Training vs Exercising

Posted: October 7, 2013 in Random Thoughts, Training
Tags: , , ,

As Mark Rippetoe points out in this T-Nation article, there is a big difference between Training and Exercising.  In a nutshell,  Training is the process of following a progressive program that is designed to increase an aspect of fitness over time. The aspect of fitness most often associated with training is strength, but people can train to improve power, speed, and endurance as well. In contrast, Exercising is what happens if your workouts don’t progress over time, or if you do randomized workouts with no attention paid to progression of key exercises, If your program isn’t planned with an emphasis on progression, you’re not Training. You’re Exercising. And you need to stop, because Exercising is bullshit.

Think about this: You’re learning a subject in school – let’s say Math, for example – and you take Algebra 1 in 6th grade. During that 6th grade year, you learn all about the basics of algebra, By learning all this new information, you become better at math. But the next year, when you move on to 7th grade, you take Algebra 1 again. And again the year after that. And the year after that. And the year after that. At the end of those 4 extra years of Algebra 1, are you better at math than you were after 6th grade? No. You’re not. You’re not any better at math, because you never learned anything else beyond Algebra 1, while other kids moved on to Algebra 2, Trigonometry, and Calculus. Their educational program progressed, so they improved as middle school mathematicians.

"What? Differential equations? Uh..."

I have no idea what this girl is doing. It looks like she’s good at math though.

Training works the same way. If there’s no logical progression to your program, you’ll stagnate. You might make some gains early on, but over time you’ll plateau out and never improve after that.  If you’re not an athlete, and you’re just looking to maintain what you’ve got, then Exercise is fine. Feel free to do all the lame bootcamps and group exercise classes you want. But if you’re an athlete trying to get better at your sport, you need to know that Exercising is a complete waste of your time and money. Think about it: do those group exercise classes really progress over time? Or is it the same random combination of bodyweight exercises and high-rep medicine ball throws just jumbled up and repackaged week after week?

Bootcamp: because pretending you're in the Army is the cool thing to do now

Bootcamp: because pretending you’re in the Army getting yelled at by fake Drill Instructors is the cool thing to do now

On a slightly related note: I don’t really know why, but vaguely military-themed group exercise classes and events have become all the rage recently. “Bootcamps” have begun popping up all over the place, and obstacle course races like the Warrior Dash and the Spartan Race provide Army wannabes across the nation with the opportunity to electrocute themselves, jump over burning logs, and crawl through piles of cat shit or whatever else they do at those things.

"This year, the mud puddles will be filled with ELECTRIFIED cat shit!"

“This year, the shit puddles will be ELECTRIFIED so that you can be ELECTROCUTED BY CAT SHIT!”

And don’t try to tell me that I’m wrong about those races being lame because “lots of people like them”, because lots of people apparently like Pit Bull’s music too, but that doesn’t make it any less terrible.

Warrior Dash/Tough Mudder/Spartan Race’s lameness is somewhat beside the point, however. The real point of this post is that if you want to make legitimate progress toward reaching your goals, whether that be to throw 90 mph, run a sub-11-second 100 yard dash, or to attain 10% bodyfat, you’re not going to get there if you don’t have an actual plan that involves progression. So going to “Sports Conditioning Class” once a week to do box jumps and burpees for an hour isn’t going to help you. Instead of wasting your time with programs that go nowhere and aren’t specifically tailored to your goals, either do some research and come up with an actual plan of your own, or ask somebody who knows what they’re doing to create a plan for you. Exercising just for the sake of exercising is pointless. If you’re going to exercise, you might as well do it right. Once you have a plan, keep track of your progress and make adjustments as needed to make sure you’re actually progressing. Because if you’re not progressing and getting better, what’s the point?

  1. Lukraakvars says:

    Wow, I loved this post, that being said, I do bootcamp and wanted to do the warrior race… But I have to agree with you on the “if you’re not progressing and getting better, what’s the point?” bit. I have recently been frustrated because of exactly that. Being stagnant. What are your thoughts on Crossfit? Or would that be in the same box as bootcamp and tough mudder? 🙂

    • Andrew Sacks says:

      It depends on the person. For athletes or people who have specific goals in mind, Crossfit doesn’t seem to have the planning and attention to detail I would want in a serious training program. I guess it’s fine for regular folks who just need an excuse to get off the couch, though.

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