In Defense of Exercise - Do You Really Need to "Train"?
Once upon a time, it was enough to mind your own business lifting weights or doing some aerobics to feel good, then exit the gym and go about your life. Not so much these days, with the obsession of everyone and their mother becoming optimized athletes.
Hence, we currently need a distinction between the terms “exercising” and “training.”
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Exercising means working out with little progression and no set goals in mind. It’s when people go to the gym and get their pump on. They elevate their heart rate and keep their body moving. It keeps you healthy and maintains your strength, but it doesn’t get you anywhere else.
Training is when you have a set goal and progressively work towards it. Each session is specifically tuned for a movement pattern or becoming more proficient at something, whether that means getting stronger, faster, more powerful or better at a sport. It will take you to the next level, but it may leave some general fitness skills by the wayside.
The reaction to exercise and training at the moment is that everyone wants to be training. What does exercise get you anymore, except sweaty? Is there a point? Am I being productive? High School kids are training. College athletes are training. Stay-at-home moms are training. Grandpa is training. Everyone, whether they play a sport or not, is trying to maximize performance.
Don’t get me wrong, I love training, too. It provides focus in the gym, plus the thrill of testing yourself and getting better is incredibly rewarding. But I don’t think everyone needs to train. Exercise has its place within the scope of fitness, too, and shouldn’t be smugly waved off as something only done by people who are too weak to train.
Who Should Be Training?
Let’s start off by encouraging the right people to train.
If you are an athlete or participate in team sports, training is the way to go. You want to hone your skill and improve the machine, especially if you are involved in competition.
If you have a specific goal, say to run a marathon or compete in a powerlifting meet, or, perhaps get an amateur fight under your belt, you should train. You may not even care to win, just to have the experience might be enough. But, If you are going to do it, you want to give it your best.
If fitness is a hobby for you and you have hours to kill in the gym, training will keep it from getting boring. People who genuinely love to workout probably won’t be satisfied being completely random or never pushing themselves.
Anyone with an injury or disability should train in physical therapy. When you have a weakness or an imbalance, it is best to train to compensate for it. Your quality of life and mobility depend on it.
Who Should Exercise?
People who hate to work out should be exercising. It sounds like an oxymoron, but movement is key to longevity, so simply making sure you are walking and doing some resistance training is better than nothing.
Seniors who are not actively competing. It’s probably better that older people aren’t going ham in the gym, unless they have been athletic their whole lives and know their body. It’s safer to stick to the basics and be mobile forever, than having to get knee surgery at 80 years old from doing progressive box jumps.
People with fragile self-esteem or some cases of obsessive mental illness might be better off exercising than training. When training gets hard, fitness can become an ego-crushing chore, or an obsession, rather than something you enjoy. Folks who can’t handle the pressure and feel they want to quit should start exercising for the fun of it and steer clear of the competition.
People who want to move and just don’t care about anything else should be exercising. Believe it or not, some citizens just want to play tennis with their neighbor, dance, or lift some weights while chatting with their gym buddy.
Let people enjoy things. It is completely okay if they aren’t developing a better backhand with each practice. Performance and optimization aren’t necessary in every circumstance.
Is There a Middle Ground?
Another way to enjoy working out is progressive overload without the pressure of a schedule or a specific goal.
This would look like going to the gym and pushing yourself to lift heavier when you are ready, not simply when the program commands. If you are hitting a weight for a few sets of ten and it feels easy, bump it up and see how many reps you can get. Strive for lifting heavier when it feels right.
Likewise, you can always pump up the pace of a cardiovascular workout by raising the level of resistance or going longer distances. You may also switch up your routine once in a while and try HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) if you are typically a distance person, or check your endurance sometimes if you usually bang out cardio in 20 minutes or less.
These are both easy and fun ways to challenge yourself without succumbing to any athletic program that doesn’t spark joy. You do not have to go too easy or too hard or too anything – it is entirely up to you.
The most important thing we can do for our health and longevity is to remain physically active as often as we can for as long as we can. It reduces blood pressure, keeps us at a healthy weight, raises good cholesterol, wards off heart disease, alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression, and keeps us from preventable injuries as we age.
Whether you train or exercise or do anything in between, make sure you feel good about what you are doing and that it enhances your life. If you are healthy and happy, you are doing it right!