“How often do you work out?” is easily one of the most common questions I get from people, both on the internet and in person. My response to this question is, “I never work out; I train and I move.” In my view, working out is very, very different from training. And both working out and training differ greatly from movement. Allow me to explain.
When I think of the term “working out,” I get an image in my head of a person slaving away in a gym, doing unstructured exercises that have little to no functional value and not enjoying a single minute of it. Of course, that isn’t to say that “working out” is necessarily pointless or unenjoyable (in my view, doing something is still better than doing nothing), but the connotation associated with the term “working out” is generally a negative one — it typically evokes feelings of tediousness, pain, and obligation.
“Working out” is not something you want to do, but rather something you feel like you should do (I mean, the term itself includes the word “work”). How many times do you walk into a gym and see people mindlessly pumping away on the elliptical machine whilst reading a magazine or watching a TV show to distract themselves from the boredom or discomfort of what they’re doing? To me, that is a telltale sign that a person is simply working out. Here are some other telltale signs that you may be working out:
- There is little to no structure to your session.
- You go through the same routine session after session without any progression.
- There is no specific goal that you are working toward — the goal may be extremely vague, such as to burn off calories, “tone up,” or get “beach body ready.”
- You are going through the session mindlessly and/or using things (such as a magazine or TV show) to distract yourself from boredom or discomfort.
- You dread doing it or view it as an inconvenience or obligation — it’s just another item on your to-do list — or you feel the need to reward yourself afterward!
Unlike working out, training revolves around achieving a specific goal. This goal could be as general as building strength and/or losing fat, or it could be as specific as hitting certain numbers on a particular lift, achieving a specific calisthenic skill, or performing well at a competition. Training is structured around what needs to be done in order to achieve that goal — the exercises performed during training sessions are selected as a means of working toward what you ultimately want to achieve. Unlike “workouts,” training sessions are substantive and meaningful, and they are much more effective.
Here’s a checklist to know if what you’re doing in the gym qualifies as training:
- You have a goal (or goals) that you are working toward achieving.
- Your sessions are structured in order to help you progress toward your goal.
- You apply the concept of progressive overload (a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency, and/or time) to your sessions.
- You are mindful and engaged during your sessions; no distractions!
Of these three concepts, movement is by far my favorite. Movement combines the unstructured and non-goal oriented aspect of “working out” with the purpose and mindfulness of “training.” What sets movement apart is that movement is done for health (physical AND mental) and enjoyment. Practicing movement requires no long-term goal; in fact, I think movement is best practiced without a long-term goal, as it allows one to be fully in the moment. Movement can be as structured as playing a sport with specific rules or as unstructured as dancing alone in an empty room.
The defining feature of movement is that it provides something beneficial to you — whether that be physically, mentally, or both! While working out and training are optional parts of life, I believe that movement is life.
Here’s a list of characteristics that truly set the concept of movement apart:
- It doesn’t necessarily need to be structured or goal-oriented.
- It is done for enjoyment and/or physical and mental benefit; there is no feeling of obligation, pain, or inconvenience.
- It is done mindfully and there is no need to distract yourself because you are actually enjoying what you’re doing!
- It provides something beneficial to you physically and/or mentally – e.g. stress or pain relief, pleasure, better sleep, etc.
- It can often be used as a creative outlet.
- It’s not about how you look; it’s about how you feel.
Which of these three do you incorporate into your life? Personally, I train for the goals I want to achieve and I move for pleasure, stress relief, and creative expression. There’s just something so fulfilling about being able to use my body as a tool to create, and to do cool things like pull-ups and handstands.
So, if there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s this: train if you have specific goals, but if you are currently working out and hating every minute of it, find a form of movement that makes you feel great and make it an instrumental part of your daily life. Once you find a form of movement that you genuinely enjoy doing, you will never have to work out again! (And if you want to ditch the cardio or weight machines and start doing cool things with your body too, make sure you check out my advice for starting calisthenics!)
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.