Though the distinction between training and exercising might seem unimportant — it isn’t. How you label your physical activity says more about you, your mindset, and your probable rate of success than any Crossfit WOD score ever could.
I first saw this difference at The Basic School for USMC Officer training in Quantico,VA. Some of my peers were former college athletes, and a few were training in our off-time for an upcoming marathon. These peers had goals and a plan to achieve them. The rest of us were just doing what I now call “exercising,” random workouts on random days, inconsistently.
The Marines who were actually training were the only ones I knew who could keep a solid schedule and maintain their fitness levels during The Basic School. The rest of us got by on an ever-dwindling fitness reservoir that was nearly empty by the time I finally finished the 6-month school.
I personally started applying this training mentality to fitness during the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course. The course itself was a constant physical beat-down, but in the few classroom lectures, we were taught how to set up a MCMAP and combat conditioning plan for our units. It was then that I realized I could design a plan to become progressively more difficult as fitness levels increase, the same way a pre-deployment workup gets more complicated as the deployment date nears.
Most people let exercise disrupt their progression not contribute to it.
I used to think I hated PT just because I disliked being told what to do. I have come to realize I actually hated unit PT because it is exercise and not training just like many group classes, WOD’s, or sessions you let your friend design that focus only on beach muscles.
Most military units plan complete workups to prepare each member of the unit to the max extent possible with all the skills and proficiencies needed for when they are actually ‘in country.’ This is training, a clear plan that progressively increases in difficulty and complexity with an end state in mind.
I rarely see physical fitness approached in the same logical way.
Most people approach exercise in one of two ways: as a slay fest or a joke/ check in the box.
- A Slay Fest: (n) from the ancient Greek Slayus Festivus, meaning make as many people puke or stroke out as possible in an effort to assert physical dominance and make less-fit people feel inadequate. Or a way to punish yourself for some poorly defined reason.
- A Joke: just going through the motions and checking the daily activity box.
Neither one of these has the intention of making better the individual. In fact, slay fests often lead to injuries which have the opposite effect on a person’s perspective on exercise.
The difference between training and exercising
In the Marine Corps, I saw what could be accomplished when a proper training plan is followed to the most minute detail. I also saw what type of chaos, injury, or indifference towards fitness can result from no plan and/or unchecked egos.
This is why you should be training. The most successful athletes are those that have a plan in place that works them towards a goal. I’m a firm believer that everyone is an athlete no matter what your job or current station in life.
Marines are constantly reminded that it doesn’t matter what your job is, you could find yourself in combat and you better be prepared for it. Likewise, you may find yourself in a position where you need a higher than normal level of strength or endurance. God forbid it’s a street fight or running from a bear, more likely you may need to pull an all-nighter in a productive fashion, or lift your elderly family member off the ground after a fall.
I carry that with me to this day. Constantly thinking about what I would do if a fight breaks out — or if ‘patient zero’ of the zombie apocalypse strolls into my part of town — doesn’t keep me awake at night in dread. It keeps me awake at night in giddy anticipation because I’m training for that sh*t every. Damn. Day.
Of course, your reason for training doesn’t need to be so heavy, violent, or world-altering. Simply wanting to be able to throw a perfect spiral with your future son is a perfect reason to be training. If you need a more immediate time frame, choose a challenge: sign up for an adventure race, a marathon, an adult sports league, or a powerlifting meet. Train for the on-season or the event day.
As a human who is choosing to live a more examined life, it’s your duty to conduct work-ups. Now it’s your turn to determine where and when that “deployment” is and how you train for it.
Exercise is a word for people who throw out their back trying to get the gallon of Arizona Iced Tea off the bottom shelf and into their grocery cart… not you.
To fold it into the big picture
Everything you do is part of your progression. You might be progressing towards a high level of fitness but more likely you’re probably progressing towards a better version of yourself in all aspects of your life. A well rounded and planned training program should be one of your main anchoring habits to get you to where you want to be.
It can be a daily check-in to ensure you’re getting just a little bit better.
It can be a daily stress relief to ensure that the other aspects of life don’t break you.
It can be your primary window for self care to maintain your health and optimize your energy levels for the rest of your day.
Whatever it is for you, choose it deliberately.
Randomness surrounds us everywhere. We can only control a small percentage of our lives. You need to maximize those elements you have control over in order to make the rest of the stuff you don’t have control over seem less all-encompassing.
Your training is one of the main elements you actually have a locus-of-control over. Don’t let it go to waste.