free trial — and see which you prefer!
4. Accountability and motivation
Determine whether you need an accountability system or motivational features within the tracking method. Some apps offer community features, workout challenges, or even progress-tracking graphs that can help keep you motivated. Apple Fitness+ has a ‘burn bar’ on their HIIT workouts that lets you compete with others who have already taken on that specific workout.
Assess whether these elements are important to you and whether they contribute to your commitment and consistency.
Do I have to track every workout?
If it doesn’t align with your preferences, then there’s no need to track every single workout you do. While tracking workouts can be a helpful tool for monitoring progress, setting goals, and maintaining accountability, it's not necessary for everyone.
There are scenarios where tracking every workout may not be practical, like when your workouts involve a lot of variety or if they’re unstructured. In cases like group fitness classes or outdoor sports, it may be challenging to track each session accurately.
If tracking every workout starts to create stress, pressure, or anxiety, it's perfectly fine to take a break from it. Find a balance that works for you, whether it means tracking selectively, focusing on certain milestones, or adopting a more intuitive approach to exercise. Remember, the purpose of tracking workouts is to support your goals, but it should not become a burden or detract from your overall enjoyment and well-being in your fitness journey!
Is tracking workouts time-consuming?
“Tracking your workouts can be time-consuming, but it depends on the level of detail and the methods you use to track them”, explains Tim Andrews, Head of Fitness Product. To make your tracking more efficient, you can:
- Plan workouts in advance so you have a clear idea of what you need to track.
- Use pre-designed workout templates or programs.
- Set aside specific time for tracking your workouts, such as straight after your session or at the end of the day.
- Opt for fitness apps or wearable devices that offer seamless integration and automation.
It doesn’t have to be hard to track your workouts!
Can I still achieve my fitness goals without tracking workouts?
Yes, it’s always possible to achieve your fitness goals, even if you don’t want to track all or any of your workouts.
While tracking workouts can provide valuable insights and help with accountability, it is not the sole determining factor for progress. Instead, focus on consistency and intensity in your exercise routine, making sure to challenge yourself and maintain a level of effort that pushes you outside your comfort zone.
How often should I review my tracked workouts?
Depending on personal goals and preferences, the frequency at which you track your workouts can differ. However, there are a few ways to determine how often you should:
- Short-term goals — If you have specific short-term goals, such as increasing strength, improving endurance, or reaching a certain performance milestone, it can be helpful to review your tracked workouts more frequently. This allows you to assess your progress, make adjustments to your training routine if needed, and stay motivated by seeing your improvements. In such cases, reviewing your tracked workouts weekly or biweekly may be beneficial.
- Long-term goals — For long-term progress and overall fitness assessment, it may be best to review your tracked workouts on a monthly or quarterly basis. This broader timeframe allows you to analyse trends and patterns over a more extended period, providing a better understanding of your overall progress and areas that may require additional attention.
James Barr, a personal trainer at Fitness First, says, “It’s important to strike a balance between regular assessment for tracking sake and avoiding excessive fixation with the data. Find a schedule that works for you, helps keep you motivated and supports your continued development on your fitness journey.”