Throughout the land, people have felt immense focus through winging it in the gym. Just going off memory, I would squat and train with no record of progress. I’d come in, put something heavy on the bar and squat it. For the first two to three years, it worked. I put on great strength and quality size.
However, when I got to college, things changed. My workouts were more inconsistent. I’d get frustrated over not being able to add weight to the bar every week. In fact, I’d pout at being crushed by weights that I had slaughtered weeks before. To top it off, the other, more experienced lifters would dare to ask, that I should drop the weight.
Are you serious? In the arrogance of a new lifter (with some gains) I’d give them the look of “You underestimate my power.”
But constantly, shooting myself in the foot with lack lustre training, incessant back pain, lack of progress, and getting fat as hell (I skyrocketed from 180 lbs to an overly fluffy, 235 lbs in my freshmen year) was too much. I couldn’t take it.
Inconsistency and the misery of sitting in a plateau was killing me. However, the first sign of reprieve came when I started recording my lifts in a journal. This all got started when I happened upon Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. This program and coach changed my outlook on training. I probably wouldn’t be lifting if not for the principles learned in Wendler’s book.
Of the many training and nutrition principles, it taught me to track my lifts. In the program, you have a pre-ordained list of percentages to hit in a periodized, four-week training cycle. Naturally, you compare the targets with what you actually accomplished.
Over several months, I blew past previous plateaus, hitting new personal bests and putting on quality size. Oh, and I had much better mobility. This progress on this program started me on the path for learning how to improve training sessions, which recently has found me video-taping my lifts. Right now, it’s just the deadlift and my form has progressed quite well. What this has shown me is the incredible benefits of recording lifts in a journal and on video, especially if you train alone.
Use Video to Record Form
Video recording lifts can really help you stay objective on form and technique. It also prevents you from cheating on reps. Did you fall into excessive lumbar flexion while squatting? What was your bar path on those sets of bench press? Many form-related questions can be answered by recording lifts on video. By recording, you don’t have to solely rely on intuitiveness to get the quality work in. You can make adjustments from one set to another, gradually improving form and quality of the training session.
Say for example you found that after your first set of deadlifts that your upper back was kind of rounding (from video). You can go into your second set, focusing on the cue of packing your lats, bracing well, and locking out your hips and knees simultaneously.
We mentioned intuitiveness earlier. You can’t always rely on feelings, especially for novice and intermediates. That’s why we track. By recording lifts, we see, regardless of how much we felt a set strained us, the efficiency of the set. You can very well move a weight incredibly efficiently, yet still feel like you were going to die under the bar. In this case, recording allows us accountability, to get in the volume we ARE capable of, not when we FEEL capable. This alone makes recording a valuable tool for athletes.
On another note, physically recording your training in a journal can help track more intuitive information. Now intuition isn’t a bad thing, you just can’t only rely on it. This is where you get into your feelings. I know, you’re already carrying a camera and notebook around the gym. What more can you do by actually recording your FEELINGS in it, right?
Well, your feelings are important. Here you have another kind of accountability: progression and psychology. Here you plan your future training sessions, looking beyond today, towards the future. This could be the week, month, or even year, (as Strength Theory’s latest article shows).
However, this is also where you get to talk about how a set made you feel. Bring out the psychiatrists couch! What could be improved on the next set? What external factors led to the performance of that day? If you had a great session, this kind of recorded information can help in recreating that epic session or epic training block. Likewise, recording a terrible session or terrible period of training can help you understand how to better program and control external factors.
Ultimately, it’s an experiment and this journal is your log book. How different bars effects you, did you use the nice Ohio Bar or those crappy stiff bars your gym has? Bumpers, steel , or calibrated plates? All of this information helps create consistency and to keep the ball moving.
Now, try combining these two. Taking the resource in monitoring technique that video recording allows and slapping it together with a log book that can help you better design future training, and you have a solid force for progress. As mentioned before, this is even more valuable if you train alone as it gives a means of objectivity and self-accountability for progress. Don’t stay stuck in a rut, record, make adjustments, and execute.