Training or Working Out?

Warning! Feathers WILL be ruffled!

Coach Izzy

The first time I brought up this subject, I could not believe the number of people who took offense to it.  Offending or causing trouble is never my intention, but that seems to be the inevitable consequence of going against the flow.  Nevertheless, it helped many open their eyes and fine tune their approach so here it is again.

One of the most common occurrences I find is the misunderstanding of the concepts of Training versus Working Out. It is hard for most people to understand the act of simply exercising does not constitute training and that training is more than just exercising.

The vast majority of the physically active population attends an exercise facility or exercises on their own nearly everyday. Most will resort to simply doing exercises here and there with not much thought other than some vague guideline (as in “I did cardio yesterday, I’ll do weights today“).  Guess what, that is not training, that is just working out.

Let us define what training is before moving on. Training carries a specific purpose. There is a plan behind all the exercises, moves, loads, tempo, and rest. Training has a specific short term goal derived from a primary goal. And more important than anything, that goal is suited to your own particular conditions and characteristics.

Wherever you engage in your physical activities, whether at home or at a facility, if you do not have a plan for the day based on your previous results and a long term plan, then you are not training, you are simply working out.

Training carries a contingency plan just in case the resources needed are not available or the conditions are not proper for that day.

Training is planned in a way to maximize the challenges to the body while respecting its integrity and the rules of nature that govern its responses. Training is not afraid to modify the plan of the day to suit different conditions. If you are having an excellent day, your training will become more challenging. At the same token, if you are having a hard day, training will make sure to lighten the burden to prevent unnecessary stress to your tissues.

When you train, you learn to apply what works for you and discard what does not, but not before finding out why. Take one of the most typical examples. An overweight person is thinking into adding some physical activity to shed some pounds. Everyone and their tradition tell him that running is the best fat and calorie burning method. Chances are that this person will start with running as advised with no preparation other than the typical “start with walking for two weeks, and then you can start running”.

Here we have an individual whose ability to absorb the forces generated by running is practically non-existent. Here is an individual who will be repeatedly pounding unprepared joints on a regular basis through poor technique and lack of functional strength. What are the odds he will soon start developing a considerable overuse injury? The first sign will be the recurring knee pain. Yet the individual will continue pushing on. Soon the pain will be affecting the hip area. Nevertheless, he will continue running despite knee and hip pains.

This person is not training. There’s only the ambiguous goal of dropping certain weight with no objective short term goals to measure it. This person is following what others said and thought would be the solution to everyone’s problems. He is not training, he is and simply going through a few workouts. If he were training, he would be thinking, and by thinking he would realize there has to be a very specific and real reason for the pain and it is time to make changes. But since he is not training, he will not change. Instead, he will stop running and join the cadre of former poorly prepared runner-wannabes who now condemn the activity they once wanted to embrace as “Bad for your joints”

Another aspect of those who train versus those who simply workout is how they approach the outcomes of their activity. Those who simply workout will attribute their results (or lack of them) to a single piece of equipment, modality, or set of circumstances. Just think about the very reason most people purchase a particular piece of equipment, or follow a specific workout modality. They are looking at it as the one and only way to engage in physical activity, and the one that will deliver miraculous results.

On the other hand, those who train know that a favorable outcome is the effect of many factors merging at the right time. Any neglected aspect will be manifested as less than optimal results, but it can be precisely identified and measures taken to improve upon it.

Whether you train by yourself or with a fitness professional, you have to realize that ultimately, YOU are responsible for your performance and your results. It is the job of the fitness professional to ensure there is a plan to follow, to monitor your progress and keep you in a safe yet challenging environment. It is your job to make sure you are ready for your training session and comply with their advice.

When you train, you make sure to get adequate rest both for your safety and recovery. You have or develop the discipline to avoid situations and places that you KNOW could be detrimental to your performance. Showing up hung-over and sleep deprived to the training session just because you think “the workout” will help you battle the guilt and the effects of alcohol is both delusional and irrational.

What are the chances a fatigued, intoxicated, and dried out body will be able to sustain the demands of a rigorous training session without issues? Very slim I would say and while you may get away with it in an occasion or two, it will catch up, and it won’t be pleasant. If that describes you, you may have a hard time finding a fitness professional willing to take you long term. Experienced fitness professionals know people like this are not serious about their health, are unreliable, and too much of a liability.

If you got lucky and found one willing to take such a high risk, why even bother? The detrimental conditions that you put yourself into will deny you any significant results but will almost guarantee a significant injury, not the best return to your investment. You can have the best trainer in the world with a superbly designed program, with access to the best facilities and the best resources, and yet, you will see little to no results to reward your “effort“.

Whose fault is it? Not the trainer’s, not the equipment, nor a particular exercise or routine. Question is, can you handle the truth?

I’ll see you on the exercise floor!

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.