By Team ICG® Master Trainers Jim Karanas and Joan Kent
Over 12 years ago, Jim developed an athletic training program that eventually earned the tagline “Stop exercising. Start training.” At ICG®, we think there’s a difference between the two, one that people ask about frequently. Training encompasses more than the physical aspect of the ride.
Currently, training versus exercise is a popular topic. An internet search readily reveals the ongoing discussion, with suggestions and ideas as to the difference.
According to some sources, training is based on having a purpose, setting goals and achieving specific results. Exercise, in contrast, has been said to lack focus, goals or purpose. Training is said to be intense and engaging. Exercise is said to lack intensity and even be boring.
But are those really the differences? Say someone wants to lose weight and begins the following process: an indoor cycling class on Monday, an elliptical workout on Tuesday, a kickboxing class on Wednesday, Bikram yoga on Thursday, treadmill running on Friday, and body conditioning on Saturday morning.
Is that exercise or training? There’s a goal/purpose. The activities listed would provide intensity, plus variety to prevent boredom. Yet the weekly plan looks more like random exercise than structured training, so the differences must lie elsewhere.
We think the above distinctions are only part of the difference between training and exercise, and not necessarily the key points.
First, for a workout plan to be training, it probably needs to be progressive. Progressive training might start with foundation-level workouts and move into more intense levels of effort that are also designed to make the participant stronger in the activities. For that to be effective, the activities might need to be limited (say, to indoor cycling and treadmill running), rather than a hodge-podge of many unrelated things. Specific adaptations occur more consistently when the activities are specific, too.
Limiting the activities and following an overall progression wouldn’t preclude changing the format. But changes would be designed to elicit a specific training outcome for each session, rather than simply to prevent boredom, and the student is made aware of that objective.
The progression might culminate in performance events. A lot can be said about athletic performance, and will be in another post, but maximum efforts differ from what could be called “pseudo-hard.” People who love to work hard are typically talking about pseudo-hard efforts, rather than max.
Attitude or mindset is also important. It’s not simply working out to drop a few pounds, but training to develop our consciousness, nourish our body, change and quiet our thoughts, and balance our mind. Let that be the philosophy. Workouts without philosophy lack consciousness. Training is about bringing consciousness into the process. When we focus on what we’re doing and stay highly conscious of all of it, it’s never boring. It’s simply what is.
To maintain presence, we need to recognize the intrusion of thought immediately and bring awareness back to the moment, no past, no future. A sense of self in the moment is the way to turn off the mind. If we project into the future, the mind comes in like a tidal wave and sucks us into a stream of thought. Thoughts create time, make minutes feel like hours, and rob us of the desire to continue.
Then there’s pain. Or more precisely, the approach to it. We’re all familiar with “no pain, no gain” and the attitude that pain – certain types, at least – can be good because it means the workout is beneficial.
There’s also the “Hulk Will Smash” approach: the more it hurts, the more I like it. Grrr. Fanatics with no sense beyond the muscle of exercise may use that to complete their workouts, but addiction to pain isn’t training.
Training is a more mindful approach to pain that involves feeling it, fully understanding it, being sensitive to it – and putting a space around it, becoming nonreactive.
In what we do, pain is inevitable. But it’s just a trigger. It may stimulate resistance that compares to an emotional state. As our emotional threshold rises, our reaction to the pain changes. It doesn't feel any better. It just doesn't bother us as much. The warrior chooses death. Athletes choose physical pain, or at least non-avoidance of pain. As the polarization in our mind diminishes, our emotional reaction to the pain becomes one of acceptance or even dismissal.
Any athlete can recall having had the time of his/her life despite feeling pain during an event. A couple of decades in the fitness industry make it clear that anyone who wonders why an athlete would do something unpleasant, like push through pain to reach a goal, can’t adhere to a fitness program for any length of time.
Tools such as consciousness, presence in the moment, attentiveness, curiosity, non-reactivity, and so on are ultimately ways to add balance. Training tests our effectiveness with them. Exercise lacks these tools.