Training vs. Exercising

In the fitness community there is a lack of consistency in terminology. Trainers usually refer to exercises by the name they were taught by their mentor. However, because there’s not a single governing body or educational resource that all trainers and coaches have to use, there are a lot of different names for the same exercises. Some people call planks, pillars. Some people call mini band walks, tube walks. Some say Bulgarian split squat, some say rear foot elevated split squat. You get the point.


Similar to the variety of terminology for exercises, there also tends to be confusion about different kinds of routines. Those who are not highly engaged in working out tend to think all exercise is the same and use the terms exercising, training, and workout interchangeably. These terms actually have important differences that identify the kind of routine or program someone is following.


To start, a workout is another name for a session. It’s the label of whatever fitness, exercise, or training you did that day. To be clear, gardening is not a workout. Walking around Epcot all day with your 5-year-old, is not a workout. Those things are both extremely exhausting, but they’re not working out. That’s just being active. A workout is when you engage in physical activity for the purpose of self-improvement. That improvement can range anywhere from fat loss to increased neuromuscular efficiency of a movement. While shoveling mulch is physically taxing, you’re not doing it because you want to burn calories. You’re doing it to shovel mulch.



A personal training session. Highly structured with extremely specific exercises.

Training is when your workouts all build off of each other, to progress toward a goal. This kind of routine is commonly used in the personal “training” setting. If someone is training, each workout in the week tie together to accomplish different training goals, and each week builds off the last. There is a progression in difficulty and some form of increased loading each week, via increased volume, heavier weights, or faster times.


An individual session in someone’s training routine might not look like a “complete” workout. It might only hit certain muscle groups or movements, but when it’s paired with all of the other workouts that week, everything is accounted for. When training, if you miss a workout you have to make it up, because the progress made during that workout prepares you for the next. You can’t just hop on a training program 2 weeks down the road. There is a rhyme and a reason for everything included in a training program.


An outdoor group exercise class. Plenty of exercise variations and accommodations at play.

The act of exercising is when each of your workouts are independent from the next. It doesn’t matter what you did on Monday or Tuesday, you’re going to do the Wednesday workout. Now, this doesn’t mean these workouts are bad. Exercising is the primary way many people take care of their health and fitness. If designed properly by including all muscle groups, tapping into different energy systems, and being easily scalable to account for different people’s capabilities, it can be an extremely beneficial style of working out.


Exercising allows for a lot of variation between workouts because you’re not building off of previous sessions. Each one can look completely different. This kind of routine is commonly what we see used in the group “exercise” setting. It allows for more flexibility with clients. If you go out of town or have to miss your usual session, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be able to jump right back into the next class and get an equally beneficial workout.


Understanding these definitions, it’s important to keep the context of what you’re doing in mind. If you’re in the middle of a training program, stay disciplined and stick to your programming. As challenging or tedious as some workouts may feel, they all play a crucial role in the big picture. If you’re exercising, don’t stress out over doing reverse lunges vs. split squats, dumbbell push press vs. push-ups, or 15 reps vs. 20 reps. As long as they both accomplish the same goal (burning calories, fatiguing the upper body or lower body, elevating your heart rate), it’s not a big deal to make those subtle changes. Context is key to understanding the purpose of what you're doing.

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