You can Exercise, OR you can Train.

Which are you doing and which matches your goals?

There are two distinct ways that people work out. When you enter the gym, you either exercise, or you train. There is a time and a place for both. Sometimes it’s better for people to train, and sometimes it’s better for people to exercise. However, I see a lot of people exercising when they should be training! So, which are you doing? Well, you likely already know if you are training. But let’s put some definitions to these terms so you can determine where you are and if your efforts are right for your goals.

Exercise is general, non-specific movement in the pursuit of a non-specific goal.

Training involves following a progressive system in order to achieve a specific long term goal.

Let’s look at a few examples to help you determine which you are doing.

You are Exercising if:

· You don’t have a plan. Most people walk into a gym with a rough idea of what they are going to do but do not have a regimen that they must stick to.

· You don’t have a quantifiable goal. Goals such as “look better”, “feel better”, or “lose weight” are non-specific and most people don’t use a specific training program when chasing these goals.

· You are there to check the box. Sure, you may do legs one day and arms another, but in general you are trying to reach a goal of 3x/week or 5x/week or whatever. No matter what you did, the important thing is that you showed up.

· You perform based on how you feel. Some days you spend 90 minutes in the gym and some days you are in and out in 20. It all depends on how hard your day was, what your mood is, and how much alcohol you drank the night before.

· You either always go 100% all out to death, or you never come close. People who exercise usually either work out until complete exhaustion, or work out until they start feeling tired.

· You pick exercises based on how they feel. If you choose leg press over squats because you “feel the burn” better on the leg press, you are probably exercising.

· It’s all about the calories! If your main purpose for being in the gym is to burn calories, you are exercising.

· You only train the muscles that you can see in the mirror. If your focus is only on improving your arms or your butt and you could care less about training everything else, you are exercising.

· Skipping a session doesn’t really matter. Since you are focused on general movement, skipping a session or moving it to a different day doesn’t really affect your progress.

You are Training if :

· You have a plan! Each session has been planned to contribute to a long term goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A bad plan is better than no plan at all.

· You are performance-oriented. You know your loads, reps, and a variety of other measures that gives you an idea of your overall performance and intensity. You expect to see improvement in your ability to execute certain exercises.

· Recovery is a priority. Being recovered from your next session is more important to you than having those extra beers on a Tuesday night.

· You are driven by data. There are always certain exercises that correlate directly to your progress towards your goal. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, and Pull-ups are good examples. You know your numbers and continually aim to improve in those exercises.

· You have a “multi-session” mindset. Consistency and continual progress is more important than going 100% balls to the wall on any given session.

· You know why you are doing an exercise. You use specific exercises as a tool, with a specific purpose that helps build towards the overarching goal. If you are doing an exercise because “it destroys my legs”, you are not training.

· Skipping a session is a big no-no. While the chaos life brings is inevitable, a strict training program is fairly unforgiving when it comes to skipping a session or moving it to a different day. Doing so may not ruin everything, but it will certainly slow your progress.

So, which is right for your goals???

When I work with clients, they are usually training, even if they do not know so. It’s simply much easier to make progress that way and I’m doing all the planning for them. However, it’s not best for everybody. Here’s some examples of who should be exercising and who should be training.

Exercising is a good option if:

· You just want to improve general health. If your whole goal of being in the gym is to keep metabolic disease at bay and to stay active, exercising is plenty.

· You only want to lose weight. In order to lose weight, you don’t have to be crazy strong or build a bunch of muscle. You need to move, and you need to reduce the amount of food you eat. Exercising is perfect for you if this is your goal.

· You are just getting started. The beginner that hates the gym may not need or want a lot of structure at first. Get in there and do something simple and easy. There is time to train later.

· You are a busy as hell (or are telling yourself you are). If you don’t have much time and don’t want to spend the brain power on planning and tracking your training, stick to exercising. Life comes in waves, sometimes flexibility is the best option.

Training is necessary if:

· You have a specific goal on a specific timeline. If you need to lose weight by a certain date, be prepared for a competition, or be ready for a sports season, YOU NEED A PLAN.

· You want to be stronger. Sure, a beginner will get stronger for a while by dong basically anything new. But after those beginner gains are gone, you will need a training plan to make continual progress.

· You want to grow muscle. Once again, you will gain some muscle as a beginner, but most muscular growth comes from a progression in strength, which requires a plan. If you want to avoid stalling out and grow muscle in a reasonable period of time, you need a training plan!

· You need to see your progress. A lot of people lose faith in their workouts if they don’t see some sort of measurable progress. If you are one of these people, training gives you more data and more areas in which you can see frequent improvement.

The Takeaway

Always go with what works best for where you are at in life. There are a lot of people in gyms everywhere that have exercised for years and should stick to what they’ve been doing. However, there are also plenty of frustrated people out there who make the mistake of exercising when they should be training. I see this most often in people who want to get stronger and gain muscle. You can exercise, if that is working for you. But if you want to get bigger and stronger, don’t be surprised when your progress stalls. If you are one of those people, I’d recommend you start searching for a training program. And as always, feel free to email me at if you need any help in finding the direction that is best for you. Good Luck!