Tracking your program

I recently had a good question about how to track your program. This is an important part of programming success. How can you know if you are making progress if you don’t remember where you have been? How are you supposed to figure out what types of training are productive for you and what types are not? Well writing them down in one form or another is an easy and very useful way to make sure that you are able to see you progress. I’m going to throw out a few different ways that you can track your program and then a few pieces of advice on how to keep track of what is important and what really isn’t in the long run.

Journals

Notebooks are an old friend to tracking your training. You can go with a high rent moleskin, a spiral bound like you used in school, or just a simple small note pad. The key is get something with a hard plastic cover on each side since over time being in the gym it is likely you will spill something on it. Also, you will constantly be opening and closing it which can cause you to lose the cover which in turn will possibly have you lose the first pages in the journal additionally. Spiral bounds do have an advantage in that you can store a pen in the spiral so you know you will always have a way to write.

Excel files

You can use Microsoft excel to track your workouts and specifically what your performance on your top sets are with time. I’m not a big fan of this, but another way is to write up workout cards for the week or for just your lifting days. This gives you something you can print out and then take with you to the gym to fill out as you go through your workout. This does work well and this is how I tracked my athletes when I coached and my personal training clients so you can see what they are doing with their progressions. There are also nice excel templates that you can buy through companies like renaissance periodization that you can use for very specific training goals. Here is a simple excel formatting that I made for my in-laws that you can use for your own training by copy and pasting it in to excel (you will have to manually change the formatting to get what you want here):

Name
Day Date                    
Warm Up: Exercise Time                    
Exercise 1 Push Set 1 wt            reps                    
Rep Range: #-# Set 2 wt            reps                    
Seat Setting: Set 3 wt            reps                    
Arm Setting: Set 4 wt            reps                    
Pad Setting: Set 5 wt            reps                    
Exercise 2 Pull Set 1 wt            reps                    
Rep Range: #-# Set 2 wt            reps                    
Seat Setting: Set 3 wt            reps                    
Arm Setting: Set 4 wt            reps                    
Pad Setting: Set 5 wt            reps                    
Exercise 3 Lower Set 1 wt            reps                    
Rep Range: #-# Set 2 wt            reps                    
Seat Setting: Set 3 wt            reps                    
Arm Setting: Set 4 wt            reps                    
Pad Setting: Set 5 wt            reps                    
Exercise 4 Abs Set 1 wt            reps                    
Rep Range: #-# Set 2 wt            reps                    
Seat Setting: Set 3 wt            reps                    
Arm Setting: Set 4 wt            reps                    
Pad Setting: Set 5 wt            reps                    
Exercise Optional Set 1 wt            reps                    
Rep Range: #-# Set 2 wt            reps                    
Seat Setting: Set 3 wt            reps                    
Arm Setting: Set 4 wt            reps                    
Pad Setting: Set 5 wt            reps                    
old bench assault pages
Old bench assault pages. Useful since you can track your weights each week of the program.
excel formatting for programs
This is how you should format the table above in excel. If you have questions email me and I will send you the basic file to use.

Apps

There are a number of different activity trackers for your phone and computer. Some of these are just for tracking steps, but others cannot just track, but give you entire programs to follow. There is nothing wrong with investing or utilizing one of these, just make sure there is a way you can get all of your information out if you want a physical copy so you can look through it to find the trends of your training and where you might have been getting better faster or not making as much progress.

How many details?

When you are using a journal or writing your program in to your phone or computer, you need to ask yourself how much is enough information to record? Do you need to record every warm up exercise, set, and repetition? Maybe when you start off but after a while that isn’t so necessary. Do you need to record every single work set? Probably so you can see how much work you put in. Do you need to record your personal records in movements so you can see what types of progress you are making? Yes, always keep track of your PRs so you know which way you are moving with your overall training. Do you need to track your rest periods? Maybe. Start off simply with how much work you do and then with time add in more variables and then look back at what you have done and see what the important metrics for you to follow were.

What is important?

Aside from just training your training program of sets, reps, and time you might want to track some other pieces of information. For example, always track which day you are training on. Sounds simple, but some folks take years to figure out their squat workout sucks the day after they deadlift. Keep a log of which days you do train and in which way, so you can see how your other workouts effect your current one. Also you can track your sleep and parts of your diet (which is another can of worms in itself). With time you will find what is important for your log and what is just noise, but you need to start tracking either way.

Summary

So that is the basics of how you can track your program. There are a huge number of ways that you can do so, but you need to be using at least one. Figure out what works best for your time, energy, and psychology. Use these training logs as a way to see what training is the most productive and a waste of your time. Find what works and keep experimenting to make things better with time. I hope this was useful for you and as always thanks for reading.

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Have belt will travel: Westside Barbell

At some point I will write about my first visit to Westside barbell, for now I will talk about my most recent visit to this gym. For those of you that aren’t familiar, Westside barbell is one of the most successful powerlifting clubs of all time. A number of great lifters have come out of Westside barbell and then struck off to find their own success in business or training.

Calling ahead

Each time before I go to Westside I call ahead and find out if it is ok to come in and train. I would like to tell you dear reader and say that my voice is more confident and less fanboyish each time that I call them, but that would be a dirty lie. In my experience when you leave a message with them they get back to you in a few days. Then you have to act like you aren’t mildly freaking out and gushing at the fact that you are getting to speak to THE WESTSIDE BARBELL. They were kind enough to look past my childlike glee and allow me to come in and train with the Saturday morning crew and then ask questions later on about training and such.

In the hotel room

Here I am, sitting alone in a hotel room thinking about how it all started over ten years ago. Driving alone to Columbus, Ohio to train at Westside Barbell. Driving by the closed gym that night to make sure I knew where it was and then driving to the hotel to sit by myself and think about how in a few hours I would be training with some of the most intense and strongest people on the planet. Feeling that slight bit of trepidation, but mostly excitement while sitting in the room that I was getting the chance to train with and learn from the best. Eventually sleep finds me by about 11pm that night.

Pulling up and time to go

I got up at about 6:30, got dressed (I avoid wearing any labels while training at Westside, the last thing you want to happen is everyone starts calling you Kentucky or something), and made some tea then got on the road. I pulled up to the gym at about 7:12am and the place was already going. Standing outside I could hear the clatter of bars and plates being moved along with stereo playing. As I walked in the gym I’m hit with the aroma of chalk, sweat, and iron. Welcome back to Westside, Mike, now what are you going to do…

Training

I quickly hop in with a group of collegiate linebackers. One just graduated from playing at The Ohio State University and the other plays for Indiana. They are doing speed bench with a football bar against band and chain resistance. We are coached the entire time by Tom Barry the general manager of Westside Barbell. I’m told to lockout my reps since I’m having a hard time between the pec and the band tension to do so with each rep. We motor through 8 work sets, slightly changing the weight for each of us with each set. From there we did band resisted pushups (light band) with our hands on a barbell for three sets of burn out with different grips for each set. The sound of loud DMX playing through the PA and 20 or so athletes slamming weight made me realize that if there is a Valhalla it is probably quite like this place. From there we did what they refer to as the “Dirty 30” which is ten reps of pullovers, followed immediately by 10 skull crushers, and then 10 close grip bench presses or what I would simply call the “painful 30”. After going through three work sets each, we moved on to 4 sets of 10 reps on each arm dumbbell snatch (60lbs.) while keeping our feet on the ground and focusing on hinging at the hip along with making the upper back do the work. This was a bit of a metabolic test to say the least. Once that was done we did some cable rows on the belt squat machine with a MAG handle (first time I used one and definitely can say that I like it) with holding it at our sternum for a 5 count with each rep along with band tension on the exercise. The final set was just repping it out as many as you could. Afterwards the session was over and I did a bit of random accessory work trying out the different equipment that they have there. I was then alone in that gym for a few moments and just took it all in. All the other lifters were chatting outside or had left to go about their day. Here I am standing in Westside barbell and I’m 23 again, alone, tired, but with the sense of what is possible…

westside barbell survived
A selfie at Westside Barbell, I understand I deserve to get punched for this one…
belt squat machine and the row handle that I used
belt squat rows with the mag handle

The gym

Westside Barbell lays in wait in an otherwise quiet commercial garage location on the west side of Columbus Ohio. It is two large garages with a small office on each side and one bathroom. The gym is has a pile of dumbbells thrown unceremoniously on the floor, a variety of custom machines that they have created throughout the years. A number of nice monolifts, squat cages, benches, and deadlift platforms. It is everything you need to get strong with no frills and definitely no rules for setting weights down gently and avoiding grunting.

The people

I can’t say enough good things about the lifters I have met at Westside. After training they are great people to chat with about training and otherwise. Yes, I have been physically threatened by a few of them in the past, but that’s part of life (bit of a story behind that too). I chatted with Tom Barry a bit about training afterwards for his thoughts on how to work with my athletes along with how to help myself rehab from my shoulder surgery. These folks are a wealth of knowledge and always willing to help those that want to learn. After chatting with them for half an hour or so I left and hopped back in my car to head back to Kentucky.

Louie Simmons

The following day I was out for a little walk and noticed I had a call coming from a Columbus phone number. I answered it immediately and on the other side of it was Louie Simmons. The Louie Simmons. He called simply because I left my contact information in the office when I chatted with them about some further questions on training. Louie and I chatted for about 45 minutes about training, life, rehabilitation and otherwise. The one interesting piece of advice that I will share was a book recommendation that he gave me and that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The story of the quest for perfect speed…

I can’t say enough good things about each of my interactions with Louie Simmons. He has always allowed me to come to his gym and answered my questions any time we have spoken. He might be a controversial person in the strength world, but he has always given his time and energy in my experience.

Summary

Westside Barbell is one of the greatest gyms I have ever set foot in. It is nice to be able to both be humbled and educated at the same time. Each visit I have had at that gym I’ve come away with new ideas, questions, and knowledge that I did not have before. This is definitely not a gym for the faint of heart, this is not a place to mail it in. This is a place where you lay it down. Thanks again to everyone at Westside for allowing me to come in and train with them. Thanks again to you dear reader for taking the time to read this.

Have Belt, Will Travel; Ludus Magnus

A few weeks ago I went up to Columbus Ohio and had the opportunity to train at Ludus Magnus. I hopped in with the Friday night lifting crew, who were predominantly in the midst of their prep for a competition. I pulled up to the gym a bit early and walked around the area a bit to get feeling back in my posterior after driving for a few hours. Off to the side of the road a few blocks down there was not one, not two, but three used condoms sitting on the side of the road. I’m not talking wrappers either, I’m talking rolled down (presumably used) condoms. I have so many questions about this, but I don’t want any answers.

A bit later on I was able to get in to the gym with the owner and talk a bit about life, the universe, and everything before the training started.

The Gym

The gym opens up immediately into a reception area adorned with trophies, awards, and published articles by the gym owner. It has some nice couches and a desk for the owner to work at. A doorway to your right leads you in to the gym that sprawls back quite a distance with a monolift, power racks, various machines, specialty bars, and otherwise good equipment.

Ludus Magnus
Part of the gym itself.

The Owner

The owner of Ludus Magnus is Matt Wenning, a competitive powerlifter, coach, entrepreneur, and very large man. He has been operating his gym for nearly a decade at this point and has coached not just successful powerlifters, but worked with Special Forces, firefighters, general population, and more. He often travels to speak about training, coaching, and performance and is a very well read guy who also is a bit of a gear head since I learned while talking with him that the newer manual transmissions can’t handle the massive amount of torque from beefy engines as well as the automatic transmissions due to how the gear shifting and force distribution occurs (the more you know).

The Workout

The athletes at the gym are in the midst of an 8 week prep for a powerlifting meet and 88% of their squat max for a triple and 88% of their deadlift max for a double was on the menu. The warm up involved three sets of twenty repetitions on Matt’s belt squat machine that he designed and now sells. These felt good to do and allowed me to feel a real large range of motion and get loose before the barbell work (and is now on my home gym wish list). From there it was time to start squatting. Working out of a monolift with a solid squat bar (think it was a mastodon squat bar, not a Texas squat bar), we worked up in about 6-8 sets to the top set of three. At this point the guys prepping were done and I was given some bonus work to do which involved vertical leg presses on a 3 seconds up 3 seconds down cadence done for a deep burn (15-20 reps for me), then weighted sit ups and reverse hypers with a controlled movement and the strap around my ankles with my legs straight. This was meant to be done for at least three rounds to help strengthen weakpoints in my lifts (and those reverse hypers were freaking humbling when done slowly for the entire movement).

The Advice

After training with the gentlemen I picked their brains a bit about training and supplementation in order to help with my recovery from my soon to be performed pec reattachment and labrum repair surgery. Some ideas they had for me involved lots of repetitions against an empty dowel rod as soon as I can (bamboo bar if I wanted to go high rent there). This of course being well after I’m out of a sling. The goal being to just grease the groove with that range of motion along with getting more circulation to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in that area. Additionally they had advice about diet in general of higher protein, get in lots of fish oil, and aim to mitigate inflammation to the best of my ability. For supplementation look in to getting in more magnesium, possible supplement with amino acids and utilize fenugreek. Finally, to get a particular type of massage therapy (Gua Sha) to minimize the buildup of scar tissue in the area so that my tissue regenerates in the correct patterns.

For my deadlifting and squatting I need to work on getting my chest up and holding the bar in better spinal extension than I currently do with the movements. Also to work on sitting back in my squats more than I currently do. Probably widen my stance up soon and work on getting my knees out more and being more stable in general with my squats.

Summary

Great gym with great people. Thanks again to Matt Wenning and his lifters for letting me hop in with them and ask questions for a few hours. The belt squat machine that he has is great and worth looking in to if you are in the market for one. This place is definitely worth the visit if you get a chance to train with some great people.