Hopefully by now, you all ready are feeling more confident about getting into the exercise habit and smashing your fitness goals. Probably you have been able to use some of the insight from the current research on how to start a habit and have been continually thinking about the goals you established as you have started working out. In this post, we are going to talk about what is the number one way to stay focused on the plan as well as, the one piece of equipment that will help you the most along the way.
When we looked at the research on habits one of the biggest takeaways was consistency, in the beginning, was critical. It is the basis for the first month of The Plan, easily building consistency by keeping the goal of the first month simple. When we looked at how to establish goals one of the keys discussed in that post was the importance of tracking everything. By tracking your progress, you will you know exactly where you are about your goal and if any changes need to be made.
These two factors often go hand in hand. By tracking your progress you will be more consistent, if you are more consistent, your progress will become easier to track. Which leads us to the number one way to stay focused on the Plan: write everything down.
Sounds pretty obvious but you’d be surprised at how few people truly do this on the regular when it comes to their fitness. The more you keep track of the more progress you will make.
This became evident to owner, Brian Ireland, in College. “During a January term at a liberal arts college, I took a requisite one credit PE class on strength training. We were going to be graded on our workout log, which was a form indicating the day we worked out, what we did, sets/reps, distance/time, etc. Having never written anything down previously I routinely would remember to write my exercises down (with weight, sets, reps) on a piece of scrap paper starting half way through my workout. Once I got back to my dorm room I put that scrap paper down to the side,” Ireland said.
As the days turned to weeks, he began to amass a collection of scrap paper workouts on his desk. At the end of the six-week J-term, he transferred all those scrap paper workouts into a work out log book to hand in. It was then he was hit with an epiphany.
At first, this task had a growing sense of accomplishment as he noted his weights and reps were increasing across the board. Then it happened. One day, Ireland noticed he had done a dumbbell bench press with 60lb dumbbells, and he had some nomenclature noting that it was easy and the next time he should increase the weight. However, the next time he saw he had performed a dumbbell bench press he saw he had only done 50 lbs! A full 10 pounds less than the last time he did the exercise! Even worse Ireland had nomenclature noting that the weight was really heavy and he should not attempt to increase any weight to preserve his form.
As he kept transferring the scrap paper notes into his log book the trend increased exponentially. He realized all that time he had been working out he was not effective nor had progressed with his weights significantly enough from the first week to the last….6 weeks later!
Write everything down, exercise type, reps, sets, weights, type of cardio, length of time, distance, level, etc. This helps to stay on point, to continue to progress each exercise or at the bare minimum maintain the gains and not take two steps back.
Which brings us to the number one piece of equipment we can recommend: a notebook
Mind blowing right!?! Any notebook will work, but Ireland likes using the old school composition notebooks you probably had at one point in school. The speckled black and white, black material bound, 100 sheets, 9.75 x 7.5-inch composition book. They cost about $2.33 on staples.com. If you are tech-savvy cell phones, have the same capability, but sometimes it’s just easier to hand write things down in a notebook smeared with sweat.
The Plan for the Book. Writing all the minute details (exercises, reps, sets, etc.) is one thing but how does that help keep me on track with my Month 1 goal of just getting to my workouts? I did say you will need to track everything down and that includes getting to the gym. A few years ago Ireland said he had noticed he became more consistent every month working out when he added a calendar feature to his workout book.
On the first blank page, draw a calendar that takes up roughly two-thirds of the page. Each calendar date takes up three rows in my composition book, and over the years he played around with the width to make it look pretty even on the page. Ireland has the days of the week as headings at the top with the month and year written in Sharpie above that. He put the dates for each day of the month in the appropriate box, if the first of the month starts on a Friday then the top line of the calendar has the first on Friday. So you should have a hand made replica of the current month just like a wall calendar.
This becomes the landing page for that month. Below the Calendar, you can put your short-term goals for the month as a constant reminder to achieve. On the subsequent pages, you can enter what exactly you did when working out for each day that you work out. Date it each entry, take as much room as necessary, and when that work out is done draw a horizontal line across the page in finality for a work out well accomplished.
At some point, immediately after your workout, later in the day, that night, before the next workout, you need to go back to your calendar and on that corresponding day enter some basic info of what you did. On Ireland’s calendar, he writes things like Cardio, WGTS (for weight lifting), Abs, and ST (for when you do some quality stretching/foam rolling) on the regular. When you do something active with the family, say Hiking, running with your kids, or indoor rock climbing, just enter that into the calendar as if it is extra credit.
This creates multiple points of positive reinforcement. Crossing that line across the daily entry page provides a sense of accomplishment, Adding what you did that day to the calendar further provides that sense of accomplishment, periodically looking over the calendar as the month progresses will further build the positive reinforcement as the days on the calendar fill up.
Remember the goal for Month 1? Just get there. Looking at that calendar will provide immediate feedback to how well you are progressing towards that goal. On the bottom of the page if you write the short-term goal of x days per week, then you have immediate accountability to yourself looking at that calendar.
Check back next week for our next blog post in our new BeneFIT PT’s Guide to Working Out Blog Series!