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Take your Health & Fitness Back: Part 1 – Exercise is not Training

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I’m fed up!

I am fed up with where the fitness and nutrition industry has taken you, the general public (and me!), in their health and fitness message.

This time of year especially, the snake-oil salesmen and piranhas in our industry come out to feed on the gullible, well-intentioned, hard working folks looking to make positive changes for their New Year – all in the name of a dollar.  I’m sad to say this, but I honestly believe I work in one of the most dishonest, unprofessional, and fraudulent industries in existence.

Perhaps this is why we have a nation of the most gyms, health clubs, and easy access to healthy water and food in world history, and yet, we are still the fattest, confused, stressed and most unhealthy people in world history!?

I don’t know what to do about it, other than to use my platform to inform you, the consumer and customer, to “Take your Health & Fitness Back.”

Over the next weeks, I will open up my ideas and thoughts to tell you the often unsexy, blatant truths in this industry. In turn, I hope that this saves you some headache, heartache, frustration, time and money along the way.


Take Your Health & Fitness Back:

Part 1, The Difference between Exercise and Training 

We’re in the key time of year when many people turn their thoughts and actions toward physical fitness; with many for the first time (so exciting)! Many programs are available and with that comes confusion.

My goal is to help you order your thinking about fitness programs, and help you decide how YOU would like to approach your problem of being in better shape than you are right now.

For many people, exercise and training approximate to roughly the same thing.  However, in reality, exercise and training are very different. And, to make matters more confusing, you can both exercise and train.

The real difference between exercise and training lies with how you approach the activity, not the activity itself.

What is Exercise?

I’ll explain, but first, let’s define some terms:

Physical activity is what The American Heart Association wants you to get some of each week. “Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories” — the quote from their Web site. Essentially, not sitting or lying down is physical activity.

Physical fitness is a related term. Defined in 2006 by Kilgore and Rippetoe in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online [9(1):1-10]:

“Possession of adequate levels of strength, endurance, and mobility to provide for successful participation in occupational effort, recreational pursuits, familial obligation, and that is consistent with a functional phenotypic expression of the human genotype.”

CrossFit’s definition is a bit different. We need to define a couple terms to truly see the definition: First, health. Health is concisely and precisely defined as increased work capacity across broad time, modal, and age domains. Work capacity is the ability to perform real physical work as measured by force x distance / time (which is average power). Physical Fitness is this ability in as many domains as possible. (https://journal.crossfit.com/article/what-is-fitness)

Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces in the moment — right now. Each workout is performed for the purpose of producing a physical stress that satisfies the immediate need(s) of the exerciser: to burn some calories, get hot, sweaty, out of breath, getting into a heart rate zone, stretching — something to “punch the physical clock” of the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes per week of physical activity (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults)

Exercise is a physical activity done only for its own sake – to exercise. But let me be clear — it does keep you healthy.

Obviously, there are health and wellness-related benefits to regularly exercising –- improved cardiovascular capacity, immune system functioning, brain health, sleep quality, and mental well-being.

And on top of all that, exercise can help with weight control, although it is impossible to out-exercise a bad diet. (More on this in a later series.)

What is Training?

Training is physical activity performed for the purpose of reaching a long-term performance  goal or real-life objective, and is therefore about the actual process instead of the workouts themselves. It is to improve something, usually in a systematic way.

Runners train for marathons; basketball players train for the season; MMA fighters train for the big fight.

In all of these examples, these people are also exercising while they train. But training isn’t only related to exercise. In fact, they are mutually exclusive.

Broadly speaking, when we train something — or train FOR something — we are seeking to condition ourselves to operate at a higher level, to get better at whatever it is.

Training may also be the best way to achieve the goals many people seek through exercise.

So, should we all be training?

Not so fast! 

I’m not saying training is better than exercising. As you might imagine, it all comes down to your specific goals.

If your priority is just to maintain your health, then exercising will generally be sufficient for you, and you are completely free to choose whatever type of activity you like best.

Go swimming or walking if you enjoy it. Do a workout video that gets your heart pumping. Dance for 30 minutes and that will be enough exercise to meet the general AHA requirement!

However, if you want to get stronger, develop aerobic capacity, and lose more non-functional mass (body fat), then you need to be training.

Most mdern health clubs are designed exclusively for exercising, because training is far less profitable. The standard gym model is over 60 percent of the floor space devoted to “cardio” equipment, on which repetitive motions of various types can be performed while watching television. The remaining 40 percent of the floor space is dominated by exercise machines designed primarily for the convenience of the gym and staff itself — they are easy to use, easy to teach the use of and easy to replace.

Other boutique-style gyms like cycling studios, bootcamps, run/row places that have dim lights and loud music, are also exclusively for exercising.

These places have a primary objective that cater to exercise only. The programs feature random exposure to various types of physical stress, and they cannot produce a specific physical adaptation other than burning calories. Their function is to burn calories, get your heart rate up, and make you sweaty and tired.

They may do their job of providing exercise quite well, and again, this may be all you want from a fitness program.

What can I do to get better?

A lot of people rapidly outgrow exercise, and for them, training is the logical next step. They like the idea of taking their fitness to the next level.

Whether it is long-distance running or strength development, these people get excited by the possibilities for continued improvement for the long haul. This leads to the conclusion that the next phase of physical fitness must be planned to produce the specific result they want. At that point, they need training.

Training may also be the most effective way to get the results most people use exercise to obtain, especially if they want to avoid stagnation in their fitness and reach the results they desire.

Training with the specific purpose of losing weight, for example, works better than just doing the same exercises with the same weights for the same length of time on the same days of the week for months or years on end.

Once you create a plan that systematically increases your strength, endurance, work capacity and health, along with one that controls your nutrition, you’re training, and your goal is now being prepared for, not wished for.

Wherever you are in your journey — someone just starting to get off the couch, or one who is wondering why you’re not making the progress you want no matter how hard you try — the correct approach to the problem involves understanding where you are along the spectrum of your physical existence, and making the correct decisions about what to do next.

It may be exercise is all you really need, but training may be the best answer to the problem or goal.