Exercising vs. Training – What the Heck is the Difference and Why Should I Care?

I actually started writing this article last year, and for whatever reason never ended up posting it. Well I just rediscovered it, and thought it was pretty relevant, given the recent Nike campaign, so here it is.


@niketraining: Make 2017 all about Training. Set up a new plan just for you in Nike+ Training Club app. Link in our bio. #StopExercising #StartTraining #nike

When you workout, are you training, or are you exercising? Do you know the difference?




activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.




the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event.

The question becomes, at what point does our workout transition from exercise to training? And more importantly, why does it matter?

Let’s consider the life of a professional athlete. Not only are they in the gym each day, often multiple times per day, working towards their goals, they live a lifestyle that is conducive to training. Their nutrition is on point, they get plenty of sleep, alcohol intake is limited or non-existent. They live to train.

I realize that lifestyle is pretty extreme for the average person who has a full time job, relationship, children and maybe a social life. But, if there is something you are training for – whether that be a marathon, triathlon, CrossFit competition or a weightlifting meet – you are more likely to take your workouts more seriously, and alter other parts of your life to help you achieve your goal.

Now, what if you don’t have something you’re training for? What if you’re not a very competitive person, you always hated sports, and you really just want to work out because it makes you feel good and you know it’s good for your health. That’s fine! That is when small, personal goals become important. Being able to do a pull-up, swing a 24kg kettlebell, row 500m in under 2 minutes, squat below parallel, snatch your bodyweight. All of these things give you physical, attainable goals to focus on, rather than just mindlessly exercising. If you take classes, they give you a reason to try harder in class. If you workout alone, they give you a reason to push yourself a little bit more. Why is trying harder and pushing yourself important? Because it’s what makes the hour you spend exercising effective. You’re not wasting your time simply going through the motions without challenging yourself. To see change, we must push ourselves. And to help us push ourselves, it helps to set goals. Now we’ve shifted from exercising to training.

Let me give you an example. When I have someone that has been coming to class for a year, is still swinging the 10kg kettlebell, hasn’t seen any improvement in their times on the rower, and still can’t do one full range of motion push-up, then I know that person is there to exercise, not to train. They don’t care if they haven’t gotten stronger or faster or more mobile, the fact that they are showing up is enough for them. And for some people, that is enough. But the truth is, it’s the same people who don’t push themselves that wonder why they haven’t seen any changes in their body and that see working out as a chore rather than something they look forward to doing.

Some of you might be thinking, ok, but what if my goal is just to fit into my pants and look better naked? I get that. Deep down, I think we all want to good naked, whether we want to admit it or not. The question becomes, is that enough to motivate you? And even more importantly, will you ever be satisfied? I know that even when I ate super “clean”, exercised multiple times a day and was at my leanest and lightest, I still wasn’t satisfied with my body. I could always find something to pinch or something that jiggled. At some point, I realized that just wanting to look lean was never going to give me the same satisfaction as being a good athlete would. Sometimes, I like to ask myself, what do I want people to remember about me? The fact that I had a 6-pack and “toned” arms, or the fact that I was strong? I think about the example that I would like to set for others, especially young women who grow up thinking that everything should revolve around how you look rather than what you can do. I like to think about the physical aspect as a result or a bonus, not as the motivation or even the end goal.

But I digress. My point is yes, it may seem like semantics, but a simple word can in fact change your entire mindset and approach to fitness. You may not be training for the Olympics, but if you consider yourself an athlete in training and set specific goals on what you’d like to achieve, you’ll see the benefits trickle into other parts of your life. You’ll start to want to fuel your body properly, drink less, get more sleep, because you’ll realize how all of these things can make or break you reaching your goal.

So next time you walk into the gym, or into a class, ask yourself, am I here to exercise today or am I here to train? Pick up a heavier weight. Push yourself harder on the rower. Run faster. Do more burpees. You may find yourself sprawled on the floor afterward, gasping for air, every muscle in your body feeling assaulted, but I guarantee you’ll feel far more satisfied than if you had just “exercised.”


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