What’s the Difference between EXERCISING and TRAINING?

Recently I was indirectly criticised for my dedication to exercising by someone because I had made the offhand remark that I was a bit tired and kind of sore. The overall tone of the conversation was why do you do that to yourself? You have three kids, work full-time and a spouse who works long hours – why do you squeeze exercise into every free moment you have?

Ahhhhhh…very good point.

Semantics. My friend calls it exercising, while I call it training. Then I started thinking about it. My friend, as a casual observer, hit the nail on the head. Lately I’ve been exercising a lot. Not training. I’ve been wearing myself out, spinning my wheels in one place and not getting anywhere because I haven’t been focusing or laying out my exercise plan into a manner that will get me closer to my goals. If I was training and following a good plan, I wouldn’t be so worn out and run down – I’d instead be progressing in a steady manner towards a goal.

Lately I’ve been maintaining my health with exercise, but not improving my overall sport performance. Even though I’ve been laying out a weekly plan of exercise, it hasn’t been fit into a longer term plan where each workout plays a role in helping me reach a larger goal. Because I haven’t been looking at the “BIG picture”, I’ve been working too hard.

This is the same “AHA!” moment that I had at my most recent 10k race. When I lined up to race, I was registered for the wrong corral – I had a red bib which placed me amongst the super speedy folk aiming to do a sub 48min 10k. WOW! As I looked around me I realised that I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb amongst these super speedy gazelles that run a 10k faster than I can run an 8k. As I looked around at their lean, muscular, speedy bodies I realised WHY they’re faster than me:


The gazelles around me don’t simply go for a run (or lots of runs like me) – they TRAIN. Every run has a purpose. They FUEL their bodies for optimal performance and they allow themselves ample RECOVERY time with active rest. They PROGRESS towards a goal and they have FOCUS>

I used to think the difference between exercise and training was easy:

  1. EXERCISE: Chasing my kids around the park.
  2. TRAINING: Running loops around the park on my lunch time as fast as I can.

But I’ve now come to the conclusion that #2, without being a part of an overall plan, and working towards a specific goal is also just exercise. I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before.

ex ·er ·cise/eks?rs?z/
Noun: Activity requiring physical effort, carried out esp. to sustain or improve health and fitness.

train ·ing/tr?niNG/
1. The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.
2. The action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event.
(Source: Google)

Last night I exercised – I went and swam laps as hard as I could for 20 min in our community pool:

I thought I was starting my triathlon training, but through this post I’ve come to realise that this was just exercise because my swim wasn’t planned to fit into a master plan designed to improve my triathlon performance. It may improve my swimming performance, but not my triathlon performance. Hmmmm – this is definitely something to think about over the next week as I put together my training plan.


Do you believe there’s a difference between EXERCISING and TRAINING? How do you define that difference?


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  • Heather
    May 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Great point, Janice! This gives me motivation to focus on my goals & train with a purpose (after a week of recovery!).

    • Janice
      May 23, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      Of course! Enjoy your very well earned recovery week!! Congrats!

  • Deanna
    May 23, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Great post! Great post! I was swimming around the difference between exercising and training after my last two half marathons, but never came to a concrete conclusion – but you nailed it! Thank you!

    • Janice
      May 23, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks *blush* now I have to figure out if I want to TRAIN for the triathlon or EXERCISE my way there.

  • Miz
    May 24, 2012 at 5:42 am

    which I adored
    and for me? there is absolutely NO difference.

    • Janice
      May 24, 2012 at 6:53 am

      Good point! We’re training for life & health.

  • Julie (A Case of the Runs)
    May 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I consider most “exercise” as training, because in the end, it’s keeping my fitness at a level necessary for me to be able to randomly sign up for races or join other people’s hikes or whatnot without having to worry that I’m not conditioned enough.

  • Amber K
    May 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    What a great thing to think about! I never would have thought about the difference between exercise and training. I don’t train for anything other than feeling better. So if I’m overdoing it, I’m going against the main reason I exercise in the first place!

  • lorrie
    June 15, 2012 at 12:40 am

    you should be proud of yourself for doing as good as you’ve accomplished, I know your a role model to me

  • wcatalano
    August 24, 2012 at 2:54 am

    how exactly do you go about setting up these master plans for training? or even setting up a weekly schedule for exercise? the whole thing boggles my mind, and i usually just let my personal trainer tell me what we’re doing that day, but i’ve never really taken it into my own control or made the effort set up a schedule for myself. help!


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