The word “training” is often confused with and is incorrectly interchanged with the word “exercising”. A Google search for the definition of ‘training’ returns a handful of results, apropos of the discussion at hand is the following: “The action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event.” I like to say that training involves a specific plan in preparation for a specific event. This is incredibly different than “exercising”. Exercise, in contrast to training, does not imply the establishment of a program, goals, guidelines, and most importantly, a point at which one’s efforts will be tested. While I do think exercise is beneficial and that more people, particularly the 60%+ of Americans who are overweight, need to do more of it, there is a certain point at which we cannot have realistic expectations of progress without switching our mindsets into training mode.
When you are training, you establish a plan to be executed over a certain period of time. The plan is something you build based on your previous experience, research, and help of a trainer. The time parameter is determined based upon the date at which you will be testing yourself.
For an athlete, this test may come in the form of a race, a weightlifting meet or a CrossFit competition. Signing yourself up for a meet or a competition is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it lights a fire under your ass to start taking your training and eating habits seriously. When you know you have to compete in front of ten, fifty, or even two hundred people, you don’t want to look like an unprepared hack. You want to know you did everything you could to be as successful as possible leading up to that moment. Secondly, the competition provides a standardized testing platform that affords you the opportunity to measure and compare yourself with other competitors. Credible organizations that host meets and competitions have rules, standards and judges to provide a formal way to test in a standardized system. Assessing your progress by competing is much different than testing a max in class simple because you happened to show up on 1 rep max day.
Training is not about killing yourself and making yourself so sore that you cannot sit on the toilet for three days.
Another key difference between going to the gym to train and going to the gym to exercise is your ability to look at the big picture. Each training session is a puzzle piece; you’re building up to something big. Training is not about killing yourself and making yourself so sore that you cannot sit on the toilet for three days; rather is about how every training session will fuel your progress for each session after that. When you start to view your training sessions in this manner, you will recognize the value of your time in the gym. You will find yourself asking the necessary and critical questions: Did you fuel yourself properly for that session? Are you prioritizing technique and range of motion when performing each movement? Are you using the correct weight to spark progress rather than hinder it? Are you spending enough time recovering to prepare you for your next session?
Another very important aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, to training is determining what is driving your progress and eliminating anything that is detracting from progress. This balance is imperative. Through training, you are telling your body to adapt, to be able to lift more or move faster. This adaptation comes by maintaining a smart balance between stressing your system and allowing it to recover. You must understand that adaptation (progress/gains) will not come without proper stress nor will it come without proper recovery; these two elements are absolutely essential and they must be balanced. Most people are under the impression that it is only the stress that drives progress without appreciating that the adaptation actually occurs during the recovery process.
The obvious next question is, what is the right amount of stress? Specific to weight training, the right amount of stress is a weight that is just heavy enough to challenge you, but allows you to complete the movement with proper and effective range of motion while executing it with technical proficiency. This certainly does not mean you are maxing every single session; you also don’t need to feel “tired and destroyed” after EMOMs to know you are achieving an adequate level of stress. Remember, you are looking at your program with the big picture in mind.
Training means you take responsibility for what you are eating and drinking, how much you are sleeping, and how you are dealing with other life stressors.
If your training sessions are when you apply stress, when and how does the recovery occur? This is, indeed, an in-depth process. To simplify for now, recovery is what you do outside the gym…your eating, sleeping, and life-style habits. Training means you take responsibility for what you are eating and drinking, how much you are sleeping, and how you are dealing with other life stressors. If you find you are stalling in your progress, take a look at your recovery strategy. Are you eating enough of the right foods? How many hours of sleep are you getting each night? More than 8? Was it a good choice to drink ALL the tequila? What in your life is causing you stress? What other activities are you doing that may be causing you to be too fatigued, sore, over-trained to fail to make gains where you really need them?
I’m not saying that you need to become a competitive weightlifter or participate in every CrossFit competition under the sun. But, as you exercise more and more, the immediate results of the new stress on your system will begin to taper and you will require more intentional programming and training to continue to advance. You do not have to give up your day job (you definitely should not do that) to compete in meets and events, but I encourage you to sign up for something to make your training even more worthwhile, to get out of your comfort zone, and to help drive your progress toward becoming a stronger and more useful human being.