What is Exercise, What is Training?

What is Exercise?

This is the type of question I ask myself at the oddest times and I feel it’s both a simple yet complicated question.  When was the last time you tried coming up with your own definition?  I am well aware that I will contradict myself at least once in this blog, but I’m comfortable holding conflicting views in my head if you’re comfortable reading them.

According to Google… Exercise is  an “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.”

My own thoughts…Every movement, or prevention of movement we do every day, conscious or not involves some force applied to the body and our body’s subsequent response to that force.  But would we normally define everything we do as exercise?  Probably not, though an argument can be made.

Stupid BOSU suitcasecarry

Left: Dumbbell side bends on a BOSU vs Suitcase Carry with a Kettlebell. While both by definition are exercises, one produces greater adaptations over time has more application to daily life, a different learning curves,load limits and applicability to a potential swath of humanity.  I wouldn’t put a 70yr old on the BOSU but have no problems with the idea of programming loaded carries or static unilateral holds on a stable surface.

Personally I feel the standard definition is vague.  Ultimately it depends on how the individual chooses to look at challenges, exercise and how they wish to define them.  There will always be some room for interpretation and the start point needs to meet you where you are. Ideally, it will measurably take you to where it is you want to go.

I liked Mark Rippetoe’s definition of exercise: “exercise is what happens today”                “After I do these exercises I will be sweaty and out of breath”                                             “After I do these exercises my muscles will feel stretched and my joints mobile”                     “After I do these exercises I will feel a pump”

There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  I personally support the idea of having a less structured session thrown into a weekly training and my current clients that train greater than three days per week with me have one session less structured than others by design.


I personally believe this has helped keep injury rates extremely low, morale high and functional abilities progressing.  There are a high number of far smarter coaches’ that have written about the value of “play” and they couldn’t all be wrong.


A problem occurs when this is the only way you are doing things.  You are essentially hammering screws into wood hoping to build a house without a blueprint or having laid a foundation.

What is Training?  Training is about specific intent. Taken broadly, this could be athletic, aesthetic or hygienic. Training therefore is the strategic application of resistance with the goal of eliciting a response, normally in the form of a chronic physiologic adaptation. The exercises that compose the training being of appropriate frequency and stimulus.

“Appropriate” takes the individual into account along with the idea that “one size fits all” doesn’t always apply and that there are more considerations.

“Stimulus” implies both choreography (simple v. sophisticated movement, type of load, range of motion etc) and being something that is manipulable,

“Frequency” implies that in order for favorable adaptation to occur there needs to be a degree of return on stimulus investment, once again this is person dependent.


4 thoughts on “What is Exercise, What is Training?

  1. Coach Sheri K

    Thank you! Your definition of the difference between training and exercise is excellent. This a a topic for discussion that can and will go on and on. Your article illustrates difference in a way that is simple to understand even though it is incredibly complex. Nice job!

  2. Pingback: Ben Franklin and Mike Tyson | My Trainer Chris

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