I’m a coach, trainer, and competitive strongman, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes.

I’m human. I make mistakes. Recently, I sat down and looked over my training journal as I like to do every once and a while. I do this for numerous reasons. Your training journal is a very valuable tool in getting bigger, stronger, and better. I like to look back at past PRs on certain lifts and see what my programming looked like for the 12-16 weeks beforehand.  It helps me understand what works for me or what worked for me (programming, supplemental lifts, accessory work, etc.). It also allows me to see what didn’t work for me.

Typically I’ll look back over a two-year period, but I have training journals that go back to the early 2,000s or so. I personally believe your own training journal has a wealth of knowledge that can be used to help program your future training. It also can help you realize when you’re making mistakes. Below are four mistakes I’ve realized I have been making in the past few months.

1. Not pushing my big lifts hard enough

Recently, when looking through my training journal, I noticed I wasn’t pushing my big lifts as hard as I could. While I’ve still hit some nice rep PRs over the past few months, I could’ve done more. I’m not sure why this happened, but I lost sight of the big picture. I would actually be “saving” a little on my big lifts so I still had the energy and strength to push my supplemental/accessory work hard. The big lifts (squat, deadlift, bench and overhead for most) are the main strength builders. They are what matters most. By holding back on those I was holding back my progress.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t advocate training to failure or past failure (assisted reps), but I realized I was leaving more “in the tank” than I thought and more than I recommend. I’ve started pushing my main lifts a lot harder in the past few weeks and I feel a lot better by doing so. I’d rather go in the gym and have a great workout on squats, deadlift, or overhead press and then leave than to go in and have a decent workout on my main lifts and then kick ass on my accessory work.

2. Going too easy on conditioning

I noticed that when I didn’t have a competition coming up I slacked on my conditioning quite a bit. It wasn’t on purpose, but for some reason I had let others lead me to believe that conditioning would affect my strength gains. While strongman event days do have a lot of moving events, rep events, etc., and those require and help maintain a certain base of conditioning, I think that alone just isn’t enough.

Looking back through my training journal I noticed I was performing my best when I was lifting in the gym two days a week, doing strongman events one day a week and doing hill sprints or Prowler® sprints one day a week. I also know I looked and felt better during those times. While one extra day of conditioning may not seem like much more, it definitely makes a difference. And that one extra day a week of conditioning was also pretty easy for me to skip and lie to myself saying, “I’m just worried about getting stronger right now. I can build my conditioning back up later.” I was just being lazy. Recently, I’ve kicked up my conditioning again once a week (besides strongman event day) with Prowler® sprints. I’m leaner, recover faster, less sore, and obviously better conditioned.

Sure there is a point where increasing cardio will affect strength, but I don’t think anyone got any weaker by conditioning hard twice a week.

3. Relying too much on my weight belt

My abs were weak. They held me back on my yoke walk for what seemed like forever. Luckily, when looking back over my training journal I noticed my yoke improved quite a bit when I was hitting my abs hard frequently and doing more beltless work on squats, deadlifts, and yoke walks. Well somewhere during that time I seemed to not realize what was working and slacked off on the ab work and started using my belt more. It wasn’t on purpose and it was gradual, but it did happen.

A few months back when I noticed this had changed I made a point to start doing my first few work sets on squats and deadlifts beltless, as well as my first few runs on the yoke walk beltless. I also kicked up the ab work. A few months later I’ve hit rep PRs on squats, deadlifts, and a few time PRs on yoke walk. I can tell a huge difference in my midsection strength and stability, and my numbers reflect that. If your abs are weak, don’t use your belt as a crutch.

4. Drifting away from my core philosophy

I touched on this on point #1 and #2. I stopped pushing my main lifts as hard as I could, and I slacked up on my conditioning. But that was the only two ways I had drifted away from my core philosophy. I started neglecting my recovery methods on my off days and days I train. I decided to experiment with rotating my lifts on lower body days pretty frequently. While I know this works for some, it’s just not what I’ve found works best for me. For example, my deadlift responds best to deadlifting from the floor frequently, not rotating deadlift variations. I was also spending too much time looking at what movements came next in my program for that day instead of focusing on the one I was currently doing. Luckily, I know when I’m drifting away from my philosophy and how to get back on track. Below is something I keep around and glance at it when I seem to be getting off track.

I can admit when I’m wrong. You can even ask my wife about that. But in all seriousness I had slacked up in a few areas. While I’ve still progressed, gotten bigger, and stronger during this time, I could’ve made even better progress. Luckily, I take the time every so often to glance through my training journal and my training rules to keep myself on track and grounded. If I hadn’t taken the time to do so I could’ve easily continued drifted farther and farther away from my core philosophy.

Your training goals may be different than mine. Your training philosophy may be different as well. That’s all fine with me. Hopefully this article made you take a peek at your training journal. Maybe you’re on track and aren’t drifting from your philosophy—that’s great and continue doing what you do. But if this article made you realize some mistakes you may be making or that you are drifting off track, then take a minute to sit down and get yourself back on track.

In the end, it’s about getting better every day.