The Difference Between Working Out and Training

Adam Milosavljevic
Feb 3, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

“Aw yeah just a bit of chest today. What about you?”

“Aw yeah just doing a bit of back and bi’s and chest and tri’s and legs and abs and cardio and I saw this video on instagram so I’m gonna try that also.”

“Aw yeah.”

- Your local commercial gym floor

You may have overheard a conversation like this or even taken part. Discussions like this one are synonymous with the gym floor. You step into the gym, you pick up a pair of dumbbells and suddenly you’re training. Or are you exercising? Or are you working out? Or are you doing all of the above?

At this point you’re probably asking how aren’t these terms the same thing. I’m going to tell you why.

Working Out

To put it plainly, “working out” is a random approach to exercise. You come into the gym and pick up some weights or sit in a free machine. You do a few sets of a few reps and move along to the next piece of vacant equipment. Sometimes 5 exercises are done, sometimes 8 exercises are done and sometimes when you’re feeling really good and have a lot of time on your hands you do 15 exercises.

Other times you take the body part approach and train chest on a Monday and then back on the Tuesday. For the rest of the week you don’t show up but with the new week you gain a clean slate so you start with the same old approach despite missing the rest of your body. Some days you spend half an hour in the gym and other days you spend three hours, absolutely punishing yourself until your out on your legs, deadset certain you’ll be sore for the next few days and that drastic change will follow your hard work. Does this sound like you?

What all of these approaches to training share in common is the lack of structure. The training is erratic and there is no consistency. One might argue that getting in to the gym and doing something is better than doing nothing and I wholeheartedly agree however aside from the absolute newbie, time can be spent much more efficiently. After all we come to the gym to improve ourselves.


Training, on the other hand is the structured approach to achieving a particular goal. It’s specific and it is measurable. Before you enter the gym your session has already been mapped out. There is no guesswork, you know exactly what you are supposed to do. Rather than focusing on the here and now, the plan is formulated with the bigger picture in mind allowing for consistency and sustainability to develop over time rather than short bursts of “hard work” that are quickly reversed by demotivation. Each session, week by week, is more challenging than the last without necessarily being torturous.

So with the differences being distinguished you may now be asking yourself how you can go from exercising and working out to training efficiently. The following points will take an aspect of working out and how we can tweak in it into becoming a characteristic of training.

Working Out: Deciding what you’re going to do at the gym

You rock up to the gym with either a vague or complete lack of idea as to what your session will entail. You might choose to work a body part with as many exercises that you feel like at the time or your session involves random exercises in no particular order or dictated by the availability of machines at the time.

Training: Knowing what you’re doing before you enter the gym

You follow a personalised program tailored to your capability levels. Your sessions for the week have been mapped out and you know what you’re doing before the session begins

Working Out: Doing the same session or week over and over again.

You’re following a training plan but it lacks direction. The same exercises are done at the same sets, reps and weight month in, month out. The principle of progressive overload is non-applicable.

Training: Sessions throughout the week vary and increase in difficulty over time

The principle of progressive overload is implemented in your program and you know that the week of training to follow will be more challenging (not necessarily harder) generally dictated by how you performed the week prior.

Working Out: Quantity

You associate a good session with pain, fatigue and exhaustion. A good session is on only the one where you’ve pushed yourself to the max. You’ve spent three hours at the gym, done 18 different exercises, sweated to the point where you look like you’ve jumped in the ocean and are confident you’ll feel it tomorrow. If you’re not sore the day after going to the gym did you even go?

Training: Quality

You put an emphasis on completing your session exactly as it is written. Your focus is on completing all exercises as they are prescribed with the best technique possible. If you’re short of time and miss out on exercises you make up for them in the following session, or if equipment is not available you interchange it with something from another day. When training is easier you appreciate it, knowing in a few weeks this isn’t going to be the case.

Working Out: Not knowing what to do

You are unsure of what to do to achieve your goals so you follow what the “biggest guy” in the gym or the “fittest girl” in the gym is doing or you look for guidance from your favourite instagram fitspo. It works for them so it must work for me, right?

Training: Seeking guidance from a coach

The thought process is taken out of your hands. Your job is to come into the gym, do your exercises at the sets, reps, weights and effort prescribed to the best of your capabilities. You know there is a long term plan in place and you trust that the process will eventually get you there.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Within the context of fitness, I tend to agree.

Taylors STRONG

Be The Change You Aspire To Be.

Adam Milosavljevic

Written by

Melbourne, Australia. U83kg Powerlifter. Anti-fitness Fitness Professional. IG — @axmls

Taylors STRONG

We are a collective of big box gym personal trainers and coaches out of Melbourne, Australia looking to bring knowledge, experience and integrity into the grassroots of the fitness industry.

Adam Milosavljevic

Written by

Melbourne, Australia. U83kg Powerlifter. Anti-fitness Fitness Professional. IG — @axmls

Taylors STRONG

We are a collective of big box gym personal trainers and coaches out of Melbourne, Australia looking to bring knowledge, experience and integrity into the grassroots of the fitness industry.

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