Are You Working Out or Are You Training?

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Do you work out or do you train? 

For all the hours you spend in the gym, you’d better know the difference. 

“Working out” is a random approach to your health, without any specific plan to reach your intended goal. You show up to the gym, break a sweat, and hope for the best. Most people work out, and to no fault of their own. They just don’t know any better. To the majority of people, that sounds like a pretty good plan: show up to the gym, bust your butt, break a sweat, eat decently, and hope for the best. 

When you work out you might have a goal of losing 10lbs or getting in shape for an upcoming wedding or vacation. There are two big issues with this approach. 

There is a start and end point: You tell yourself you’re going to invest your time and energy into working out hard for a certain period of time. What happens after that? 

You’re overly focused on the action steps instead of the process. The mere action of being more consistent at the gym and working harder should yield better results, right? 

Unfortunately, in this cruel world, getting the results we desire can be a long and arduous process. Stop wasting your time and energy working out and start training!

Training, on the other hand, is a strategic “process-focused” approach to health and fitness. Training is a lifestyle, it’s something you do everyday without a specific endpoint in mind. People who train focus on small, specific day to day goals like sleeping 8 hours each night, prepping their snacks and meals, exercising, managing stress, or recovering from their workouts. 

This process-focused approach makes it easier to take on big picture goals like losing 20+lbs, putting on muscle, or reaching a certain percent body fat. You’re able to focus on the here and now and what you can do today to work towards your goal. 

If you “work out,” you can become overly focused on the end goal and lose sight of what it takes to get there. Working out three times a week and mixing in a few salads is great, but it doesn’t really move the needle. 

How can you shift from a work out mindset to a training mindset? 

The most effective way is to define a goal and work backwards by creating specific steps and processes to move you closer to your goal. 

Example: You want to lose 15lbs. In order to reach your goals you’ll likely need to do the following:   

  • Sleep 7 hours a night minimum 

  • Exercise 3-4 hours a week

  • Minimize stress levels

  • Prep meals and snacks 

  • Consume 1 gram of protein per 1lb of lean mass 

  • Limit alcohol consumption and eating out 

Now, instead of focusing on the scale, you can shift your focus to what’s really important. After all, it’s these process steps that control our outcomes. 

Sight that you’re just working out: 

  1. You wing it: You decide what you’re going to do at the gym when you get there. You have no plans for exercise selection, sets and reps, or structure. You float around the gym for 30-60 minutes and then you leave. This is the approach roughly 70% of people take with their gym routines. 

  2. You do what you always do: You hit the elliptical for 20-30 min at the same resistance, then perform the same series of movements at the same intensity/weight you always do, and then ta-da! you’re done. 

  3. You workout like Goldilocks: When you do “goldilocks” workouts you go at a pace that is “just right,” you use weights that are “just right,” and you stick to the movements that are “just right.” The last thing you want to do it disrupt homeostasis. When is the last time you pushed yourself to lift a heavier weight? When is the last time you grinded out a rep? You might not want to admit it, but there is a pretty strong chance you like your workouts “just right.” 

The hard truth: if you are working out, you should not expect results. 

Signs you’re training:


  1. You are following a carefully crafted training program with specific training goals in place. Every 4-6 weeks you progress your movement selection and exercise intensity to match your intended outcome. If you’re a current member of GST, we check this box for you. All of our small group programs are updated after 4 weeks of training, and our large group training is periodized to undulate volume and intensity month in and month out. 

  2. Progressive overload: You consistently increase the stress placed on your body during training. Each week you are attempting to perform exercises at a higher pace, increased load, or higher volume. 

  3. Process-focused: You’re not over-focused on the end goal. You’re more concerned with the small day to day lifestyle habits that are within your control. Only when you shift your focus from results-based achievement to process-based achievement should you expect results that last. 

  4. You’re having fun!: When you have a work out mindset, exercise is seen as a chore. It’s something that you have to do if you want to make progress. When you have a training mindset, exercise is fun. We view exercise as something we get to do to supplement all the other steps we’re taking outside of the gym. Your workouts are challenging and you’re constantly looking for new ways to push yourself.  

So it’s time to answer the hard question: Do you work out, or do you train? 

If you’re stuck in the workout rut, please email me and I will help you take the first step in adopting a training mindset and lifestyle.