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What is the difference between training and exercising?

Training is a method of exercising with a more specific intention or end goal.
Are you a runner? Sign up for a 5K or half marathon and turn your runs into training sessions.
Are you a runner? Sign up for a 5K or half marathon and turn your runs into training sessions.Geber86 / Getty Images

As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine. 

What is the difference between training and exercising?

You may hear the words “training” and “exercising” thrown around and wonder, what’s the difference? As a health and fitness coach, most of my clients have general goals of losing weight or making exercise a habit.

Exercise is an activity that requires physical effort to increase health and fitness. It can be anything from recreational sports, like tennis, to a walking routine to working out with dumbbells. Exercise, in general, raises your heart rate above its normal resting rate and requires you to exert yourself more than you would during your everyday activities. But exercise is an activity that’s performed for the sake of doing it in the moment, to maintain our overall health; it’s not meant to “train” you to accomplish a larger fitness goal or feat in the future.

Training is a method of exercising with a more specific purpose or end goal. Exercising as part of a training plan is much more strategic; think of it as exercising with the long game in mind. Training generally involves working out in a structured format to measure progress and performance. The highest level of training is that of professional athletes. Their practices before games aren’t just a form of exercise; they’re training to achieve a specific performance during the game or competition. People preparing for a marathon or a fitness competition will also follow strict training plans. On a smaller scale, training can be used to strengthen a specific part of the body or to improve cardiovascular endurance. Training, in this sense, is more about the process instead of the single daily workout.

While it’s not necessary to see health and fitness gains, training for a specific purpose can be motivating for some people. Here are some examples of how you can turn your exercise sessions into goal-oriented training sessions:

Are you a runner?

Sign up for a 5K or half marathon and turn your runs into training sessions. You can join a running group, sign up for a distance race, or sign up for an online training plan or app. Instead of just running for exercise, you’ll have an actual plan to help you improve your endurance and work toward a goal of running faster or longer.

Do you like physical competition?

Signing up for a Spartan Race, Tough Mudder or CrossFit competition will turn your regular workouts into training days. You'll have a list of activities and exercises that you’ll need to master and a support system like a coach, trainer or others who’re also training for the competition. Like playing a sport, you will also have a group of teammates all training to compete together.

Want to take your cardio workout to the next level?

Looking to turn your afternoon swims or bike rides into something more competitive? Signing up for a race, a swim team, or a cycling event will turn your regular recreational activities into training sessions. Working toward a swim meet, whether it’s a relay or an individual competition, or signing up for biking a specific distance will give you a goal to work toward to turn your regular exercise into training.

Happy with what you’re currently doing? You don’t have to train for anything! As a personal trainer for almost 15 years, I have hardly “trained” for a thing. I did train for a 10K with one of my clients who insisted that I run it with her and also for a 5K to encourage my clients that they could do it, too. But otherwise, I enjoy exercising for the sake of feeling good, dedicating time and energy to my body daily, and reaching my fitness goals that have nothing to do with races, competitions or specific gains.

More of your questions, answered!

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