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Training vs. Exercising: Why the differences are important

Updated: May 28, 2021

Movement is medicine. This is a statement that I will stand by until the day I die and will defend to my grave. And when I say movement, I mean any kind of movement. Walking, lifting, swimming, dancing, rowing, curling, tricep extending, goblet squatting, cycling, HIITing, CrossFiting, bootcamping, Zumbaing, yogaing, Pilatesing…the list goes on and on. Not only is movement medicine but it is tied with a healthy well-rounded diet for the world’s greatest preventive medicine.

While there is no question that movement is important for our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health - it is important that we understand the intention behind our movement and the goal of certain classes we attend, workouts we perform, and programs we follow.



In my mind there are two specific categories to discuss when it comes to movement and working out. There is training, and then there is exercising. No one is better than the other, however, if one is construed as the other - it can be detrimental to our bodies and to achieving our goals. In discussing the difference between the two there are three topics to cover:


  1. workout programming

  2. nutrition

  3. data (recovery.)

In this post we will cover programming workouts and in subsequent posts will cover nutrition and recovery.


To begin at a high level, let’s start with training. The word training, by definition, means that there is something specific that you are training for. This could be a number of different things but to name a few: a half marathon, a vacation you want to look good for, bathing suit season, a CrossFit competition, a triathlon, an Olympic weightlifting meet, you have the goal of getting stronger simply so you can lift more weight!


Because there is something you are preparing for at a specific date in time, or days / weeks in time you want to ensure that you are doing everything you can to look / perform to the best of your ability. As a result, you will exercise, eat, and recover (analyze data) in a way that will lead to optimal performance.


Contrast this with exercise. Exercise, by definition, is the act of moving your body to improve your health and wellness. Not just your physical health but your mental, spiritual health and emotional health. To achieve this, you want to make sure your workouts are not placing undue stress on your body, and that you are exercising, eating and recovering in a sustainable manner keeping in mind, your success is not dependent on how you perform during your workouts but rather on the fact that you perform your workout, enjoy your workout and feel good before, during and after your workouts!

 

Workout Programming

 

Training:


As mentioned above, if you are training then you are training for something. This means that your workouts need to be designed in such a way that when it comes time to compete / perform / realize your goal - you are ready to perform optimally! To ensure that this is the case, your workouts need to be specifically targeted to improve your performance at whatever it is you are training for. To achieve this, more likely than not, you will need to be following a periodized program that places excess stress on your body as the program progresses which in turn allows your body to recover, grow, and improve your performance.


(Boring technical talk - skip to next paragraph if you are not interested.)


A proper program will understand when you need to peak for your performance. It will then work backwards to design several 12-18 week “macrocycles” that are designed to stress different factors of your body. It could be speed focused, it could be strength focused, it could be capacity focused etc. Within these 12-18 week “macrocycles” there will be multiple 4-8 week “microcycles.” Within each of these “microcycles” your body will experience more and more stress through volume and/or intensity. Through this increased stress your body will need time to respond resulting in a week to two weeks of deload / recovery training. However, because our body has grown from the stress of the last cycle the baseline of each “microcycle” will be slightly higher than the last. The program will continue in this fashion for the duration of the macrocycle and transition into a new macrocycle following the same prescription. There is also a very carefully designed and timed peaking cycle that incorporates all of these macrocycles one last time and finishes with a taper leading up to the event to ensure that you body can realize the growth from the stress and recovery you put in through. This growth comes in the form of whatever it is you are trying to improve - speed, strength, muscle mass, fat loss, etc. The only way that your performance will improve and that your body will adapt and grow, is if stress is placed on your body.


While this stress is important for growth and for performance it can have other effects on our day-to-day life. Training can be challenging, time consuming, and at times even the thought of a hard training session can distract you from other aspects of your life. If this sounds like a lot, well, that’s because it is. Athletes do not spend hours of their life training just to feel better and to look better - they spend this time so they can perform better.


Notice I said athletes. While it has become more and more popular to call anyone that works out an athlete and to have classes of 9-5 professional do all sorts of bizarre movements that many athletes wouldn’t even think of doing, the term athlete should be reserved for people devoting their time, energy and passion to performing and improving their physical performance.

 

Exercising:


Exercising is incredible. The feeling you get after you stand up off of your cycling bike, finish the last half mile of your 3-mile run, close your eyes and enjoy the calm music after your yoga class - these feelings are second to none and have the power to change lives! However, this feeling is extremely different than the feeling an athlete has lying on the ground after they have finished their 12th round of sprint intervals as part of their second training session of the day.


The feeling of a great workout, the dopamine effect and the endorphins we feel are what carry us through our days and can improve the way we feel about ourselves, the way we react to situations and the way behave. For someone exercising there should be nothing stressful about the experience before, during or afterwards. You should look forward to your workout knowing how great you will feel while you are working out, but more importantly how great you will feel after your workout! Your workout shouldn’t leave you crawling on the ground grasping for air, debilitatingly sore and tired that day or the following day or aggravated because of how tired and uncomfortably sore you are from your workouts.



There are many workouts out there and classes out there that are targeted towards people exercising but are designed for someone who might be training for something. If you are someone who is exercising, remember why it is you are working out. It is not so that you can be the fastest or lift the heaviest weight, it is so that you can be the best professional, parent, friend, family member, and happiest version of yourself. Don’t let a poorly programmed workout designed by someone who wants you to fit into what they think healthy looks like, and designed for someone training for something lead to undue stress on your body and mind.


Let you workouts serve you, not the other way around.


If you are still unsure of if your workout is the right fit for you or even unsure if you are or should be training for something vs. exercising, please reach out. It is my passion in life to help people reach their full potential through health and wellness.


For some, this means PRing their half marathon time or completing an Ironman. For others, this means finding sustainable movement they enjoy so they can live a happier, healthier, longer life.



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