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Write It Out: A Better Way to Log Your Workouts

Old-fashioned pen-and-paper training logs are an intimate way to track your progress.

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Lauren Felknor, a sophomore cross-country and track athlete at University of Nevada Las Vegas, has tried a range of methods for tracking her training. Using a training log has helped increase her confidence and view her progress in a larger context than just looking at the daily snapshots.

“[My training log] has helped me recognize that there isn’t any one specific workout or race that determines a runner’s success, but the culmination of weeks, months, and years of training including really good days, really bad days, and lots of days in between,” she says.

Felknor has two favorite methods for logging. One, a handwritten journal-based log. The other is Strava, synced with her Garmin Forerunner 245. But she prefers not to blast personal details online. “The nice thing about handwritten logs as opposed to apps like Strava is no one has to see what you write in them, so if you have a really rough training day or if there are any weird outside circumstances going on, you can include them in your training log without other people necessarily knowing every single detail about your training,” she says.

What does writing in a log have that digital trackers don’t?

A lot, say collegiate athletes and coaches. Research shows the perks of writing and the potential pitfalls of solely syncing. Across the country, young runners embrace the analog practice, personalizing their logs however they and their coaches see fit. Some add graphs, colors, and inspirational quotes; others simply fill in the blanks.

Sarah Hopkins, the University of Minnesota head women’s and men’s cross-country and assistant track coach, requires all her athletes use handwritten logs. “Everyone uses it as a different tool,” she says.

She’s tweaked a former coach’s design to create a log that’s specific to the Minnesota program. It features one page per week with columns for jotting down daily mileage, workouts, and cross-training, plus other key markers for athletes, she says, including sleep, nutrition, and “peripheral stuff” like foam rolling. One of the best things included in the logs, she says, is a race-specific section that includes a race plan and critique space for self-reflection.

“If you’re spending all this time training as a runner, there’s certainly value in evaluating what works and what doesn’t,” Hopkins says. Logging isn’t simply about recording (and processing) what you’ve done, but also making a plan for what’s to come.

RELATED: What I’ve Learned Going Through My Old Training Logs

Take a much-needed screen break

“It’s good for all of us to get off our technology for a while,” Hopkins says. If you just have to open an app and tap, she asks, are you really tuning in? The pen-and-paper method might be old-school, but Hopkins thinks it helps runners slow down and get a break from the time-suck of screens, as well as encouraging accountability and organization.

Handwriting training logs has a lot in common with journaling. Research on specific forms of writing therapy suggests that journaling about intense topics several times a week for 15 to 20 minutes is associated with emotional and physiological benefits, but even two-minute bursts may help boost health. Other studies have found writing therapeutic for athletes dealing with injury and the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, some studies suggest that fitness trackers don’t motivate us as much as we’d hope.

Ready to try analog logging? “Keep it as simple as possible,” Felknor says. “The more complicated the log is, the less likely you are to fill it out consistently. Choose a method that you know you can keep up with and don’t worry about adding too many bells and whistles.”

Felknor logs every day she trains, including mileage and workout details such as time of day, and summarizes each week. She adds notes, including effort level, things she did well or wants to improve upon, training buddies, how she felt, and anything else that feels relevant, such as soreness or injuries—all important data for finding confidence and celebrating progress.