What is the difference between exercise and training?

Do you consider what you do in the gym exercise or training? To help you answer this, these are my definitions of these physical activity classifications.

Exercise: activities performed for general health and well being and quite likely weight control. Performed with limited focus on outcome goals. Exercise sessions may involve process goals i.e. working out for a specific time or performing a certain number of repetitions, but little or no emphasis is placed on long term progression. Group exercise classes fall into the category of exercise, as does running for health without any intention of ever racing and general strength training without following a clearly defined programme. Exercise tends not to elicit notable fitness improvements once basic adaptation has occurred as little thought is placed on progression. Quite often, the main goal of exercise is simply increased calorific expenditure to make up for a sub-standard diet.

Training: working out with a specific outcome goal in mind, for example training for a race, to increase strength to a specified level or improve sports-specific conditioning. Training is often the reserve of athletes and sports people and involves periods of higher intensity work followed by periods of rest and recovery. Long term exercise manipulation of training variables result in steady and predictable improvements in fitness and associated performance and each workout and training week includes short term goals which build toward an ultimate goal.

So what!?
In very simple terms, exercise is like heading on a journey without any directions. You might arrive at  somewhere interesting if you are lucky but chances are you’ll just end up going round in circles until you run out of fuel or, worse still, just get bored and decide to go back home.

Training, on the other hand, is like a well-planned expedition. There are maps, an itinerary, back-up plans, detailed logistics and an ultimate destination.

Needless to say, the second scenario makes much better use of resources and time than the first.

Train, don’t exercise
It is my opinion that if more people trained as opposed to exercised, average fitness levels would be higher, exercise drop-out levels would be lower, gym members would be leaner and stronger, more people would stick to and achieve their fitness resolutions and the world would be at peace and global warming would be a thing of the past. I maybe stretching it with the last couple of points but I really do believe that training for something tangible is better than exercising “just for the hell of it”.

But I’m not an athlete
Don’t tell anyone but nor am I – at least not any more. The nearest I get to real-life competition is ten-pin bowling(!) but that doesn’t stop me thinking and training like an athlete. I have short, medium and long term goals that my training is designed take me toward. These goals change from time to time depending on my current fitness interests but whenever I step into the gym or head out for a workout, I know exactly what I’m going to do and, more importantly, why. This keeps me focused, motivated and, above all, ensures my fitness improves week by week. Some of my training goals have been rowing 5km in under 18 minutes, performing 200 burpees in less than 20 minutes, deadlifting double my bodyweight, overhead pressing my bodyweight, performing 20 dead-hang chin ups and squatting 1.5 times my bodyweight. Needless to say I have never attempted to achieve all these things at the same time and some are still works in progress but the point is, by having goals, every time you workout, you do so with purpose.

So, here is your task for the weekend. Take a piece of paper and decide on some training goals. Write them down and stick them somewhere prominent like the fridge door or inside your gym locker. It could be a specific amount of weight/fat loss you’d like to achieve, a distance you’d like to be able to run, a race you’d like to complete or a strength standard you’d like to reach. Decide on a realistic time frame. The loftier the goal, the longer you will need. If your goal is very high, break it down into a series of micro goals that you can tick off on your way to the “big one”.

Next, do your research and find out the best training methods to help you reach your goals and then design a series of workouts. Come up with a series of four to six week training blocks which are progressive and build up in volume and intensity.

Finally, make sure that your daily behaviours support the goal you have set for yourself. Remember that an unhealthy diet, too little sleep and too much stress will undermine your progress whereas eating properly and getting enough sleep will increase your chances of success.

So, by Monday, you may well be taking your first step towards a fitter, stronger, more focused and better you.