The idea that there is a big difference between "working out" and "training" is a head scratcher - the two terms seem synonymous. By the time you finish this post, however, you are going to be crystal clear on what it means to "work out" versus "train".

You are pushing, working and grinding at the gym, but the results continue to be like getting rid of glitter - not happening! You push, work and grind harder, but still nothing. If you are putting the work in and the results aren't following, then you need to evaluate your approach at the gym. What if all of the time and energy you are spending on fitness is setting you up for failure? The real question here is are you "working out" or are you "training"? For all of the grinding work you put in at the gym you better know the answer - it could be the difference between lasting results or ending up like a hamster on a wheel. 

Working out is a random approach to fitness without any direction toward specific goals; Show up at the gym, do a bunch of work and cross your fingers that results will appear tomorrow. 

If you are going to show up at the gym, randomly break a sweat and expect significant, long lasting results, you may as well order "RESULTS" from amazon.com and hope to receive them in the mail a few days later. Everyone who goes to a gym is looking for results, but so many people struggle to achieve them because they are working out instead of training.

training is a carefully crafted fitness plan targeted at specific results; You go to the gym, precisely carry out your trusted training program and the results follow. 

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Congrats to me for coming up with my own definitions for "working out" and "training", but what you really need to know is how to identify the difference between the two from a mile away. I want you to watch what you do at the gym like a hawk and make sure that it falls into the "training" category, not the "working out" category. 

Here are 6 red flags to help you spot Working out vs. training from a mile away: 

  1. You decide what you are going to do at the gym when you get there. Classic workout move. This type of random approach at the gym will steer you away from results. You need to have a plan in place and that plan needs to be directed towards your specific goals. Without this you have no business expecting results to magically appear. Highly complex training programs on excel spreadsheets written in size 2 font are not always the best thing either - they can be confusing and overwhelming. A simple hand-sized notebook and a pencil will do. This gives you a platform to track and progress your training from. A basic notebook is also a great place to get your goals on paper and then document how you feel or how you are responding to your training on the way to achieving your goals. 
  2. Muscle Confusion. This is a typical term used by the workout community. The idea is that you "shock & confuse" your muscles into getting bigger or stronger by doing vastly different exercises each day. If you are employing the "shock & confuse" strategy then you are working out. Our body doesn't work that way. In order to see results you need to apply progressive overload gradually and appropriately. This allows the body to adapt to positive stresses being placed on it by getting stronger, bigger, faster, or more lean. Repetition and rehearsal of movements or exercises while progressing overall volume of work is critical as it allows your body to adapt and see results. Training exercises in the weight room are skills, and skills need to be rehearsed to be mastered. 
  3. Ground Hog Day. The other extreme from the muscle confusion approach is to literally carry out the same exact workout routine for years at a time without any progression or adjustment. This is an easy trap to fall into because you get comfortable with your routine, but beware that this means you are working out instead of training. Every 4-8 weeks you should look to adjust some form of your training variables. Sets, reps, weight, exercises, rest periods, time under tension (duration you are under the bar), and number of days per week are all examples of training variables that you can adjust to target different goals or results. @SandCResearch goes in depth on manipulating training variables (particularly training volume) to get desired results here. Additionally, by doing this you will avoid becoming stale and entering a state of overtraining. You need to de-load or recover periodically if you want your body to respond positively in the long term. 
  4. You are a lone wolf. Working out can be done without a partner, coach or mentor. All you need to do to workout is show up at the gym, find an open machine or equipment and get your pump on. If you find yourself going to the gym on your own and doing your own thing without any guidance there is a good chance you are working out. Training on the other hand, requires consistency and grit to stick to the plan. This is hard to do on your own...it requires support. This can come in the form of a training partner or a coach/trainer. It is very hard to design a training program for yourself and even harder to execute day after day alone. Find someone who is as motivated as you are or understands how to design a safe and effective training program and work with them. 
  5. Quantity over Quality. When you notice that all you talk about is how fast you completed your workout, how many sets of squat jumps you completed, or how long your workout was then you are working out, not training. Working out tends to emphasize quantity of work instead of quality of work. Taking this approach at the gym will result in burnout and eventually injury. Performing great exercises the wrong way will squash any chance of results while creating injuries. Training, on the other hand, focuses on learning the skills of resistance training or strength & conditioning - this video on how to train the core the right way is a great example of learning the skills of training and performing exercises with excellent form. When you are training, you never sacrifice quality for quantity. This approach is much more sustainable because instead of more, more, more you attack your fitness goals in a controlled and methodical way. 
  6. Workout to Eat. You know you are going out tonight for pizza, wings and fries so you double up on your gym time after work. When you find yourself adding extra sets, reps, or workout time day after day in order to cancel out cheat meals, then you are guilty of working out. When you are committed to a specific and planned training program breaking even doesn't cut it. Individuals who are training base eating habits on the bigger picture instead of breaking even. 

Working out versus training is a classic mistake, but now you can spot the difference from a mile away. The ability to identify these red flags means you are equipped to climb your hamster-butt down off of the wheel and start getting results. 

References:

Beardsley, C. (2014, May 19). Does Greater Volume Produce Greater Strength Gains? Retrieved from http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2014/05/19/training-volume/

Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness, recovery and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.

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