Despite what you might have been told, the best muscle building exercise is NOT the squat.
It’s not the deadlift, the overhead press or the bench press either.
This exercise requires very little physical effort. Unlike the squat or deadlift, this one won’t even leave you out of breath.
Yet it’s one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do in a gym.
It’s an exercise that requires no expensive equipment. In fact, the only equipment you need will fit easily into your back pocket.
Nor is it particularly time consuming. I can usually get it done in less than 10 minutes, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
But even though this cheap and simple exercise is one of the biggest steps you can take towards more muscle, very few people actually do it.
What am I talking about?
The exercise I’m referring to is the simple act of picking up a pen and notebook and recording your workouts — otherwise known as keeping a training diary.
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Yes, I know that walking around the gym with a pen and notebook, especially when nobody else is doing it, carries with it a very high geek factor.
But the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
The first and probably most important benefit of a training diary is that it forces you to face facts. Is what you’re doing actually working?
The main stimulus for muscle growth is progressive tension overload — increasing the amount of weight that’s on the bar when you lift it.
If you’re still lifting the same weights in 12 months time as you’re lifting now, chances are you won’t have gained much muscle either.
With a training diary, you can see instantly if the time you’re investing in the gym is delivering results.
It will also make it very clear if you’re doing nothing more than simply repeating the same workout over and over again… going nowhere… slowly. You get to see in black and white how well your training program is (or isn’t) working.
Most people seem content to wander aimlessly through their workouts without bothering to think about whether there might actually be a better way to do it. Don’t be one of them.
The second major benefit of a training diary is that you can see exactly what you did in your last workout and try to beat it.
It’s a very simple way to add the element of competition to your workout. In fact, research shows that having a clear target to aim for, rather than simply going into the gym with the intention of doing your best, can improve your performance.
In one study, researchers from Northumbria University took a group of trained male cyclists and told them to pedal as fast as they could during a 4,000-meter time trial. After a couple of time trials, the cyclists thought they knew what their limits were.
The riders then raced against an avatar on a computer screen in front them, which they were told represented their best time-trial performance. In essence, the cyclists thought they were racing against themselves
However, the on-screen avatar was programmed to ride slightly faster than the cyclist ever had.
Told to race against what they thought was their own best time, the cyclists ended up matching their avatars on their virtual rides, finishing the 4000-meter time-trial in record time.
Think of a training diary a little like a virtual avatar, giving you a clear and concrete target to aim for each time you train.
It can be as little as one more rep than last week with the same weight. Or it could be the same number of reps but with an extra few pounds on the bar.
It might only be a small dose of progress. But it means you’ve already taken another step towards one of your goals. That’s a good feeling that stays with you all day.
What should you record in your training diary?
I like to keep track of just four things; the date of each workout, the name of the exercise, the weight I used and the number of repetitions I did in each set.
I use a notebook and pen to record what I do. Others prefer to log their workouts on a computer and create lots of charts and graphs. Low-tech or high-tech, it doesn’t really matter. Just do whatever works for you.
A training diary is an invaluable way to monitor your progress. I consider it one of the single most important tools for getting the most from your workouts.
If you haven’t done so before, start keeping one, and start today.
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