How to Track Your Strength Training Progress

man performing deadlift

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Strength training is a form of resistance training wherein your goal is to increase your strength. Learning how to track your strength training progress is essential for ensuring your hard work pays off. This includes pre-planning and keeping a record of what you've accomplished so you know what's working and what may need to be adjusted as you progress.

Below, you will learn why you may want to track your strength training progress, what to look for when self-evaluating, how to track, and when to make adjustments to keep you on track toward your goals.

Why You May Want To Track Your Progress

Like any goal, if you want to ensure the best results, you should track your progress. When it comes to increasing your strength, you may think being able to lift a heavier weight the next time you train is enough to indicate you are on the right track. But it is challenging to get a complete picture of your progress without knowing how many repetitions, sets, and weekly workouts you are doing.

One of the most vital aspects of any well-designed strength training program is periodization or planning and tracking your training routine over periods that switch goals and techniques. This also includes planned de-load periods, to prevent overtraining and increase results. For instance, a strength training phase may be followed by a de-load before embarking on a muscle hypertrophy phase, muscular endurance phase, or fat loss phase.

Tracking your progress is not only about keeping a record of how heavy your weights are; it's also crucial to understand what might cause a strength plateau, a decrease in strength, or other roadblocks that might cause you to become frustrated and unsure what to do next.

What to Look for When Evaluating Your Progress

When evaluating your strength training progress, look for consistent changes over time. Without routinely tracking your training details and results of each workout, you might not be able to tell whether you're progressing or not and become frustrated. Small increases in strength over time add to significant changes once your strength training cycle ends and you are ready for a new phase.

That said, don't be too hard on yourself if you aren't making the strength gains you would expect. The purpose of tracking your progress is to see where adjustments need to be made to keep you making progress. If you stall entirely, reviewing your tracked workouts can provide insight into what to do next.

Look for increases in the amount of weight lifted, increases in reps using the same weight, and ease and proficiency in performing specific movements (such as deadlifts, squats, bench presses, etc.) as your central nervous system adapts. You also should look for signs of stalling and performance decline since these can indicate a need for switching things up or taking a de-load.

Why Strength Train?

Strength training has incredible benefits, including increasing bone density, boosting heart health, facilitating circulation, reducing your resting blood pressure rate, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels, preventing muscle loss, increases coordination, balance, and stability for less risk of falls and injuries.

How to Track Your Progress

Knowing how to track your strength training progress is essential for implementing any changes you may need to keep working toward your goals. Here are key ways to do just that.

Keep a Record of Your Training Sessions

The number one way to track your progress is to record your training sessions. While it stands to reason, that you should have pre-planned your sessions for the expected sets, reps, and weights you will attempt to lift, this information is often based on previous training sessions.

For this reason, keeping track of your workouts is vital to your success. While you may not always be able to accomplish what you have planned, knowing what you actually did accomplish will inform your next workout.

How to Track Training Sessions

  • Record which exercises you perform
  • Track how many sessions per week you do
  • Record sets and reps performed
  • Record weight used for each set
  • Track rest periods
  • Monitor range of motion for each exercise (keep consistent)
  • Note any circumstances that impacted results (lack of sleep, nutrition, stress, motivation, etc.)

Test Your Strength

The best way to know if you're getting stronger is to plan your strength phase to include regular strength testing. One of the best and most reliable ways to do this is by testing your one-repetition maximum (1RM). Testing your one-rep max every week or month is ideal for tracking your strength training progress.

Make sure you warm up and use a spotter when testing your one-rep max. Lifting maximal amounts of weight can be risky, and you shouldn't attempt it when you're alone or if you are unable to perform the exercises with the correct form.

There are other ways to test your strength, too, such as how many repetitions you can do using a specific weight. However, this is not as accurate due to the levels of fatigue that accumulate when you perform multiple reps.

Monitor How You Feel

Monitoring how you feel is vital for tracking your strength progress. Recording how you feel can provide crucial insight into the potential causes if you cannot make strength gains. For instance, if you feel energized, strong, and motivated, yet you were unable to increase your weight during your session, the steps you should take to keep advancing will be much different than if you felt weak, tired, and unmotivated.

Adjustments to your training plans only work if you know they are the correct changes. If you feel tired, weak, and unmotivated, you'll need lifestyle changes and training adaptations to ensure you don't burn out and risk overtraining. Record when you're feeling this way and any indications as to why it might happen. If you've been eating and sleeping well but still feel run down, it's time for a de-load or even a visit with a healthcare provider.

Monitoring Physical Effects of Training

  • Record fatigue levels and sleep habits
  • Monitor muscle soreness and recovery
  • Keep track of how motivated you are (or aren't)
  • Make note of any mood changes
  • Indicate any hormonal disruptions (periods, cravings, hunger, etc.)
  • Note whether you felt weak or out of breath

When to Make Adjustments

If you have stopped progressing or are seeing a decline in your strength, it's clearly time to make adjustments. However, you can avoid declines in strength if you carefully monitor and plan your workout phases to account for fatigue management.

Much of strength training progress depends on your central nervous system adapting to learning new skills and handling heavier loads. It is not purely muscular but neurological as well. If you've been feeling physically and mentally well but have noticed a strength plateau, you can adjust your training and technique to see continued results.

Tactics include revisiting your form and techniques to ensure you are doing everything correctly. Proper form can mean the difference between increasing your load on a lift or stalling completely. Asking a personal trainer or advanced lifting partner to check your form is a great idea.

Another option is to work on sticking points using unique methods that can help you build up strength in the areas of a lift you are struggling with, such as the lockout on a deadlift, grip strength, getting out of the hole on a squat, and so on. You may need a trainer to help you with this.

Don't Forget Rest Between Sets

Resting enough between sets is an often overlooked but vital aspect of strength training. When pursuing gains in strength, a 3- to 5-minute rest interval between sets is ideal.

However, your rest can be longer than this if needed and will increase depending on how strong you are. Very strong individuals may need to rest more than people just starting out in order to be recovered enough to put enough effort into their next set.

As stated previously, if the issues are arising from feeling tired and rundown, adjusting your nutrition, sleep, recovery, and training intensity/load may be the best path forward. If you have not taken a break from intense lifting for more than 4 weeks, it's time for a de-load week.

Heavy lifting of compound exercises commonly performed in strength training such as deadlifts and squats are very taxing to the nervous system and cause a lot of fatigue. Recovery is vital.

A Word From Verywell

Strength training is an excellent form of exercise everyone should do to increase their daily functioning, prevent age-related strength loss, and build confidence. If you aim to get stronger, it's crucial to track your training sessions and progress over time to ensure you are on the right track.

If nothing seems to be going well, you should seek the guidance of a personal trainer. And don't forget, significant changes do not happen overnight. These goals take time, dedication, consistency, and patience to achieve. If you are having trouble getting started, you may benefit from a session or two with a certified personal trainer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is it important to evaluate progress?

    It's important to evaluate your progress when strength training so you know if what you're doing is working or not. Knowing when you have stalled or declined in strength indicates a need for change.

  • How long does it take to see progress when strength training?

    You will see progress in strength training after the first week. Much of strength training is neurological. As your brain catches up to learning new skills and handling increasing loads, you will see your progress climb quickly.

  • What is the most effective measurement of strength training progress?

    The most effective measurement of strength training progress is testing your one-rep maximum to see if you can lift more weight for the same exercise as you did previously. Consistently testing your one-rep max has been shown to be the most reliable method for measuring strength.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.