Are You Working Out or Are You Training?

Are you training or are you working out? Yes, there is a huge difference and if you don't understand the difference, you may be missing out on quality gains.

Are you working out or are you training?

What's the difference between the two?

A workout is just that...a workout. It is what you are doing in the gym today with no thought or consideration put into what is going to happen tomorrow.

Training is when you treat your individual workouts as building blocks that work together to take you closer to your ultimate goal(s).

The main difference between working out and training is having a plan.

Let's say you have a sheet of paper, and on it is a maze. At the beginning of the maze, is a dot which symbolizes where you currently are. At the end of the maze, is another dot that symbolizes your ultimate goal.

Then, I ask you to connect the two dots together and give you two options on how to go about it.

  1. You close your eyes, and blindly try to draw a line through the maze to reach your goal. You don't know where you're going, so all you can do is try and hope that it works. The problem is, it doesn't.
  2. You take a moment to look at the maze and plan a route through it to reach your destination. By planning ahead of time, you are able to map out the appropriate steps to take to connect the two dots.

Training is when you take the time to develop a plan that allows you to progress rather than blindly going to the gym and hoping that hard work is enough to get to you to your goals.

Hard work usually isn’t the issue when it comes to actually getting results in the gym. A lot of us work hard, we’re just working hard in the wrong direction. You can go to the gym and beat the shit out of yourself day after day, but eventually you’re going to realize that this way of approaching your workouts is a dead end road.

How to Avoid Simply Working Out

Your workouts need to compliment each other, not contradict. If you are serious about actually seeing results and getting stronger while building muscle, there are a few things I would consider avoiding.

Athlete Performing a Workout

1. Program Hopping

With so many programs out there that are available to you in an instant, it can be easy to get information overload and want to try the ‘next best thing’. To be honest, an effective program doesn’t have to be the most elaborate resource of information. The key to an effective program is consistency and staying the course. If you are consistent in following a plan, chances are you’re going to see results.

The best workout program in the world is the one you follow. The worst thing you can do is start a program, get anxious after a couple of weeks, and try something completely different. Stay the course and give it time to actually gain benefit from it before you hop from program to program.

2. Following Your Favorite Bodybuilder’s Training Routine

We all want a back like Dorian Yates. The problem is, a lot of us grossly underestimate how much time and effort was put into developing that physique. Dorian didn’t just wake up and look like that, he worked his ass off in and out of the gym for decades. So when someone looks up “Dorian Yates back routine”, that is a training split that is designed for him, not the general population.

Related: Old School Series - 1990s Bodybuilding Routine

What would make anyone think that they are ready to train with the exact same split and intensity that their favorite professional bodybuilders have been working on for years?

These are full time athletes who have been putting in full time commitment to be able to train the way they do. The problem when someone who goes to the gym part time and follows their favorite athlete’s program because they want to add muscle or get stronger is that they are trying to work at a level of intensity that their bodies aren’t ready to sustain.

3. Doing the Same Exercises with No Variety

A lot of people go to the gym and go on autopilot. They get comfortable with the same old exercises with the same amount of reps, same amount of weight, and in the same exact order. Occasionally, they’ll throw in something different here and there to try to ‘confuse their muscles’, but for the most part, they do the same exact thing in the gym every week.

It’s easy to do what we like. It’s not always easy to work on our weaknesses. We all want to do the fun stuff that will make our chests bigger and give us big traps, and that’s fine, but if that’s all you do, that’s a problem.

Our bodies get bored quickly.

That means if you go to the gym and perform the same movements, after a certain period of time, your body is going to say “Alright, nothing new here. No reason to work hard, we’re used to this shit.” Our muscles grow and our bodies get stronger by working in new ways. It doesn’t mean doing something completely random every day.

Remember, we are going for training with a plan not just working out. But you can still implement a ton of variety while maintaining structure within your training.

If Monday is your day for chest and you always start with a flat barbell bench press, try starting with an inclined press or a dumbbell bench variation. You will create a new stimulus in your muscles because they are forced to adapt to new stress being put on them.

4. Scrolling for a Workout of the Day

Here’s the problem with social media and Instagram…there is information overload. There are endless amounts of exercises and workouts that ‘influencers’ post that their followers eventually feel they should try if they want to look anything like them.

The problem isn’t just that these influencers set unrealistic expectations for their audience, the real problem is that the workouts and exercises they are posting pay no attention whatsoever to your body and your goals.

Sure, there might be a certain exercise you come across on Instagram that you add to your workouts from time to time to mix things up and try something different. But if you are basing the majority or the entirety of all of your workouts on what you find on social media, you’re basically like a dog chasing its own tail.

When you do a ‘workout of the day’ you are basically saying “What can I throw together to kick my ass today?” when you should be thinking “What can I do to improve myself today and prepare myself for tomorrow?”

Tips to Start Training the Right Way

Here are some quick tips to help you think of your workouts as complimentary building blocks that work together to help you build muscle and become stronger.

Athlete Training

1. Find a Plan and Stick With It

If you go to a trainer and they write you a twelve week program, don’t do four weeks and go back to them asking why you’re not seeing results.

Remember to stay the course.

2. Track Your Progress

Tracking stats like your weights, reps, sets, and body measurements will visually show your progress and keep you accountable.

This is an area I think everyone can benefit from, whether you are just going to the gym or a competitive athlete.

3. Listen to Your Body

You’re probably not over-training, you’re under-recovering. Remember that lifting weights breaks our muscles down, so if you want to see the benefit of the hard work you’re putting in the gym, they need to recover.

Your biceps won’t have time to recover and grow if you’re doing curls every day. Learn to listen to your body and pay attention to it.

4. Work on Your Weaknesses

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You’ll often find that when you work on your weaknesses, your strengths become even stronger. It’s easy to work on the ‘showy muscles’ all the time because that’s what we enjoy doing.

Related: Are You Weaker Than You Think? Here's How to Get Stronger

For example, most guys hate working their legs and lower back and only sprinkle it in occasionally because they feel like they need to. Well, you should feel like you need to train them because you do, but more often than you are right now.

When you start incorporating movements like squats and deadlifts into your routine, you’ll notice gains in other areas of your body as well. Stronger legs and back muscles make for a stronger support system for movements like benching and overhead pressing, which translates to more upper body strength and muscle gain. It all comes full circle.

5. Attack Your Recovery as Hard as You Attack the Gym

Not enough of us take our recovery as seriously as we should. Working hard is great and is needed if you want to see progress in the gym. But it doesn’t make sense to only focus on working hard.

If you are a work addict and want to work your ass off, work your ass off in the kitchen and on the stretching mats. That’s where the real difference is made.

It’s easy to lift weights and do a bunch of curls because that’s fun! Try bringing that same intensity to your recovery and I guarantee you will see results you haven’t from just ‘working out’.