Are You Training or Exercising?

Sports Performance | Strength & Conditioning

In this article, Jim talks through the distinct differences between training and exercising and gives us some insight into why he believes having a system to log your training results is the most important tool in your training arsenal.

Jim Kielbaso

Jim Kielbaso

After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from Michigan State University, Jim headed to Ann Arbor to get his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan. During his career, Jim has trained thousands of athletes including professional football, basketball, and hockey players, Olympic competitors, hundreds of college athletes and too many youth athletes to count.

// know the difference between training and exercising

The basic difference between training and exercising is the use of systematic, progressive overload toward a specific goal.

Progressive overload suggests that the continual increase in the total workload during training sessions will stimulate muscle growth and strength gain.

Training is a much more structured, efficient path toward a specific goal that utilizes record keeping to ensure that overload is consistently being applied.  

Exercise, on the other hand, is less structured, doesn’t have a specific goal, and doesn’t use a systematic approach.  

There is nothing wrong with the randomness used in exercising.  You can get in great shape, get stronger, stay healthy, and burn plenty of calories without utilizing a systematic approach, but progressing towards a specific goal will almost always take much longer and much more structure and planning.  

One of the most overlooked keys to training is a system of record keeping.  

Without this, you may not be maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of your training, and you may be spinning your wheels.

training over exercising

// The importance of a good training log

If the stimulus is strong enough, the body adapts.  

If the stimulus is not strong enough, it stays the same, which is inefficient.  

Utilizing a system of record keeping will help reduce the number of days you waste and help apply progressive overload more consistently.

One of the most common frustrations people have when training is not experiencing results fast enough.  

I get questions about this all the time where people are wondering why their program isn’t working.

The first question I ask is “What have you been doing?”

The response usually contains a wide variety of things with a lack of structure – they’ve been exercising.  

My second question is “Can I see your training log?”  

The answer to this is usually a blank stare.

woman training

Tracking progressive overload

That’s when I explain the importance of record keeping and the value of a rep.  

Many years ago, I was taught the value of a rep by legendary strength coach Mike Gittleson.  

He showed me a predicted max chart and explained how it can predict your maximal strength on any exercise.  

While not always 100% accurate, the main concept was clear: adding one rep to a maximal effort set typically means you’ve improved your maximal strength output by about 2%.  

If the lift is around 200 pounds, that’s a 3-5 pound improvement.  

If the lift is closer to 300, it can mean a 10-pound max strength improvement for every additional rep!

For example, someone who performs 5 reps at 200 lbs has a predicted max strength of about 230 lbs.  

By improving to 6 reps, the new predicted max is 235 lbs.  

Just being able to do one more rep means your maximal strength has improved quite a bit.  

That is a big deal and should be celebrated every time it happens because small improvements over time are the key to long-term results.  

Once my athletes understand this concept, I ask what their system of progression is and how they keep track of when to change weights if they aren’t recording anything.  

This is usually enough to help them understand the importance of record keeping.  

Most people can’t remember the weight they used and how many reps they did on every set of every exercise during each training session without writing it down.

It’s just too much to keep track of in your head.

Without having it written down, it’s really easy to just use whatever weight you feel like each day.

Having a record of your last workout gives you a goal for each new day.

It allows you to systematize your training, which is the fundamental concept behind just about every strength program that has consistently produced results for people.

What about RPE (rate of perceived exertion)?

That’s not to say that a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) isn’t valid, but there’s something about seeing a number on paper that gives you a clear goal.

You may be having one of those days when the weights feel heavier than normal, but once you see what you did last time, you give it your all to hit your numbers for the day.

Training by “feel” takes years of experience to truly utilize correctly.

It’s way too easy for inexperienced lifters to take an “easy day” because they don’t have much energy.

This wastes time, reduces efficiency, and ultimately affects the results of a program.

Recording your training results each day also gives you a clear way of knowing when to change weights.

Whether you’re using a long-term periodized plan or a simple, linear progression, record keeping allows you to chart improvements and progress.

It also allows you to look back to see what is working or not working and gives you insights into what might need to be changed.

This can teach you the value of systematic, progressive overload by seeing it on paper.

You learn that you have to “earn” the right to use a heavier weight by hitting certain goals, not just adding weight because you feel like it.

You will see your progress or stagnation every day, and will increase efficiency as you reduce the number of wasted sets or training sessions.

Having a system of record keeping can help you understand the difference between training toward a specific goal and simply exercising to stay in shape.

We all need accountability

Record keeping helps both coaches and clients keep track of progress, set goals, and implement a systematic approach to progressive overload.

Without this, you’re simply guessing each day, which is basically just unstructured exercise, not training.

Keys factors of training that can be evaluated when proper records are kept:

  • Are you training consistently?
  • Are you recovering adequately?
  • Is your program safe?
  • Is your program efficient?
  • Is progressive overload being applied?



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