Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

The difference between exercising and training

It may sound silly but there is a massive difference between exercising and training. Exercise can be defined as something which “enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness”.

Physical activity guidelines state adults should do some form of activity every day. Do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week.

Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.


You can achieve these guidelines through exercise. Going to the gym, doing a few major muscle group exercises, going for a run/walk or attending a fitness class.

Training on the other hand is physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the process instead of just working out.

Is one better than the other?

Like everything in the health and fitness industry ‘it depends’. It depends on your goal, your current health and your focus. Currently I exercise. I get outside as much as I can and move the body. I don’t push myself as much in the gym and would happily replace it with a more enjoyable outdoor activity. My body is not as strong as it was when I was playing sport, I don’t have the same fitness level and even the six pack has lost a bit of definition, but that’s OK.

Training is not a priority for me at the minute. I have no major health and fitness goals apart from keeping myself life strong. If I was currently playing competitive sport or entering another running race, then my current exercise routine wouldn’t be good enough. Firstly, I would increase the risk of injury and I would fall short on any goals I set myself.

When I do set a health and fitness goal again I will start ‘training’ towards that goal. I will have specific targets to aim for and every time I hit the gym or lace up the running shoes I will know how many reps, sets, pace, time and distance I will be carrying out. I would measure and record my progress to ensure I’m on track.


Here are some reasons why you think you’re training but are really exercising:


You may be hitting the gym two to three times a week, attending those fitness classes and even out pounding the roads. You may think you are ‘training’ but this could still just be ‘exercising’ and here’s why.

Your goal is too vague
If your goal is to lose weight or increase fitness, what does that actually mean? How much weight do you want to lose each week, month, year or in total? How are you going to measure your fitness levels? What step by step process are you going to follow? When are you going to achieve each step? What help, support and guidance are you following in order to achieve this? Once you start to answer these questions you will soon have a measurable goal that you can train towards.

No progressive overload
Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The same can be applied to your health and fitness goals. Are you doing the same workout over and over again and thinking you should get results?

If you are, then you’re wasting your time. Introduce progressive overload into your routine. The progressive overload principle states that in order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.

In simple terms it means lift more weight, hold the body under tension longer, add different exercises, change your pace and intensity, increase or decrease your distance in relation to intensity.

There are many different ways you can introduce progressive overload but one thing to remember is that it’s progressive, don’t take off your arm bands and jump straight into the deep end.

Quantity over Quality
Turning up to train doesn’t mean you leave each session exhausted. Doing extra and at a high intensity pace, thinking it will help you reach a goal, may not actually be the best idea. If you have a specific goal it will take time to achieve. If you turn up every day and take your body to the max, when is it going to get time to recovery and implement the adaptations from your training?

Sometimes less is more when you are following a training plan. A well designed plan will allow for breaks, recovery or de-load sessions to enable you to reach your goal.

It’s hard on your own
I really admire those people who can reach a goal by training on their own all the time. They are very few and far between and even they would admit they need help from time to time.

Training in a group with similar goals to your own will help motivate you and more importantly keep you accountable. Find a coach or mentor to help you plan and achieve your goals. It’s OK to ask for help, we all need that extra support, guidance and push.

It’s only about the exercise
When you are training then you are all in. Training includes lifestyle choices like controlling what, when and how much you are eating.

Keeping on top of your sleep so you are able to perform and give your body the time to recover. Making smarter choices about eating out and socialising. Even having the mindset and determination to stick to all of this means that when you train you are training for a reason.

If you don’t have a specific fitness goal at the minute and are happy with your health and fitness lifestyle, then exercising is perfect for you.

You still have to be accountable towards exercise, for example sticking to the government guidelines.

As long as you are happy, getting the results you want and can maintain it, then keep doing what you are doing.

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