How To Use a Logbook To Maximize Gains + A Downloadable Logbook Template
The Number 1 Tool In Your Gym Bag
I have to be honest… I’m kinda an idiot…
I’m not quite sure how this post had slipped by for so long without fully going into the details and many applications of this tool → the most important tool to help you grow in my humble opinion, but nonetheless here we are.
That “most important tool”, again as I’ve given it away in the title (I need to get better at this, maybe I need to start becoming more “click-baity”), is the logbook.
While the concept is extremely self-explanatory and you might be wondering why I even need to explain this, there are actually some key considerations that can help us when using our logbook, and interpreting the data and what to do with that data to help us make more progress.
Why It’s The Best Tool
When you break down what causes muscle growth, it all leads back to one place as being the underlying principle:
While I’m sure most of you are aware of what progressive overload is, for those of you who don’t, it’s basically a fancy way of saying “lifting more than you did last time, over time”—continually placing increased demand on the muscle.
This can mean a number of things, we can achieve this by:
Increasing Time Under Tension
Getting Better At Performing The Movement/Targeting The Muscle Better
Practically, we will focus on the first 2 because they aren’t finite and do not run into the issue of diminishing returns, >90% of the time increasing weight and/or reps will be how we achieve progressive overload.
In reality this looks like lifting something for 100lbs for 6 reps until you eventually get 7 reps, then 8, then 9, and so on; or if you are looking at it like how my training programs are set up, once you get that 100lbs weight from 6 reps to 9 reps, then you’d add weight, let’s call it 110lbs that now you can only get for 6 reps then repeat this process over and over and over, ad infinitum.
Visually, it looks like this:
Again, this will be the main driver of our muscle growth/fitness progress so it is something we want to ENSURE is happening consistently. It won’t always happen from workout to workout, but over time we need to be trending in this direction of progression.
This is why logbooks become so important.
Logbooks Ensure Progressive Overload Is Taking Place
While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to tell if you’re moving more weight for more reps, it can be very hard to track this mentally across a training plan that might have a few dozen different workouts and dozens of total sets over the week unless you’re some Rain Man-esque savant.
Not tracking this can become VERY problematic and hold MANY people back in the gym because they might not realize they are actually remaining at the same weights and reps for most workouts so something in their routine is simply not working.
When you track your lifts in some type of way, whether a physical notepad, phone app, or some other tangible method, you can reference it and immediately identify if you’re stalling out.
This has huge implications because for a multitude of reasons we might have some factor causing us to stall in our progress:
Not getting proper nutrition
Poor sleep and other recovery issues
We’re not doing enough or maybe even doing too much volume in the gym
We’ve maxed out our progression for a moment on a certain lift and need to swap with a new movement to add a novel stimulus
You have a weaker body part limiting the movement
You’re training like a bitch
Etc. Etc. Etc.
This will happen at some point, it’s inevitable, which means it’s pertinent to identify the issue so we can solve it and continue to make progress. If we aren’t tracking and have no idea then we can let the issue go on and on, for some even months or years, before realizing “Wait Jack, something ain’t right” which is valuable time that you could’ve spent making progress—this is so unbelievably common you wouldn’t believe it.
You can look at your logbook as your data log to gauge whether you’re making progress and see if what you’re doing is actually working. This is so crucial because a large part of fitness is finding what specific methods work for you individually because we all have unique genetics and makeup—an experiment of sorts, and you CAN’T run an experiment and interpret results if you have ZERO data.
Sure, the mirror, scale, etc. can be data points whether what we’re doing is working or not, and sure some of you can have a decent general idea of where you are with your reps and weight, but this small action of just tracking it all but guarantees you are ensuring you’re making progress.
Logbooks do a good job of letting us know if we’re doing the right amount of volume as you can keep real-time feedback as you adjust your volume to see what works best for you. This can be very helpful if you are lowering volume as many feel like they aren’t doing enough because it’s hard to break the “more should be more” model of thinking which isn’t always true in the gym. Even if it feels like it’s “not enough” if the numbers keep going up and up, it’s probably safe to assume whatever we’re doing is working.
It’s rather comforting to go to the gym, see what number you need to get to beat your last workout, get that new number, and know you accomplished muscle growth from that session.
Logbooks “Gamify” The System
Probably my favorite benefit of using a logbook is the fact it creates such a tangible, micro-goal for you to achieve during your workouts. It becomes a game of trying to beat the numbers with the reward of that game being muscle growth—I like games like that.
This “game” becomes very motivating in the gym. It allows you to hone in your focus and motivation for attainable goals, and it feels great when you hit it—a very healthy dopamine/reward feedback system as your brain is associating effort and work with progress, this is why, in large part, I believe lifting can make you better at life in general because this is transferable to other domains and it rewires your brain to associate effort and hard work with progress.
There is just something about the numbers physically in your face that really help you dial it into a level where you perform at your best.
However, I’d be remiss to not say that this should not come at the expense of your form or safety. Yes, we want to beat the numbers, but if we do it in a way that isn’t even effectively working the muscle well or is causing harm then it’s just flat-out dumb. Don’t try to hit numbers just to hit numbers. We grow by hitting these numbers with effective, quality reps.
Logbooks Standardize Form and Conditions
In order to drive the novel stimulus that drives progressive overload, we want to make sure we are creating as close to the same conditions as we can workout to workout to ensure we are standardizing our routines.
This matters because if we aren’t doing exercises from the same positions, meaning the seat settings, bench inclines, etc. then it’s a slightly different movement when in reality we want to be building from the exact same conditions to truly maximize progressive overload.
This is something I use my Logbook for—I make note of where I had the equipment settings at so I’m recreating these conditions.
This isn’t a gigantic make-or-break thing, but in a game of inches, inches makes champions.
How To Use Your Logbook
First and foremost, my logbook acts as my “daily planner” in the gym. Before even starting my workout I know exactly what I need to do, and this focus and visualization can improve our performance in the gym.
When I’m doing my workouts, I like to add little notes of little things that might improve an exercise or the workout in general. I’ll even note things like “felt like garbage and weak today” or whatever because at the end of the day, we can look at that and begin to identify what causes the days where you feel off and avoid whatever it was that contributed. Works in the inverse too.
At the end of the day, we are giving ourselves raw data which can end up really improving our time in the gym.
What I like to do is when I notice a stall anywhere in my logbook on any exercise is to immediately take inventory. One or even two lifts where I’m not making progress is not really a big deal, but after a few, especially 3-4 weeks of stalling, it’s time to re-evaluate everything.
If it’s just a single exercise that’s stalling, I’ll just swap it with a different exercise for the same muscle with a similar movement pattern and roll with that. Typically this will be the fix, 8-9 times out of 10. If not, then you need to look deeper into why.
If it’s a bunch of different movements stalling, then we need to look at things like nutrition, sleep, and/or maybe even our programming entirely. Commonly it might just be we need more food to support our growth so that is an easy fix.
This also highlights a key point, while entirely possible to add weight/reps while cutting/in a caloric deficit, seeing stalling, or even some regression on our numbers is normal and to be expected. Now, it shouldn’t be huge, sudden drops, but gradually over time as we go deeper into our deficit then it’s normal. The logbook does a good job at offering us a good goal to mentally keep us tapped into lifting hard even when energy/motivation is lower from the caloric deficit + again it provides the data to make sure we aren’t dieting too aggressively and risking muscle loss.
For newer lifters, I’d still expect numbers to be going up regardless of caloric intake whether deficit or surplus because you should be able to progress regardless—that is the beauty of “Newbie Gains”.
The template I’ve provided you here (feel free to print it out and maybe even take it somewhere like Staples/Office Depot/Kinkos/Etc. to get it made into a spiral-bound book) covers most of our basis for tracking. It has 12 spots for different exercises, tracks up to 4 sets with weight and reps, and on the bottom has places where you can track things like sleep, cardio, how recovered you feel, and other notes.
I really like utilizing the bottom portion as it is more data that we can refer back to. Maybe we feel like we’re stalling but notice on the days we have done that specific workout we have had poor sleep. Maybe we notice that one day of the week we continually don’t feel recovered so maybe we need to move some things around. Maybe days we do a certain amount of cardio we see a dip in our weights… you get the point, it can be useful to help guide us with our training.
The notes section comes very in handy for anything random you think might pertain to your training at all. I learned from Dorian Yates that it becomes an amazing tool to write these types of notes because it can help you in the future by looking back and seeing what may or may not be useful—plus it’s just kinda cool to watch your training evolve over the years and see how far you’ve come.
Anyway, here is the link, enjoy:
After struggling to find a way to be able to make and mass distribute these types of physical logbooks while remaining anonymous + not having to hand pack every order (this becomes extremely time intensive) I have finally found a quality place that can make them to my demands.
Not sure on when and I have a bad habit of giving random dates and it falling through so I won’t do that but I can say it will be sooner than later—I just need to update the cover, first few pages, tweak some of the things on the logbook, and then just throw them on my website and it’ll be done.
Anyway, for those following the new Density Program, tomorrow the next week will be dropping. After the email is out, I’ll be doing a group voice chat in the Discord to go over any questions any of you have, any guidance you need with training/dieting/supplements/etc., and just generally anything you want to chat about.
Also, another podcast episode going out next week. We got behind building the program but have a set schedule now so we can consistently get 1-2 episodes put out a week. If you have any topic idea you’d like to hear about, let us know in the comments.
With all that said, enjoy the rest of your weekend, don’t get in (too much) trouble, and for those running the program… rest up and be ready for another great week of training.
Your blue cartoon friend,
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.
The downloadable pdf file of the logbook is not for commercial distribution, it’s sole intended use is for individual use or sharing with family and close friends. If this is violated I will be very sad, legally you’re probably safe but if you steal my design and try to start a company I will make it my life’s mission to disrupt it. Don’t be a dick, I worked hard on this and gave it to you for free.