How A Training Diary (literally) Saved My Neck…

Ok, so the title may be a little misleading in the hopes of getting your attention, but there is an element of accuracy to it and a great sentiment behind it. So let me explain…

During my professional rugby career, I was required to train hard and often. My weekdays were mainly spent doing speed work on the track, strength training in the gym, or skill work on the field.

It was the norm that we used training diaries or journals to log the results of the activities prescribed by our Athletic Trainer, especially from our weight training program.

I found using a diary both helpful and a hindrance, and my commitment to writing down my performance after each exercise was inconsistent. While it was handy having previous scores written down as a reminder of where I was and a what to improve upon, I didn’t always remember to keep track, or on some occasions bring my diary to the gym at all!

The obvious benefits of using a training diary became apparent to me when I broke my neck playing rugby. After a successful surgery, I faced a long, hard road to recovery, and little did I know that the humble training diary would become my best friend during this difficult period.

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Stepping Stones

When the fusion of my fractured C4/C5 vertebrae was strong enough, it was time to embark on my neck rehabilitation. I suffered extensive nerve damage to my right arm also, which now resembled that of a 6 year old child due to the muscle atrophy which had occurred.

Despite the risks and my new infantile physique, I was determined to play rugby again. At 32 years old however, I knew that I would have to cross my ‘t’s and dot my ‘i’s if I was to return to the field while I was still young enough to perform.

So I made myself a training diary, which included a “Goals” section in the back of the book, and the first thing I wrote in the diary was my long term goal – “MAKE STARTING TEAM FOR FIRST GAME OF NEXT SEASON”. That gave me 9 months.

I would then set a series of shorter range goals as stepping stones to the Long term goal. This was important not only as an indicator of whether I was on the right track, but makes the long term goal seem less overwhelming. If you’re climbing a mountain, it can be too daunting and discouraging to keep looking at the summit, so setting your sights on each base camp will seem more achievable and hence more motivating.

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Keeping your discipline

When trains become derailed it can have disastrous consequences. This was my mindset when it came to sticking to my rehab program. The programs that my neck specialist and Strength and Conditioning Coach gave me were the train tracks which were laid down for me, and my training diary would ensure that I stayed on the tracks, otherwise my life was in danger if I attempted to take the field again with an under-strengthened neck, shoulder and arm.

This sentiment helped me remain disciplined and focused. Disciplined to remember my diary. Disciplined to stick to my program and write down my scores. Disciplined to review my performance and assess the achievement of my short term goals.

When you write down your performance in a training diary, you now become accountable to yourself, and the numbers don’t lie. The great US Olympic track sprinter Michael Johnson says in his book Slaying The Dragon that he ensures he doesn’t “blur the edges” of his training program. If it says do 10 reps, you must do 10 reps, not 9.

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Listen to your body through your diary

Just as it is important to be strict and work hard to achieve your goals, it is equally important to be aware of any signs of overtraining, and take measures to prevent any illness or injury as a result.

Your training diary can provide valuable information about any plateaus in performances, which are prime indicators that overtraining may be occurring, in which case a reassessment of the training program may be necessary.

In my training diary, I also include a scale of how I am feeling before and after training, and be sure to make a comment of things like muscle soreness, lack of energy, quality of sleep etc. which can all be valuable indicators that I need to back off.

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What kind of diary?

Your diary can be as simple or elaborate, as large or small as you want. A simple blank notebook is better than nothing. I recommend however using a diary that has a clearly set out format making it easier to write down info and clearer to read and compare when you review sessions.

Some people don’t mind having a large and bulky all-in-one folder with compartments in which programs and other information can be kept. Others prefer a more discreet pocket sized version which more easily transported and less obnoxious. Bear in mind though that these can easily be misplaced, so I tend to go for something in the middle.

To ensure that I get in and out of the gym in a timely fashion, I like to fill in as much of the session as possible in my diary before the workout, especially if I am transferring info from a separate training program.

There are some good training diary apps out there too which obviously negate the need for pen which is desirable. I recommend JEFIT Workout and Fitlist apps.

However, I like to keep it old school with a paper booklet and pen for a few reasons, but mainly to limit the use of my phone and temptation to be distracted by apps, texts and emails which can deter the quality of my workout. So unless you’re a doctor on call or an Instagram influencer, leave the phone in the car and grab your training journal and pen to optimize the quality of your session.  Where can you find a good diary you ask? You can order the very diary I used for my neck injury rehab and still use myself and give to my clients today. Just click the link below to order.

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