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Workout Log

Workout Logs: Recording Every Rep

Workout Log

When it comes to being fit, the guidelines are pretty general. They vary a bit based on what agency wrote them, but they all read something like “moderate activity for at least thirty minutes each day most days of the week.” So, who needs a workout log?

If you’re just interested in staying healthy, it’s true – you probably don’t need a workout log. However, if you’re looking for gains, adding a level of quantification to your workout can do a lot of good to make sure that you’re always on the top of your game.

Here, we’ll look at what to include when drafting a workout log, where to find templates online, and how to make your own.

What is a Workout Log?

A workout log is a sort of spreadsheet that you take with you to the gym. They can take many forms, but at the minimum they have a column for the exercise that you do, a column for the weight involved, and a column for the number of repetitions that you do.

There are a number of areas for expansion to make your log more complete, including a column for the number of sets that you do and your one-rep max for that exercise. Some are also organized so that you can track exercises by body region.

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Why Have a Workout Log?

Now that we have an understanding of what a workout log is, why do you need one?

As a Record and Plan

The most obvious reason is that a workout log helps you to keep track of your workout over time. However, it also helps you to plan your workout ahead of time.

Training Inspiration

As Inspiration

A good log will go for a couple of days in advance, so you can get creative by mixing up the workouts that you do for each body group. That keeps your mind and body from getting complacent with the same workouts every day.

Similarly, seeing those numbers can encourage you to add a few more reps on, or experiment with different weights. That way, looking back at your log over time will show your progress. Or, show that maybe you should be pushing yourself more.

As a Communication Device

Having a workout log also means that you have a quantified value on your workouts over time. 

Over the course of this article, we’re assuming that you’re a lone wolf. However, if you decide to partner up with someone – a workout buddy, a personal trainer, etc. – you can show them exactly what level you’re on.

Further, if – heaven forbid – you injure yourself or encounter an overuse injury, having a record of your workout to show your health team can be beneficial.

Now that we understand why having a workout log is a good idea, how do you go about getting one?

Workout App planner

How to Get Started

You might have found this article by searching for “workout logs” in your favorite search engine. If that’s the case, and you’re too lazy to make a log yourself – no judgement – just do that search again in an image search.

There are a lot of places where you can buy premade logs, but a lot of them are free – just print them off yourself. The only downside is that you have to find a pre-existing log that’s just write for you, which can involve some trial-and-error.

Don’t want to take a pencil and paper to the gym like some kind of poindexter? Punch the same search term into the app store on your mobile device for more options. In addition to being conveniently located on your phone, these logs are also usually more customizable.

Things to Know

Whether you’re picking fields for an app or drawing up your own log, there are a couple of things that you should think about as you put it together. There are also a few things that you should know first.

Muscle Groups

Your Body and Schedule

The first has to do with you you divvy up your body for workout purposes. My favorite distinction is arms, legs, chest and upper back, abs and lower back. That leaves one day for full-body, one for balance and cardio, etc. and the weekend off. But you can customize this aspect however you like.

For example, the Total Body Workbook from Men’s Health (a document that readers of this blog have probably seen referenced before) designates shoulders as its own group. (The book also has a sample workout log, but I’m personally not really a fan of the model.)

However you do your divisions, focusing one day’s workout for one muscle group means that your legs can recover while your working out your arms can recover while you work out your chest, etc. That makes it easier to fit more exercise days into your schedule without being completely worn out all the time.

How you spread out your workout can also change based on your work schedule, your priorities, etc. I’m a writer so I have no problems working out on business days and I’m more interested in health and self-defense than in body building so I don’t mind taking the weekend off to travel. If you want to work out more or on different days, more power to you.

Power Building

Your Capabilities and Your Goals

Another thing that you should know are your targets. This means knowing your one-rep-max for your favorite weight exercises and knowing how you want to use those exercises.

Your one-rep-max is the greatest weight that you can lift with correct form one time. To build muscle, sets should have a higher percentage of your one rep max (70%-80%) for a relatively small number of reps (5-10). To tone muscle, sets should have a relatively low percentage of your one-rep-max (60%-70%) for a relatively high number of reps (10-15).

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Drafting Your Log

When you’re planning your workout log, whether using pen and paper, a computer program, or an app, I suggest the following layout. I’ll walk you through the fields, as well as include a screenshot of a simple template that I made in a free spreadsheet program.

Rows and Sub-Rows


One row for each body group (arms, legs, etc.). How many rows your sheet will have will depend on how many days each week you want to workout and how many divisions you break you body into, as discussed above.

Each row should then be subdivided into one line for each exercise that you plan on doing for that body group.


The farthest left column will be taken up by the body groups. The next column will be the names of the exercise. Then, a column for your one-rep-max and a column for the percentage of that one-rep that you intend to do, and the weight that that ends up being. The next two columns should be for the number of sets and the number of reps.

Finally, I also like to include a column for notes. Things like “This one is getting easy. Increase weight/ reps next time?”

Figure it Out

A theme throughout this article has been that your workout log should be yours. Hopefully, the notes in this article help you get started, but it should only be a start. Make a system that works for your limitations and your goals.

Further Reading

Caciolo, C. (ed). “Men’s Health Total Body Workbook.” Rodale. 2007.

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