What is the difference between exercise and training? Does it matter?

For most people, the terms exercise and training are indistinguishable; both mean getting your body moving to achieve a certain goal. However, that’s far away from accurate.

Exercise and training are two totally different entities with different plans of execution, goals, and timelines.

In this article, we will discuss the major concepts of each modality, as well as the preferred one for you.

What is exercise?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exercise is defined as a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.

As you can see, the definition is pretty vague and could incorporate several routines. For instance, you want to go jogging so you can burn that entire cheesecake you ate at 2 AM; that’s an exercise.

The benefits of getting regular exercise are enormous; however, it is difficult to fully reap those benefits due to the irregular nature of exercise. This is due to the fact that exercise is relative from person to person. Therefore, the stress of a particular activity is only as effective as its relative intensity. With the patterns of irregularity, exercise is difficult to gauge in terms of overall progress or effectiveness

Usually, the goals set for exercise are short-term; each time you exercise, you are putting your body under physical stress. Your heart rate skyrockets, you’re out of breath, and the blood is flowing to all the muscles. That’s actually your goal at that moment, but therein lies the problem. You are “stressing” your body to burn those calories and improve your physique at that moment. Not long term. Not systematically or measurably.

That being said, for the non-workout person, exercise is  a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, improve sleep, sharpen the brain, and reduce the risk of numerous ailments. You see, some is absolutely better than none at all.

If you want to learn more about the health benefits of exercise, click on this classic paper published by the Medical Knowledge of Matter.


What is training?

Training is a whole other monster!

Training is defined as performing some physical activity to achieve a long-term goal. Runners train for marathons, lifters train to reach optimal performance on the day of competition, and a boxer will train to prepare for that upcoming fight.

In general, when we train ourselves, we are aiming to achieve a certain level of performance efficiency to obtain a goal.

Unlike exercise, training is highly organized. Every training session is planned based around the desired results in question. Weaknesses are accessed and addressed and  performance evaluated regularly. If you are training for an event or a goal, you can’t just skip a week from going to the gym because “you don’t feel like it”. In fact the math works out pretty seamlessly. If you trained four days per week for one month, but you missed a workout and never made it back up, you would have missed 6.25% of your month. This would leave you with 93.75% leftover. This may not seem like a lot to you, but you essentially gave away success potential.

What training does for you is provide a basis of understanding. It provides direction for a specifically desired result. It provides a long term road map for results and success that are sustainable, safe and efficient. 

Perhaps, this is the scariest aspect of training for non-athletes; however, is the commitment to goal and time. People tend to search for a shortcut to achieve goals that might take months or even years to reach. The trouble with this logic is an individual will often waste time that otherwise might be spent on real training, chasing the idea of a possible shortcut. 

Spoiler alert. There are no shortcuts. Only the work.

Which one is better for you?

Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple.

In short, it depends on your goals.

If you only seek to maintain a “healthier” lifestyle, then exercise may be a good fit to meet your needs. However, if you want a more organized routine that guarantees measurable results, then you should opt for training.

Some people have associated the picture of training with high-performing athletes, which can be intimidating.  In reality, everyone can start training! Whether you are a gym rat or someone who’s never been to the gym before, you can all start training today.

To begin, you have to change your mentality of physical activity, decide on your goals, and start working toward them.

A great way to be more organized is by adopting a training program. This could be extremely beneficial for beginners as this is the time where you can make the most progress in the fastest amount of time!

Keep in mind, training plans are not “a one-size-fits-all” kind of thing. Each individual needs a  plan that takes into consideration that person’s strengths, weaknesses, and ultimate goals. For this it is best to consult with a training professional. Try to find a program or a person who understands training dynamics and evaluating areas of need within the body.

While it’s true that consistent physical activity will give you results regardless of its nature, we want to identify those  results, determine they are the ones we want and, of course, achieve them faster! This is the true way to find and sustain motivation!

Multiple published studies support this idea and suggest that the efficacy of a personalized plan is superior to those not considering individual weakness. Of course, if you want to take this to the next level and accelerate the process of reaching your goals, you can work with a personal trainer. That is the most effective method for true beginners whom have never worked out in a gym before.


The journey of achieving your fitness goals can be long and often times difficult.. In fact, most people quit before they even see the first results. If you want to make sure this journey is fruitful, you should consider a training program to get things done effectively.

Hopefully, you are now able to distinguish the difference between exercise and training, so that you make the best choice for your own goals.

Based on the definitions we provided in this article, what do you think you were doing at the gym? Were you exercising or training? Find out with us at District Athletic Club where we specialize in personal program design and all things being a better stronger human!

District Athletic Club offers a free week pass to try everything and get to know the community. It has no obligation and is the best way to start something new. Check our gym and class schedule here. 


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