I keep track of my workouts in a Google Spreadsheet. Let me explain...
(Note: Please click on the image in order to see a larger view)
When I open my Google spreadsheet, this is what I see (going across the columns): the date, the planned workout, how I felt before the workout, details of the workout itself, and how I felt/recovered after the workout.
Doing something as simple as organizing my workouts has improved my workouts immensely. Here's why:
I can see how well I've done
When I complete a run, sprint workout, gym workout, etc., I make sure to compare my results to the last time I completed that same workout. For example, after completing a three mile run, I would go back through my log and search for my last 3 mile run. Next to my current time, I would mark whether this time was longer or shorter than my last 3 mile run. If it's shorter, it boosts my confidence, and I can start to judge when I can up my mileage. If it's longer, it kicks my butt into gear, and I can move forward with an adjusted training plan.
I can see what needs to be done
One of my biggest mistakes when I first started working out is I didn't rotate my workouts. For example, I would spend the entire week doing 3 mile runs because I wanted to increase my endurance, and yet I wouldn't see any results. I realized I needed to incorporate sprints, strength training, and cross training into my workouts in order to prevent my body from falling into muscle repetition (doing the same thing over and over) and becoming fatigued. So, I now will rotate between long runs, sprints, and biking. When I go to the gym, I rotate between leg, arm, back, and core workouts. And when I sprint, I rotate between intervals, ladders, and regular sprints. This would be almost impossible to keep track of if I didn't have this spreadsheet handy. I can see what needs to be done next in order to vary my workouts and improve my athleticism.
I can prevent injuries
If you look closely, you can see I injured my IT band. This happened in our first ultimate tournament, when I played almost every single point for 8 games. IT band injuries are also known as "runner's knee," and the most common cause is overuse. After looking up some IT band strengthening exercises, I looked where I could incorporate them into my current workouts. This will hopefully prevent any further injury, and many of my workouts are categorized under "cross training," since I'm aiming to keep it easy (and also because I'm on vacation...). When I begin running and sprinting again, I can mark how my IT band felt during and after my workout in this chart, and this will help me decide whether I should scale back or keep going with my current workout plan. Also, if I notice that one muscle is more sore than usual after a workout, I can keep an eye on that in order to prevent an injury in the future. And should I become injured, I can look back and see where it started in order to help better diagnose the issue (which ultimately should be done by a doctor, I just like to have an idea of what's going on with me).
The share options
This is more why I choose using Google Docs instead of a regular spreadsheet. If you decided to make a workout plan with someone else, you can share your spreadsheet with them, as long as they have a Google account. So, if you and a friend are getting in shape for summer together, the two of you can have the same exact workouts, but keep your information on separate sheets. When I shared this document with someone, it was an extra motivator to complete the workouts because I felt accountable to someone else. Plus, if you're any bit competitive like myself, you're going to be checking your friend's progress and spur yourself to keep up with him/her, or continue doing better ;)
I can't imagine what my workout plan would look like if I didn't keep track of it. It'll improve your workout routine exponentially, and you can see what needs to be done, how far you've come, and how you can help prevent injuries. I have found that this little technique has vastly improved my workouts, and I hope you set up your own!