by Dave Thomas

The difference between “training” and “exercising”.  It’s an age old topic that industry coaches have been addressing for years, and it remains the most poignant question one can ask of their efforts in the gym.  Eric Cressey wrote about this a few years ago (I couldn’t find the article) and it’s what first woke me up to the vast different between the two.

Am I training?  Or, am I exercising?

Uhh, “Earth to Meekus…those are the same thing.”

Only to the common eye might training and exercising be the same thing.  Allow me to explain.

Unfocused “Exercising”

When you exercise, you don’t really have a plan.  You don’t really know when you are going to the gym, you don’t know what your workout is going to be prior to arrival and you just kind of wing it.  There’s no plan for your nutrition and you don’t have any set day of the week you go to the grocery store.  You do your workout at a decent effort, pay no real attention to the weight and say things to yourself like, “This one feels okay.  I’ll use this one”.   You probably don’t seek coaching and you’d likely never ask a question about your personal goals.  Wait, goals?  There are supposed to be goals?  Like what?  I don’t know where to start? (Start here.)

After your workout, you have no structure to your meal.  You eat the same regardless of what type of training the day called for, and you probably don’t put much thought or effort into your food at all.  Most of the time, you fit in the gym and healthy eating where you can and continue to prioritize other things.

Can you get results exercising?  Sure you can.  Perhaps a little bit of progress, but it’s likely always two steps forward, one step back so any results are transient and never to full potential.  Without structure, we eventually crumble.  Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in six months. But bet your bottom dollar that without a plan your efforts will not last and you’ll be back on the resolution kick this time next year.

On the other hand.

Athlete-Minded “Training”

When you train, you have a plan.  You have goals and milestones, checkpoints and progress measurements.  You know you are going to the gym four days this week and you know the exact days you are going.  You don’t say things like, “Well work gets in the way sometimes so I don’t really know”.  Bullshit.  Work is work and it doesn’t own you.  You own you.   Athletes who train plan around their busy schedule and prioritize their health.   When you train, you put thought into your food and nutrition.  You know what you are going to eat after your workout and for breakfast the next day.  You have a day of the week that you shop for food, and you tend to prep your meals ahead of time, or at the very least think about them.  When you train, you track your lifts and your workouts.  You log your runs and record your splits. You invest in things that are going to make you better.  You ask for help and you are intent on becoming better.  You listen to your body and know that rest is just as important as movement.   You care about mobility.  You don’t go a million percent on every workout.

The reason why athletes are so successful is because they train.  They don’t exercise.  You don’t have to compete in professional or even amateur sports to train like an athlete, or even think about yourself like one.  Training as an athlete is not exclusive to the advanced.  The moment you consider your efforts in the gym as an athletic endeavor, you immediately flip the switch towards taking yourself more seriously and greater productivity.

Training is one foot in front of the other with no backtracking, a permanent behavior.  Exercising is a temporary shuffle.

Your actions will ultimately determine which side of the fence you fall, and just how much you get out of your efforts.

In the gym, and in life.

Dave Thomas is a coach and owner at Performance360.

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