Training vs. Exercising: Do you know the difference?

December 23, 2018

I hope this stimulates some thoughts as you set your new year goals…

You say, “I want to get better at the snatch.”

You say, “I’m trying to increase my clean because I’m weak in that lift.”

But, your actions contradict everything you say. You get bored easily, and you’re never consistent with a program. And, that is ok, IF you just want to exercise.

To gain strength and learn skills you need to train, not just exercise. In this video, I highlight the differences

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Training vs. Exercising

Training is the intentional focus and plans to improve strength in a specific area or improve a skill. It is often boring and mundane, as the exercises won’t drastically vary from week to week. Consistency is key.

Exercising is the act of being physical for the physical and mental health benefits. The movements and exercises can vary drastically. Consistency is still important, but varying days won’t drastically hurt the outcome.

Training and exercising is as much a mindset as it is a structured program. Athletes who train often have a goal they’re working toward. And, this is where athletes who exercise can get confused. An athlete who exercises often has a goal too, but bad habits and mindset around boredom and consistency never let them reach their goals.

Here is an example:

Sara wants to get stronger. She has been going to the gym for about six months and has built a good habit of showing up. During this time her base level of strength has increased, but it has stalled out a bit. She searches online and finds a strength program. It is three days a week and includes basic movements like squats and pressing. She starts the program, but about two weeks in she finds herself bored and wanting to try the spin class. She decides to go to a spin class and she has a blast. She starts to bring spin class into her routine, but with work, she isn’t able to make all three days of her strength program. Finally, she just stops doing the strength program because she is frustrated feels like she wasn’t making much progress…

Where did Sara go wrong? Poorly planning her training days. Adding in some cardio or a fun class won’t destroy our hopes to gain strength (unless it leads to overtraining). But, missing days, stressing about our inability to do it all, and feeling you’re not making progress as fast as you think you should, will destroy your chances to makes gains in you specific strength or skill goal. If you set yourself up for failure at the start with your schedule then you’ll not make it through.

Fear of Losing What You’ve Gained Already

One of the biggest hang-up for athletes who want to gain strength or work on a skill is they’re afraid. Afraid of losing the skills, strength, endurance or leanness they’ve already achieved

An example here would be:

Sam wants to improve in the Olympic lifts. His coaches have told him he needs to do a weightlifting cycle and Sam signs up. The weightlifting cycle is four days a week, but on some of the days, Sam doesn’t feel like he has done much. So, Sam starts to add in extra work to make sure he doesn’t lose his endurance. And, he also doesn’t want to gain fat. Quickly, during the weightlifting cycle, skill work starts to become even more difficult. Sam’s body isn’t able to recover so when he comes to train he has an even more difficult time getting his body to move in a new technique pattern. He is constantly getting corrected and he starts to become frustrated at his inability. Finally, the cycle ends without the gains Sam was hoping for and this makes him feel it was all for nothing.

Where did Sam go wrong? He didn’t trust the process! In learning skill work we need to keep our bodies and nervous system to be able to perform the tasks as we learn. Often, when we leave feeling fresh the program is preparing us for a trial, but if we go outside of the program and tax our bodies, we won’t be ready for this trial!

How to do it all?

  1. Know your goal
  2. Get a coach
  3. Communicate
  4. Trust the process
  1. Not having a goal does make training a painful experience. The boredom and repetitive nature will slowly push you away. However, when you know what you’re working toward you won’t mind the training. In fact, you’ll look forward to it!
  1. A coach will help you reach your goals faster than you ever could alone. Even if this is something you’ve done before. I guarantee it. We’re often our own worse enemy. Being too hard on ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure without even knowing it. A coach will help you set yourself up for success, because if you don’t succeed… neither do they.
  1. Communication is key. Your coach can’t read your mind and know how you’re feeling about an exercise, training regiment, or whatever will allow them to manipulate factors that can help. I’ve watched many athletes not speak up and create a story in their head that doesn’t do much good.
  1. Finally, trust the process. You have a goal, you hired a coach and you’re communicating with them well. When you see the plan you must trust it to the testing point. When you test it then you can make an adjustment. Making adjustments to a plan without going through it and testing is a sure way to never learn or improve.

I hope these simple points will help you reflect on your mindset. Are you training or are you exercising?

Good luck this new year!!



This is a guest post from Drew Dillon, head coach and co-founder of Project Lift during his lifting career as
 an athlete Drew placed as high as 4th at a USA Weightlifting Nationals and is a personal coach to 2012 Olympian Holley Mangold. He is also known as a Weber grill snob and will routinely ask you "what is for dinner" during training. You can follow Drew on Instagram and YouTube
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