The Difference Between ‘Training’ and ‘Working Out’

By Mike Thomson


There are a zillion different ways to sweat, and any exercise is better than none at all.


That being said - there is a major difference between TRAINING and WORKING OUT.


Training: following a customized program specifically geared toward accomplishing a goal, with an experienced coach guiding the process.


Working Out: completing random exercises lacking a proven system, no goal in place and no coach for accountability and tracking progress.


As a coach and personal trainer who spends A LOT of time in the gym, I see this scene all the time: A personal trainer trains 6-8 sessions back to back to back, implementing the same program with each athlete. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ex-Division 1 athlete training for strength, a runner preparing for a marathon, or a mother of three looking to shed some body fat. Completing exercises like this is an example of working out.


The opposite of that is training, in which a coach has a customized program prepared for the athlete. This is what we do at Fast & Fit Coaching. Training is having a direction and purpose. When entering into the gym, the athlete’s goal is to make an adaptation. The coach knows where the athlete’s weaknesses are and the athlete understands what the overarching plan is. 


A workout is when you just throw eggs against a wall and hope one of them doesn’t break. You do all and any movement patterns, hoping one of them improves the individual and doesn’t break them.  



Training is systematically picking movements to progress through. Starting generally with the most remedial and building to the most advanced right before the athlete’s goal date, race or event. An example would be to start the athlete out with a split squat and build to a full squat through a 12-16 week program.

Not knowing what weights or paces to perform from session to session is the trademark of a “workout.” What the athlete was hitting last week or four weeks ago doesn’t seem to matter. Simply making up weights or paces, not knowing how much was on the bar last time - this can cause an athlete plateau due to improper loading and pacing.

A perfect example of training would be to have an athlete perform a tempo run 4 miles @ 7:15 min/mile. Then, progress the following week by either doing it at a faster pace (7:00 min/mile) or doing more (5 miles instead of 4). This is progressive overload at its finest. It’s very elementary yet necessary for continued progress in a program.


Last thing: I often hear people say they want to “go get sweaty.” Yes, that’s better than not moving at all. But, what is the point? Is it an easy run trying to strengthen your aerobic capacity? Or is it a metabolic session trying to improve lactic threshold and drop body fat? Big difference.


Go into your next session with a defined goal and purpose. I do think sweating once a day is important, but know what the sweat session is for.


If this sounds serious, that's only because I'm serious about helping people become the best version of themselves! I train my clients hard, but I promise, we have fun during our sessions (and maybe even take a selfie or two). So, if you’re stuck in a rut of working out and ready to start TRAINING, feel free to reach out and let’s get after it!


Coach Mike


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