Trigger alert: If you have a history with disordered eating or exercise addiction do not read this piece. Your health and safety matter more to me than your athletic records.
For each day, rest or active, since 2010 I have kept a training journal. These books began simply to record my workouts in order to keep my weight and circuit training straight (those workouts get so darn complicated!). After a couple months of the simple format I began recording other variables such as sleep and rest day activities. A few months after that I had enough data to begin to analyze my alpine practice. I began to notice trends (both positive and negative) and was able to adjust my training to compensate for gaps and weaknesses.
I've learned a lot from journaling and hope you'll give it a shot!
Why keep a training journal?
Prevent overtraining. Tracking rest week is my number one reason to keep a journal. Inevitably I find myself exhausted five or six weeks into a hard training cycle feeling terrible about myself because I think it has only been three weeks since I last rested. The only way to accurately track how many weeks I've been on is to count the pages... four... five... six. I instantly feel better about my progress and send myself directly into rest week.
Motivation. When you're in hot pursuit of your first ultra, your rock project, or on the path to an expedition it is easy to get hard on yourself. Dont!. It can be astonishing to note how far you've come in your training by reviewing your notes.
Identifying patterns and tracking your own individual cycles of performance are amazingly helpful. If you chronically overtrain for endurance and undertrain finger strength and find yourself constantly failing to send a project, a quick analysis of your notes can illuminate the gaps in your practice. On the other hand you might want to closely track your first pass at a rest week to see what benefits you glean from a cycled approach to training.
Multisport athletes often find transition seasons difficult to manage or don't have a way to prioritize their activities. The training journal is an excellent way to both review your past performance and to plan for the awesome next season's biking, skiing, running, climbing... you get it.
Nesting goals is a great way to break a gigantic goal down into meaningfully small intermediate goals--a goal you can actually visualize yourself completing. Pursuing a large goal while ticking off many small goals along the way provides incremental rewards and little confidence boosts along the way knowing you're on the right track.
Working with a trainer, doctor, or coach can be bolstered by the data you collect. These support professionals love data and they'll be better able to add value to your practice if you keep a record.
How to record your training
I use a small Moleskine to record brief stats on my daily alpine practice.
Daily entries are important. Record active training days as well as the latent ones (rest days). We are trying to find the root causes for your superhuman workouts and replicate those environs so you always feel good! Rest habits are just as important as active training practices.
Metadata fields you might employ in your journal are: RHR upon waking, sleep, drug/alcohol use, mileage, duration, pace, level of perceived effort, sleep, interest in training, bodywork, major life stressors, or spiritual practices. One client of mine even tracks mileage on each pair of her running shoes. Smart. You could use all of these or just a small selection, make up your own too!
Create your own concept of an energetic battery. I use a percentage code for my energetic status, Training for the New Alpinism suggests an A-F system. Whatever system you generate be sure to code your workouts. Too many low-graded sessions in a row can be a leading indicator of overtraining or impending illness. Heed the wisdom of your energetic battery.
Qualitative reflections on the session are the last and most important part of keeping record of your practice. These notes can be incredibly telling--especially if recorded mid-session during a rest break or soon after completing a long day in the alpine. I love reviewing my own candid notes from time to time. The best yet? "Felt boss." Wow, that must have been one 100% day on the trail.
And finally be nice to yourself. Keeping a training journal isn't code for chronic overanalysis or self flagellation, a balanced perspective here is key.