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Working Out VS Training

Feb 3, 2015

As a trainer one of the topics I bring up when consulting with a new or potentially new client is exercise history. Obviously finding out what a client has done in the past is a big part of designing a strategy for them in the present. I start with the basics, “did you play any sports when you were in school or when you were growing up?” “Have you worked out in gym before?” “What types of exercise have you done?” “Have you worked with a trainer before?” “What types of programs did you do with your previous trainer?” “Did you succeed in reaching your goals working with your last trainer?” The last two questions are the most important to me because they tell me if the individual whether on their own or with a trainer followed a training program or if simply followed a workout plan.

Now many of you might be asking, “What is the difference between a training program and workout plan?” Congratulations! You have arrived at the heart of this blog post! To get a better understanding of the difference between these two concepts we first need to gain a better understanding of exactly what each concept is before we examine the difference between them.

Let’s begin by looking at what most people want to actually achieve by spending their time, energy, and money at the gym. To make things simple the most common goals of gym goers is “weight loss” and or “muscle gain”, whether the person is self motivated or at the direction of a doctor or health care professional, we all generally want the same things from of our workouts. Now that we know what it is we are after in the gym we need a strategy for reaching those results.

For many people who come to the gym on their own the strategy resembles something close to the following:

  1. Show up to the gym at a time that is convenient for them with no plan of what to do that day.
  2. If there is any stretching, it usually consists of only stretches that “feel good”.
  3. Anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes of steady state cardio.
  4. If strength training occurs, it most likely consists of exercises the person enjoys, and exercises the person THINKS they know how to do correctly, maybe some machines, maybe some free weights, no real rhyme or reason.
  5. If the person is there for a class it is usually the same class or type of class they enjoy and feel they are good at.

Now just to be clear this article is not meant to be an indictment against any of the items on the above list, everything listed above has its place in fitness and there is nothing inherently wrong with doing exercises or classes that we enjoy, or that we are good at, or that make us feel good! That is the overall point of exercise right? To feel good! With that being said the issue with the items on the aforementioned list take a very small scale (1 day) approach to “feeling good” when it comes to fitness. They are the equivalent of putting a band aid on a laceration that needs stitches.

Now that we have established what most gym members are looking for in terms of goals (fat loss and muscle building) and what many gym members are currently doing when they come in to workout, let’s take look at an example of a quality program that a person can follow to successfully reach their goals.

  1. Arrive at the gym at a time that is convenient for them. Nothing wrong with this part!
  2. Foam Rolling & soft tissue work to areas of body pertinent to that day’s workout & recovery from the previous training day. This may be discomforting, that is ok!
  3. Specific stretches and mobility exercises for joints used during the upcoming workout. These might be very challenging and or discomforting, that is ok!
  4. Dynamic warm up – which may or may not include a few minutes (5-8) of LIGHT cardio to get warm up.
  5. 6-8 quality strength exercises selected to work the body or a segment of the body to elicit a specific response, such as improved strength, stability, power, endurance.
  6. Interval based cardiovascular training should be performed AFTER strength training to ensure higher performance during the strength training session and better fat loss results!
  7. Group Exercise classes have their place in a fitness program as well, I coach all clients to try and find a balance between doing classes they enjoy for stress relief and fun as well as classes that are going to help them achieve their goals. Yoga is great for flexibility and stress relief but not the best choice for fat loss!

Now that we have discussed some of the basic difference between these two concepts we can get down to the nitty gritty where the lines get a little more blurry. The key factor to remember during all of this is that working out on a program does not mean you have to do the EXACT same exercises every single day or week. For the sake of this discussion let’s assume we are going to work with a trainer, perhaps limitations on our schedule and budget only permit us to work with a trainer one day of the week. We can still get in a great deal of variation within the single weekly session, one of the easiest ways to achieve this is just creating variation in the intensity of and focus of the workout.

A good trainer will look at a 4-8 week block of time, planning each workouts accordingly; one week the focus could be purely on building total body strength, the next week could focus only on upper or lower body movements, we can change the focus from building strength to building endurance simply by increasing number of repetitions, we can focus on improving cardiovascular endurance by shortening the rest periods, even something as simple as changing how we perform the same exercise, instead of a dumbbell single arm row we could a TRX or cable 1 arm row. The combinations are limitless, the overall point being that the individual workouts for each individual day address a specific goal and the series of workouts performed over the course of an extended period of time also work together to address our goals. Small picture and big picture working together in harmony!

Remember, every training session is a workout, but not every workout is a training session!


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