Grant Muller

The Evernote Workout Log

logo A few weeks back I wrote about a little fitness experiment I had started to try and reduce the amount of time I spent training while maximizing results. During the experiment I needed a place to document my workouts so I could review my progress and see if I was meeting my goals, as well as plan future workouts. I had some basic requirements in mind when selecting a logging system:

  • I need to enter workouts as I complete them – I have a terrible memory. By the time I’ve finished doing a round of squats or a half-marathon, I’ve forgotten my time. Its not the kind of thing that I keep in my head. I need to be able to enter workouts immediately. As in, right after I finish the lift, run, swim, whatever.
  • I need to view and measure past performance – Training is one of the only things I systemize. I think I might train so that I have something to systemize. I want to be able to quickly look up what my 5k times are trending. I need to see what my last deadlift max was so I can plan the next one.
  • I need it to be something I actually use – Sounds simple, but if I have to go out of my way to use the tool, I won’t use it. Bonus if the tool is something I already use for other stuff.
    With that in mind I started my search. Here are some of the tools I played with:

Paper and Pen – I think this is how everyone starts. Just bring a little notepad and write it down as you go. This was how I recorded and measured for years, but you try scanning cahier after cahier looking for your most recent 5k time. Recording your workouts is fast…reviewing them isn’t.

Daily Burn – I tried this site out because they had a decent iPhone interface and I could use it online. The tracker is a little clunky, and having to enter the data into the little boxes gets old fast. It seems like it’s geared for people interested in diet and weight loss, so if that’s you’re thing, maybe its for you.

SpringPad – Ugh, don’t get me started.

Beyond The White Board – If only I had my own personal white board at the gym…I haven’t actually tried this one out, but it looked promising. If you’re strictly a Crossfitter, you should check it out. It does a lot of the tracking for you, and if you’re into the nutrition thing, it can help you track that too.

Training Peaks – Great site if you’re only interested in endurance sports, but since that makes up only half of my programming, it wasn’t a one-stop shop for me.

After exhausting the methods above, I chose to go the freeform route and use Evernote as my workout log. I already use Evernote for everything else, so there was no reason not to leverage it for my workout log as well. I created a basic system in Evernote that allowed me to quickly add my workouts in anywhere I happened to be, get access to old performance characteristics, and to track my areas of concentration to make sure I wasn’t overdoing any particular sport. Here’s how it works:

Create a Notebook for your workouts

This is easy, just create a notebook in Evernote to store your  workouts.WorkoutLog

Enter your workouts right after (or even before) you conduct them.

Make sure you write a review (more on this in another article). This is all freeform so enter any information you need to know. (Note: in the picture I made a mistake…its supposed to be a frightening 50 Power Clean Burpees).EnterWorkout

Tag your workouts.

Tags can be anything from running, cycling, or specific stuff that you want quick access to like “5K”, or “The Bear”. This is especially helpful if you have workouts with bizarre names. You can also have sub-tags. For instance I have a tag called run with the sub-tags 5k, 10k, 13.1, etc. This helps your organize when the number of tags you have starts to get out of hand.TagWorkouts

Create a workout reference.

If you have a workout that is always the same set of complicated movements, its a good idea to create a reference to that workout by creating a new note, putting the contents of the workout in it, then tagging that note with the workout name. Then you can search for the workout by tag, see the workout reference and each time you’ve repeated it. You probably want to keep these references in a different notebook than your workout log to avoid clutter.WorkoutReference

Create Saved Searches to access information quickly.

Examples “All running workouts from the last 7 days” or ”All running workouts from last week”.SavedSearches

If you look at my public workout log most of it should make sense, though I have developed my own personal shorthand (10x10xOHS@145 means 10 sets, 10 reps Overhead Squat with 145lbs). I’ll post a legend some day.

This should be plenty to get you going. With Evernote you can also make your notebook public if you’re sharing information with others. An additional feature of Evernote is it’s open API. This means you can access your notes from script (php, c#, etc) and display it somewhere, organize and manipulate it in various ways, etc. I’m working on extending my personal/shared training log as we speak…but that’s for another article.

20 comments

  1. Great write up. I haven’t checked out evernote, but it seems like a good app to save ideas, thoughts and more. I’m one of the guys that started and works on beyond the whiteboard. Your description of our site was dead on, we are made for Crossfitters and gear our service toward Affiliate and garage gyms. We started off tracking results for users but have started to analyze and rank data better and better. Our goal for the next few months is to make advancements in analysis. Feel free to shoot me off an email if you ever want to share some thoughts. Again, great write up.

    1. Moe, thanks for the comment! I’ll shoot you an email with some thoughts I have about analysis. I think I’m going to buy a membership to BTWB actually so I can have a proper look at it. Great blog by the way, I liked the “6 health and fitness products to not waste your money on” post…I’d never heard of a “Shake Weight” before, but it looks pretty lame. Thanks again,

  2. Just wanted to say thanks for a great post! Your organizational skills and implementation in Evernote is great… you should do information architecture for a living 🙂

  3. i’m a huge evernote user, but not for working out. the GymBuddy iphone app is way killer. it tracks your entire workout set by set with minimal typing. it shows you what you did last time (set by set) so you can race yourself. and it times your rest periods to keep you on an efficient pace. just put your music on songs->s random, your iphone home button on ipod and you can switch back and forth between workout input and music. You will be out of the gym and into better shape in no time.

    1. I looked at gym buddy way back. The biggest shortcoming I found was that the only place I could use it was my iPhone…what if I replace my iPhone with something else someday? I decided to stick with Evernote because it’s supported on so many platforms. Also, I don’t listen to music when I’m working out…crazy I know.

  4. I do this exact thing on the Palm Pre, it lets me listen to music at the same time. Great article thanks so much for the tips this is much easier than the way that I did it before (paper.) Also I’m a fan of your reps-shorthand so I may be adopting that.

    Right now, I use something like;

    Side Deltoid Lift – w 10/5 15/10h 20/10f

    to represent three sets of 10, 15 and 20 lbs with reps of 5, 7 and 10. I like recording sets distinctly (because sometimes the reps can vary as I hit fatigue.) Warmup sets I don’t bother to record. or I just use ‘w’ like above. If lifts are too easy, difficult hard or I hit failure, I add e, d, h ,f

    • Tim
    1. Tim, I use a similar method to denote failures actually (with a F), or whenever I have to “cheat” on a lift (like push pressing instead of Strict Pressing), I’ll tack a C on. Here is one from a recent workout:

      Deadlift – 10@265, 6@295, 2@315, F1@355

      I put the F before the rep I failed on, so I can see later which rep I missed, and try to exceed that count. I hadn’t thought of marking hard or easy sets, thats a pretty good idea.

  5. Hey Grant, hows this going for you a few months down the line? I’ve just got it semi setup, and am going to start using it next week with my new Workout. Thanks for sharing this with me, I searched for some kind of method to keep a nice clean tracklog for years – from excel spreadsheets to online applications, none leaving me satisfied. Evernote to the rescue!

    1. So far so good on the log. I’ve actually started emailing myself the notes, instead of creating them directly in Evernote. That way I can start an email to my Evernote upload, and exit the Mail app to use timers for some workouts and stuff like that, then return to the email to add what I was doing. If I start the note in Evernote and have to leave the app to use a timer, I have to go back in, find the note and start editing it. The mail app is a little faster.

  6. Yeah, I too have been using my phone’s email client (the Maemo based Nokia N900) to throw my workouts directly into Evernote. I’ve also incorporated my meals and eating habits into the daily notes, as I’m getting back into gym I need to get my diet tweaked to perfection. I’m also using it as a bit of a diary – its quite motivating to read exactly how you felt after/before a workout, especially for me anyway.

    Thanks again for this great tip!

  7. I highly recommend loggin directly on the cellphone during training. There are several application for this in appstore, but if you got a java phone such as Nokia or Ericsson my best choice is http://www.thegymlog.com. Nice features and quick responsive interface.

  8. I’m a 69-year-old grandmother who has crappy knees, but I have a workout routine I do at my local Y. I set up my workout routine in Evernote (using their checkboxes helps). I love your shorthand way of representing reps, etc. Thanks for the help. (This is just to let you know one doesn’t have to be a hardcore workout hardbody to find your info helpful!)

  9. Any updates on how this has been going for you? You alluded to writing another post on the subject in the future.

    1. Yeah, I still use this method to this day. I took a training break at the end of October to run a couple ultra-marathons, now that I’m back in the gym I’m using this same method again. I should do a follow-up post on the kinds of tags I’m using though. Other than that I have changed much about the way I used it.

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