How do you create your workout plan? How do you know when to increase your reps or stay the same? Do you use spreadsheets or other tools? How do you keep track of your progress? Since I'm a bit of a nerd and I enjoy web 2.0, are there any online interactive websites that you use to create and track workout plans?
You're asking a few different questions, lets start with the easy one 'How do you keep track?'
Here's a step-by-step approach to creating a log. It allows you to enter what your plan is and provides a print out to track it.
It's a bit more regimented than what I use (I write down what I'm doing freehand in a notebook), but gives you a good format and reference to use.
In regards to creating the actual plan (the thing that you will track) - it all depends on your goals (my recurring theme). Are you looking to build strength? endurance? size? recover from an injury? That will determine the type of plan.
Here's a list of some workout routines.
I would recommend searching around for what you're looking for either google workout routines, hit the bookstore or think about getting a personal trainer to help set you up.
When do you increase, change a plan, etc... start with the above, the plan or trainer will let you know when - as a point of reference, you probably want to change routines ever 2-3 months so your body does not adopt to the same workout and you never want to do the same routine the same way twice - by increasing intensity through increase weights or reps.
You really shouldn't create your own program.
Pick an existing one created by someone with a clue and proven to work, then follow that to the letter. As a beginner, you can't go wrong with stronglifts 5x5. Read stronglifts.com in full, the site covers starting weights, progression, deloading, diet and so on. When you start lifting too much to cope with the workload of stronglifts, switch to Madcow's 5x5 or something similar.
If you do insist on coming up with your own, go buy Mark Rippetoe's "Practical Programming for Strength Training". You might want to pick up his first book as well, if you don't already own a copy.
For tracking tools, my three favorite are:
There are lots of good resources for creating a structured workout plan. I like the Men's Health Home Workout Bible and their Weight Free Workout when you aren't using a gym. If you are going to a gym, the previously mentioned Stronglifts is very popular, but I'd also recommend trying out a personal trainer for at least one or two sessions. A good trainer can help get you started by assessing where you are currently. Something a website can't do for you.
The best way i know how is to keep a journal. Write down how many reps you did and try to improve it next time when you workout. Either to match it or exceed it. One of the most important thing in fitness is to set a clear and realistic goal. There are many tools out there that can help you monitor your progress.
Naming one is Endomondo which monitors and analyzes your training progress. An important tool to use is heart rate monitor devices for cardio.
They cost around $35 here is one for example. But i believe setting a realistic goal is the best way to monitor your progress.
Creating a program
It will be unlikely that existing programs will cater for your exact needs, so rather than following one to the letter, check out a few respected programs, pick the appropriate bits out that coincide with your goals and ask questions here or elsewhere if needed.
For example, I started reading
Stronglifts but thought starting at an empty bar was taking 'motivation through success' and technique training time too far. The marketing of it doesn't sit well with me either.
Starting Strength hit the sweet spot with the starting weight IMO so I swapped over to it and found the book and videos of each exercise, something Stronglifts lacked, extremely valuable.
Starting Strength however didn't look like it would address my goal of adding mass to my upper body, but from it I was lead to
GreySkull LP, a variant that did address this.
One of the core exercises in
GreySkull LP is weighted neck extensions. I asked about the benefits of such an exercise, I didn't value those benefits, so dropped it.
I use the warmup and starting weights from
Starting Strength and many things like increments are common between the two. I use the resets from GreySkull LP. I plug-in the appropriate additions to GreySkull LP in accordance with my individual goals.
Keeping Track of progress
I tried a few of the top rated Android apps, including JetFit Pro, and hated them. Too much unwanted stuff, too many keystrokes and mucking about, and they didn't do what I simply needed. Commercial programs have to appeal to a wide audience so are bloated for any one user.
So I just used an Excel spreadsheet on Dropbox and use it with OfficeSuite on Android.
At the gym, there is no scrolling, no menus, no screen changes, no button presses except for entering the reps achieved in the final set or two in the orange boxes. I'm not battling with tools, nor at their mercy when they change the way they do things in an update.
I can instantly see my previous weight and reps achieved, which weight I have to put on each side of the barbell, plus I don't have to think about warmup weights - they're calculated automatically and rounded to easy plate combinations. If I go to a different gym and they have a 20kg barbell instead of the 17.5kg ebay job at my normal gym, it's catered for.
That's all I want for instance, nothing more, nothing less.