Training vs. Working Out - Know the Difference

Are you training or are your working out?

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Do you work out or do you train? You’d better know because the difference can literally change your life—and maybe just save it. This article will give you the tools to make profound changes to what you do at the gym.

About 15 years ago I was personal training out of a private business club. One day, a guy—let’s call him Mike—approached me. He usually came in to workout 3-4 days per week. He always did the same thing on the treadmill and machines. Mike was consistent but he was working out, not training. He told me his friend was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and and he wanted to do it with him. He asked me what he needed to do to get ready and I said “lose 50 lbs”. The man laughed, and then realized I was serious. We began a discussion that turned into a training plan for him to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro 6 months from that day. This plan included 2 days/week of training with me, 2 days a week of planned activity and some simple modifications to his nutritional strategies. The number of days he was committed to coming in didn’t change, but with a key goal in mind, he set a plan in place and went from working out to training. 

Over the next 6 months Mike trained and followed the plan. He lost the 50 lbs and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Cool, right? That, however, is not the end of the story. He continued to train after he got back. A couple of years later, Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was bad. Doctors gave him 3-6 months to live. He had a big surgery, did all the treatments, but the one thing he didn’t stop doing was training. This man made it almost 2 years and the doctors told him it was only because of being in such good shape. As I sat at Mike's funeral, his family spoke of all the extra time they got to spend with him because of the training he had done. I was brought to tears. I truly realized—for the first time in my life—how impactful my work is. 

Have a plan, have a coach, and have a holistic approach.

I tell this story to illustrate just how powerful it can be to move from working out, to training. His changes didn’t ask for any more time than he was already spending. The only real thing that changed was that he suddenly had a plan. Working out is just random exercise with no plan. This is not a bad thing; physical activity is always good for your health, but it doesn’t mean it will help you reach any of your physical goals. Mike would go from one machine to the other with no set plan of what he was trying to accomplish. He would get on the treadmill and just “get his time in”. Once he started training, everything he did in the gym had purpose. Every exercise was built on the previous one and all of his time on the treadmill was programmed to accomplish a specific goal. Exercise without a plan is like driving without a map, you will spend the same amount of time, but who knows where you will end up?

The next thing Mike did, is what I would encourage anyone who wants results from exercise to do: He hired a performance coach. Yes, I happened to be that coach, but even I pay someone to coach me in my own training today. I truly believe that anyone who is serious about making progress with their body needs to hire a coach. I have the technical knowledge to write my own plan, but I am too emotionally invested in my own plan to make make things ideal. This is why I wanted The Spot Athletics to be a private training facility where everyone worked with a coach. It doesn’t matter if its personal training, small or large group training, having a coach develop the workout, coach you through the movements and hold you accountable is priceless. No matter what you know, you won’t be able to achieve it training by yourself.

The last thing that differentiates training from merely working out is having a holistic view of your life and how it relates to your training. When Mike was working out, he looked at his exercise as a stand alone activity that needed checked off the “to do” list. When he moved to training I taught him that the time in the gym was impacted by every thing he did outside the gym. What he put in his body, his stress levels, sleep, hydration, mindset and even his relationships with family and friends all needed to be considered to make progress in his training. This man did an amazing job of making small changes in his sleep and nutrition and along with the planned exercise, he went to a level of fitness he didn’t know was possible. Any coach you work with should be making you aware of these lifestyle factors, but if you are struggling to make the necessary changes, then I recommend getting lifestyle coach. You must ensure you are making progress in the 23 hours per day you are not in the gym training. 

I hope this article opened your eyes to the difference between working out and training. Even more, I hope it spurs you on to make a change if you are currently working out. I am very passionate about the difference between working out and training. Still, 10 years later, as I wrote about Mike—who was both my client and my friend—I cannot hold back my tears. Make sure that the time you are spending in the gym is well-spent. Have a plan, have a coach, and have a holistic approach. The difference will change and possibly even safe your life.