If you are not tracking, you’re guessing, plain and simple. Tracking your training is the most effective way to gage your progress in the long term. Have you ever seen the guys in the gym who turn up every day and rip themselves to shreds over a session, most of them still look the same right? Largely due to no structure, grinding the same weights and not progressing week to week. It is a good way to spin your wheels if that’s what you’re into.
In order to track your training, you should first plan out and structure it.
This ultimately requires a coach to do it for you or for you to take time to put the plan in place. I assume you all have a goal. To reach this you need a system that works you towards this end goal. Guessing your way there is very inefficient and can be a huge waste of your time.
The further advanced you become in the gym, it becomes increasingly important to track your training to find progress (that’s not to say low level advancement won’t benefit from tracking). This is because increases in muscle size and increases in strength become so minuet in advanced lifters that you may need to compare successive meso cycles to even see progress.
Yes, in some cases there are exceptions. Take a beginner for example. If they come into a gym and just focus on proper form and technique, they will progress just from this. Largely due to becoming more efficient at coordinating the movement and having a larger window for adaption. Even still, tracking your training at this low advancement level is important to build the habit.
Tracking your training allows you to properly determine if you have made progress. Here are some examples of how you might gage improvement;
Max Load Testing
Lifting a heavier amount of weight than the previous Max Load test. In general, 1RM tests are more applicable to powerlifter and 3-5 RM’s are better for physique athletes.
Sets x Reps X Weight Lifted = Volume. In the case of volume PB’s you can increase any of the above variables meso to meso and it will be a volume PB. Eg: Last mesocycle you lifted 3×8 of 90kg. The next mesocycle you did 4×8 of 90kg. This is considered a volume PB.
This is picking a submaximal load and doing reps to failure. If you can take the same load and do more reps before failure next time you have progressed. Eg; 80kg squats for 6 reps. The next time you test AMRAP you do 80kg squats for 9 reps.
The RPE for a given exercise is lower than last time. The amount of reps in reserve you have for a given exercise at a set load is greater. This indicates the exercise has become easier. If 10 x 8 @80kg starts at an RPE 9 and in 5 weeks you can do 10 x 8 @80kg with and RPE 7 then you have progression.
The three below are not so much trackable on paper. They do however, play a subtle role in determining improvements and are well worth mentioning.
As mentioned above, is a means of progress. Exercises are essentially a skill, to perform a skill you need to have the right timing and sequence of events. That is, your nervous system telling your muscles when to move, where to move and in what order.
You look bigger in different photos. Your muscles have a bigger appearance.
You become less sore
This is your muscles becoming accommodated to a given stimulus (repeated bout effect). The more you do something, the less it impacts you in the future. So as you go along a meso cycle, for example you hit week 5, by now your muscles are building up more of a resistance to the given stimulus or each exercise. This is actually where you make some great ‘gains’. You can do more work and be less sore as a result of it.
Becoming more confident in the gym is a sign of improvement. Knowing you can execute a movement with timeless form is important for ‘confidence under the bar’.
If you are serious about obtaining results, then tracking your training is a must to get the most out of it. Overtime you will be able to see what has worked best for you with your development. There may be some trends to your performance in certain mesos, so you can take this and apply it next time. Gaging performance and seeing what works best for you is a must when shooting for your goal.