Three terms are often used to describe what may or may not happen in the gym.  The title of the article may have given you a hint as to what these oft confused terms are.

Physical activity is what the American Heart Association wants you to get some of each week.  From the AHA website:  “physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories.”  So essentially anything that isn’t laying down counts as physical activity.

But is getting the recommended dose of “physical activity” actually enough to produce physical fitness?

Physical fitness, as defined by the Journal of Exercise Physiology (2006):  is the possession of adequate levels of strength, endurance, and mobility to provide for successful participation in occupational effort, recreational pursuits, and familial obligations..”

Clearly, all of us engage in physical activity on a daily basis, but a growing majority of us could not be defined as physically fit.  The only logical conclusion to make is that physical activity alone is not enough to produce an increase in physical fitness – or else we would all be fit.

This is where Exercise and Training enter the picture.  These terms are often, incorrectly, used interchangeably.  The term “workout” is used in both contexts to denote a scheduled event that produces physical stress.  Both Exercise and Training utilize workouts but the concepts are profoundly different.

Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today – right now.  Each workout is performed for the purpose of producing a stress that satisfies the immediate and subjective needs of the exerciser:  burning some calories, getting hot and sweaty and out of breath, making the muscles burn, getting stretched out, etc.  Essentially just punching the physiological clock.  Exercise is physical activity done for its own sake.  Exercise often involves doing the same thing over and over again.  Success is not measured by progress, but simply as a completion grade.

But for athletes (and even non-athletes) moving beyond mere exercise must occur if long term progress is the goal.

Training is necessary.  In this context physical activity is performed for purposes of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the long term process instead of the narrow focus simply on today’s workout.  The process is often called a “training plan” which must generate a definable result at a point in time removed from each workout.  The process must therefore be planned carefully to produce this long term result.

Long term improvement is the objective of training and this requires both time and a willingness to stick to a plan.

Most people are not competitive athletes and are therefore satisfied with simply “exercising” and have no interest in training.  There is nothing wrong with that if exercise alone will help you attain your goals.  The fitness industry recognizes this and therefore set up to facilitate exercise rather than training.

Modern health clubs are designed exclusively for exercising, as training is far less profitable.  The standard industry model is 55% of floor space devoted to “cardio” equipment where members can work up a little bit of a sweat while they watch TV and talk to the person next to them.  Cardio equipment is easy to use, easy to teach someone how to use, and easy to vacuum around.  And it’s non-intimidating to new prospective members.  That’s why cardio equipment is always in the front of the gym, behind the welcome desk.  The squat racks, barbells, and dumbbells are hidden in the back of the gym – out of public view and the staff has zero intention of teaching you how to use them.  Modern health clubs are sales organizations – not training facilities.

Training effectively takes time, instruction, and dedication to the goal you’re training for.  It requires planning, input from people familiar with the process and what it takes to accomplish the process, and a willingness to grasp the fact that each workout is of value primarily for its place in the line of events that generates the final outcome of the program.

If you aren’t currently reaching your fitness goals it’s highly likely that you aren’t training – you are merely exercising.