One of the core principles of high-intensity training and many other fitness programs is to record your workouts. I remember reading years ago that strength coach Charles Poliquin wants to see at least 6 months of workout data before he takes you on as a client. That may or may not be true, but the story always stuck with me. Back when I had a home gym, I recorded every workout. I have years of data.
My home gym had a huge whiteboard, where I recorded workouts. Later this data was moved to a notebook. The board allowed me to see weeks of data at a glance.
More Data, More Injuries
My personal experience with recording workouts is that it never improved my fitness over a longer time frame. In fact, I believe it actually led to more injuries. When I was in my home gym looking at numbers and listening to Marilyn Manson blasting through the speakers, I got overconfident. I’d either try to do too much volume or too much weight. I’d use prior weeks of data as proof that I was capable of that and more. I became more focused on the numbers and beating them than listening to my body. This is before I understood recoverability as well as I do today. The result was I’d often push myself too far and hurt myself.
When I sold the house and returned to the Glitter Gyms, I stopped collecting data. My numbers went down, but so did my injuries. I fell into a predictable boring limbo, but at least I wasn’t getting hurt. Also, I realized I never liked recording numbers. By listening to my body and not numbers in a notebook, my progress was slower, but it was more sustainable.
When I entered the HIT world, I was advised to record every workout. I didn’t. I haven’t recorded a single one yet. Unless you can control for every variable, I don’t believe you can measure intensity. By every variable, I mean not just the weight, but the repetition speed, sequence of exercises, rest between exercises, room temperature, seat position, and days between workouts. For example, I have found my intensity drops off considerably when the room temperature gets above 68 degrees.
If I was working with a HIT trainer, they could collect this data during my workout and keep me focused on completing my workout at the highest level of intensity and in the safest manner. If I am doing this alone, then that role falls on me. I can’t generate maximum intensity safely and document the process with meaningful data. I believe that is a 2-person job. Focusing on numbers during a training session is highly distracting for me.
With High-Intensity Training, I’m only working out once every 5 to 7 days. My workout will vary depending on my interests. Sometimes it will be very slow reps, sometimes static holds, or I might do negative work. The rep speed might vary from 4 to 10 seconds, which may or may not be constant throughout the set. Sometimes I start with full-range repetitions and then gradually decrease the range until I’m doing a static hold. How do you quantify that movement? You can’t. As long as I am safely varying Time Under Load and going to failure, I’m happy.
The Limiting Factor
Assuming one is exercising in a safe manner with enough intensity, the limiting factor is not collecting more data to prove that fact. It is about increasing recoverability. That is where I’m focusing my efforts. I believe I’ll make greater gains by figuring out ways to speed up recovery than chasing numbers on a spreadsheet. Plus a major limiting factor to muscle gains for the ectomorph is stress. Do I need the stress of knowing that I’m not lifting as much weight as I did last week? I don’t think so. Been there, done that. When I leave the gym, I’m always a winner. I battled the weights and I won. Time for ice cream!
I could be wrong. My position is that if I ever feel my progress has stalled, I will start to quantify my workouts. Most likely I would work directly with a HIT Trainer. Until then, I’m just going to listen to my body. It seems to be working.