Exercise vs Training

exercise or training for fitness
Hand holding a Fitness Word Sphere on white background.

What’s the Difference?

The concept of Exercise vs Training is actually pretty simple:

  • Exercise is what you do when you want to be fit, healthy, and look good naked.
  • Training is what you do when you have specific performance goals that require a specific skill or strength set.
Exercise on treadmill

If you read my post, “So, You Want to Start an Exercise Program?“, you know that Be and I discovered CrossFit about 10 years ago. The general preparedness programming (GPP) of CrossFit allowed us to see rapid progress in many movements. We were stronger in all of our Olympic lifts and our muscular endurance was the strongest it had ever been.

You’d think with all this new found strength and conditioning, our rock climbing would have also taken off to a whole new level also. Although our strength did help with harder over-hanging climbs, our over-all ability to climb did not see the same improvement.

Why was that?

It was because we were exercising but not training. In rock climbing, grip strength, calf strength, and core strength are critical. A 2x body weight deadlift might make us strong, yet it wouldn’t help us hang on to pinch grip holds or keep our calves from locking up when balancing on tiny edges.

For that, we needed to train.

climber grip training


Exercise is what you do when you want to be fit, healthy, and look good naked. Exercise should be fun and something you are able to maintain. It should match your personality. It can include lots of variety or be very repetitive; whatever floats your boat.

An effective exercise program should:

  • be something you can (and will) do for years
  • include both aerobic and strength development
  • allow you to develop overall strength, endurance, and muscles
  • provide a basis of growth for “testing” of skills and endurance
  • make you feel good
  • contribute to an overall healthier state of being

Does this mean you need to follow the same workout protocol for years on end? Absolutely not! Mix it up. There are many different ways to exercise. And what you choose to do may depend on your age, physical abilities, location, and preferences.

In my experience, the entertainment factor is important for consistency. I like for my workouts to have lots of variance so I incorporate many different programs into my weekly workouts. This also makes sure that I am balancing my workouts with endurance, strength and mobility.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure your workouts are periodized (you lift a little heavier from time to time, you move faster from time to time, and you program for growth (you continue to cycle further, longer, or harder).

Whatever GPP-type program you chose, make sure to include things that are fun, entertaining, and allow for progression.

training for fitness


If performing well in your sport of choice is your focus, your training should be designed to get you stronger, faster, and better at those skills and abilities that will allow you to excel at your endeavor of choice.

Yet, your training should also include a general physical level of fitness to keep you strong, well rounded, and injury free. A portion of your training should be exercise and have lots of variety to keep it fresh and entertaining.

For example: Be has set a goal for herself to ride the Katy Trail for her 60th birthday. This will have us cycling 240 miles over 4 days.

Our general exercise program will have us fit yet it won’t address the time we’ll spend in the saddle and the continual stress on our legs and knees. The only thing that will prepare us for that, is time on a bike.

So, along with our normal exercise routine, we make sure to include long bike rides on the weekend (going further and further each time) to build up our “bike butt” and get our legs used to the constant peddling motion that we’ll be doing day after day.

This training will serve two purposes:

  1. It will prepare us with the skills and endurance we need to complete the ride.
  2. It will hopefully keep us injury free as our muscles, tendons, and ligaments will be accustomed to the stress that we will put on them.

What if I’m new to my sport?

If you are brand new to a sport or hobby, a GPP-type program will get you results. Yet, as you get better, you will have to focus on specific movements to truly “train”.

If you like the randomness and variety of “exercise”, following a “training” program can feel boring and tedious. And, truth be told, it probably will be boring and tedious. Yet if you want to ensure growth, periodization, progression, and repetition are essential.

For example, grip strength is extremely important for climbing. As a new climber, just the act of climbing will improve grip strength, as will a GPP program. Yet, to climb hard, most people will have to train their grip strength. A well designed program that insures progression of difficulty is a must.

In a nutshell:

family cycling for exercise

When deciding whether to exercise or train, know your goals. What are you after?

Do you want to look and feel better? If so, an exercise program that fits your personality may be all you need. You could play a sport, go for long hikes or trail runs, learn karate, bike ride with your kids, and throw in some simple weight training.

If your goal is to send hard climbs, complete a marathon, or compete in a bike race, then I suggest a specific training program in addition to a GPP program to meet your needs.

Do you have an exercise or training program that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.