Are you exercising or training? 

I was given a t-shirt two weeks ago that said:

Stop Exercising. Start Training.

I don’t often agree with slogans on Nike t-shirts, with the exception of the Bo Knows series from the 90’s. I was always pretty sure that Bo knew everything. But I thought this t-shirt was a good reminder.

Are you exercising? Or are you training? And what’s the difference? And why do I ask so many questions?

Good question. 

The precursor to exercise is physical activity. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, doing something is better than doing nothing. So activities like walking everyday, hitting your Fitbit step goals, playing with your kids and grandkids - this is physical activity and it’s better than not moving at all. 

Exercise is a type of physical activity performed for the effect that it produces today - right now. Strength coach Mark Rippetoe describes it as “punching the physical clock.” When I take my basset hound out for a walk, we’re exercising. Or, lying on the sidewalk because it’s hot and he protests and then I carry him back to the house. So I’m exercising and he's not even being active.

Some folks take their dogs to the beach and garden and go for hikes. These are all great forms of exercise.

When you have a particular performance goal in mind, your physical activity transforms from exercise to training. This is why we train for a 5K or a marathon - we train for a power lifting meet - we train to catch a monkey by its tail. We have a goal or an event that we want to reach - so we train to hit that goal.

Last night at the gym, I had a long conversation with a client who’s been with us for over a year. She’s lost a lot of weight, kept it off, and is starting to get antsy. I would argue that she has outgrown exercise - now she’s ready to train. She likes the idea of taking her fitness to the next level and is bored with exercise for the sake of exercise. She has built a strong base and is ready for more. That more might be a mud run or obstacle race - it might be a push/pull meet (powerlifting meets that have only a bench and deadlift, no squat), or maybe running a 5K in a certain time. She will determine what she wants to come next. But she's ready to train.  

We often talk about setting performance goals as a way to focus on something other than weight. And that’s what training becomes. 

If you already belong to Spurling, you are already at a training gym - according to Rippetoe, the standard industry model is 55 percent of the floor space devoted to cardio equipment. The remaining 45 percent of space is dominated by exercise machines. 

There is no one right place to be, depending on where you are in your personal journey. Physical activity might be the goal - and maybe that's all you're interested in.

But if you’re already exercising and trying to decide what should come next to challenge you or make things more interesting, perhaps it’s time to stop just exercising and start training - and training with a purpose.