Are You Exercising or Are You Training?

by Craig Hysell

I learned something extremely important in my life two Thursdays ago outside the gym that knocked me on my ass and changed my life for the better for the rest of my days. It was this: understanding leads to realization.

Wow. Big deal. Real eye-opening, right? But wait… buckle your chin straps and ponder this: how many of us truly understand what we are doing and how many of us alter our reality to fit what we choose to understand? (Oh snap, did your face just melt or what?)

What I realized in my “Thursday moment” brought me crashing back down to earth with a significant amount of angst and heartache, but it has changed my life forever and for the better: it has brought me a sense of peace I only remember having when I didn’t know a thing about anything. This did not come for free and, for now, takes continuous effort to maintain as I form new habits.

My point is, when you truly seek understanding, you might not like what you initially find, but you can choose to use the information you discover to make things better for yourself. This is incredibly difficult, humbling and worth it for those bold enough to see it through in its totality.

How can we practice this in the gym? Well, let’s put the mirror up to yourself: do you exercise or do you train? Some of us exercise and some of us train. Some of us exercise passively and some of us exercise with intensity. There are degrees to exercising, but there is only one way to train. Whatever you are doing is fine, as long as you are fine with it and understand that which you are pursuing. Let’s see what factors delineate the two processes:

If you are exercising, you take unscheduled days off. If you are training, you only take unscheduled days off if your coach tells you to or if there is a crisis that needs your immediate attention. (A crisis means a family member or friend is seriously hurt, and that’s about it.)

If you are exercising, you often do what is comfortable for you during your workout. If you are training, you pursue discomfort, even pain.


If you are exercising, you cherry pick workouts or workout movements. If you are training, you follow your program to the letter until you have developed enough time in the art of suffering to know when to deviate from the path. This takes years, not months.

If you are exercising, you care how you look. If you are training, you care how you perform.

Exercising harder:


If you are exercising, you do “extra stuff” in a haphazard manner. If you are training, you do specified accessory work and spend your extra time eating, sleeping, rolling out, doing light yoga, getting a therapeutic massage or recovering in some other capacity that does not involve exercising.

If you are exercising, your goal is to come to the gym. If you are training, your goal is to compete: either at an event or with yourself. The gym is merely the means to the end, not the end itself. And your training time is not negotiable.



If you are exercising, you like to do lots of activities all the time. If you are training, you are intent on doing one activity/sport as best you can.

If you are exercising, you float. If you are training, you grind.

If you are exercising, you avoid your weaknesses on days you “don’t feel right”. If you are training, you attack your weaknesses. No matter how you feel.

If you are exercising, you eat whatever you want. If you are training, you eat to perform, and you do not deviate from your program no matter what anybody else is eating or doing around you.

If you are exercising, you are satisfied. If you are training, you are satisfied for a mere moment, if you’re lucky.

If you are exercising, your score is important, then your technique. If you are training, your technique is important, then your score. In a competition or on Test Days, you die for points. (Side note: If you train every day as a Test Day you will severely limit your learning and most likely suffer an injury or implode at competition time.)

Training Test Day:

Competition Day:


If you are exercising, you are concerned with volume first, then intensity. If you are training, you are concerned with intensity first, then volume.

Again, there is nothing wrong with either exercising or training, and people often go back and forth between the two. All of this is okay as long as you possess the honest realization of that which you are doing. Training year round is something most people cannot physically or psychologically handle and exercising year round might get boring.

What’s not okay, is to tell yourself you are training, when you are really exercising, or to pursue exercising during training, if training is what you want to do. (Because then you are just exercising hard.) Study what you are doing as an individual and be content with who you are during that period of time or change, but never lie to yourself.

You’re better than that. You deserve more than that. Nothing good can come of it.

Live your life with conviction, but constantly practice awareness. You are not what you repeatedly say or believe, you are what you repeatedly do. Assess what that is and change as necessary. That is what the greats do.

Not sure, but awesome…

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