Exercise is running round the block for five minutes. Training is structured exercise that is done deliberately, in a structured manner as part of a wider schedule to achieve a specific goal. Don’t trust the result of exercise – it’s unpredictable and unreliable.

By contrast, training is something you can count on.

What training is not, is a hired PT shouting at you, “C’mon just 5 more, 4… 3… c’mon you got this, 2… one more, don’t quit!” Your body is failing you. You cannot remember such pain and exhaustion. The cheering on from this expensive expert encourages you not to give up and put in the meekest final rep with disgracefully poor form. I remember seeing fellow new recruits in the army throwing up after running a mile run at 06:15 in the morning. Was shocking the body in these extremes something that would get you on the optimum path to fitness? Was it a display of power from those barking the orders?

I count myself lucky that I found another path. My first gym orientation in my early 30s introduced me to a bulky tracksuited figure who wouldn’t have looked out of place trying to sell me a car.

“No thanks, I don’t want to be shown around the treadmills or fixed resistance machines. I’m interested in the free weights. Can you show me how to do squats and bench presses?”
“No, no, no. You can’t just start on those. That’s not what we show you on the gym introduction. You can book a free training session with me and I’ll get you started off on <weird list of exercises, and things with gym balls> and then move you on to <I can’t remember, really> and get you on a programme working up to the barbells and mix it up for you.”
“My name’s Jim. You can find me on the board over there.”

I went home so angry. So, so, angry. I lifted a set of dumbells in all the various curls I knew until I could lift no more. My body ached for days.

Jim wasn’t his name, that’s just what I’ve decided to call him today. I can’t remember what he looked like really, but I remember him trying to sell me snake oil. I see trainers in my gym who look amazingly fit. And I see them encouraging their beginner clients to do routines that are simple, and allow them poor form. I see them doing strange exercises that no one else who comes here regularly do. The most noticeable trope though is the “C’mon… one more rep!”

Training is stress your body can recover from. How do you get good at something in other aspects of your life? You go out of you comfort zone, just a little bit. You embrace a tiny failure. You learn from the experience and try again, this time a little wiser, a little more resilient.

Exercise is no different. With training, you will find your limit and you will continually push against it. Attempting to find that limit on Day 1 is counterproductive and dangerous. Training is stress your body can recover from. If you over exert yourself to the point of breaking you will weaken yourself. Ask someone who’s been knocked down by a car how they feel about the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger?”

In the second post of this series, Change for life, I asked you to make a life long commitment to fitness. With that accepted, there is no rush to discover your limit. That will be discovered soon enough. The tool we will use comes from the previous post: Measure the right thing. You will know you’re making progress by focusing on good form in your exercise, and keeping precise records of what you lift, how, and how many. That’s an important lesson that many who pay to exercise don’t seem to learn.