• James Heath

To be physically fit or not? Training Vs exercise.  

Socrates once said “the universe is motion and nothing else”. Well this is also true with our body. Our cells are in perpetual motion as chemical reactions and nerve transmissions occur endlessly while we live.

"A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event, like a flame or a whirlpool.“

Alan Watts

Movement is fundamental to life. Movement is life.

Mark Rippitoae and Lon Kilgore (2007) wrote an amazing book ‘Starting Strength’ for beginners wanting to learn more about the fundamental principles of resistance training. In his book he states “we are not physically normal in the absence of movement. It is not simply a stimulus with must apply to fix a physical problem. It’s a stimulus we must always have, as without there will always be problems”.

In the developed world we have been freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our own subsistence leading predominantly sedentary lifestyles. Today physical activity is regarded as optional and perhaps only a necessity to relieve pain. Physical fitness which generally occurs with increased physical activity has become a commodity and only for those who want to make time and spend money on it.

So what is physical fitness?

Physical fitness is a difficult concept to define because it has many related concepts. However Rippitoae and Kilgore (2007) state "possession of adequate levels of strength, endurance, and mobility to provide for successful participation in occupational effort, recreational pursuits, familial obligation, and that is consistent with a functional phenotypic expression of the human genotype."

This definition considers successful participation of various physical obligations throughout our lifespan while relating to evolutionary reasoning, i.e., why it is necessary to be fit from a genetic standpoint. The optimum expression of the human genotype is, by this definition, a fit human, which is why this definition is satisfying on many levels.

The harsh reality is our expected physical existence will not disappear because desks where invented. The diagram below highlights how we are adapted to cope with the ebb and flow of our changing environment and thus changing external stresses such as temperature, food, hydration and social standings. We need mild stress just to remain physically normal and healthy and without it our cells deteriorate. An example would be astronauts in space suffering catastrophic muscle wastage after 6 months of zero gravity. Even intense stress often has increased benefit to us provided it is not too damaging and we can adapt and recover from it.

"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" isn't true. Somethings such as rupturing your spinal discs or brain damage during will generally make you weaker because it's it's a very difficult injury to fully recover from.

Perhaps this explains the growth in physical therapy and physiotherapy around the world with an increasing need for rehabilitation for ageing populations and a rise in obesity and diabetes levels (World Health Organisation 2019). It is a well known fact getting people fitter with regular exercise and physical activity is a primary tool to combat these epidemics.

Quite simply your body is expecting to move and exercise more. When you do your body adapts in the following powerful ways and to make you physically fit and healthy:

Physical benefits to your body include:

  • Increased strength, power and athletic performance

  • Greater ease, joint resilience and range of movement

  • Increased balance and flexibility

  • Improved muscle tone and body composition

  • Cardiovascular conditioning, stimulation of circulation and capilirisation

  • Prevention and treatment of disease (obesity/ type 2 diabetes) and injuries

  • Increased lifespan and relief from pain

  • Relief of rheumatic, neurological, spinal, stress, and respiratory disorders

Psychological benefits include:

  • Meditation practice to quite the mind, foster self-knowledge, and increase awareness.

  • Alleviation of emotional stress expressed throughout the body such as, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and addiction

  • Positive changes in attitude, thought patterns, feelings, self-esteem and self-image.

  • Enhanced communication skills and tolerance of others.

  • Physical openness facilitated by movement therapy leads to greater emotional openness and creativity.

Training vs exercise: What’s the difference?

The combination of movements that make up physical activity are endless. Physical activity, fitness, training, working out and exercising are words used inter-changeably, but they are are not all the same.

Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today. Getting your heart rate up, getting sweaty and the blood/ muscles pumping to satisfy the immediate needs, right now. It could involve doing exactly the same thing each time but provides that immediate satisfaction. For the majority of people living sedentary lifestyles having no definable objective other than to be "in shape," which is similar to being physically fit without all the discussion of phenotypes and genetics. Exercise is a good place to start because it doesn't require much thought.

The American Heart Association describes physical activity as “anything that makes you move your body and burn calories and work up a sweat". To be physically fit they recommend the following:

"150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes vigorous aerobic activity preferably spread-out over 3-5 days in the week. Within that week at least two days should consist of muscle strengthening resistance activity."

These recommendations are the basics. Just aim to hit the specific time at the desired intensity. A simple approach can help people be motivated while initial behavioral and lifestyle changes are made to hit those basic targets. A detailed training program which requires skill acquisition in a uncomfortable gym training environment is enough to put most people off, especially when feeling unhealthy, unfit and under-confident with your movement and performance. Let's face it exercising unfit sucks and the transition to becoming fit is tough mentally and physically. Ironically remaining unfit and unhealthy is significantly worse because you miss out on some or all of the benefits highlighted above.

However while engaging in exercise physical activity is good, often the lack of goal setting, progression in performance and overall standard is not enough for maintaining accountability and motivation over the long term.

Just exercising is more often too vague and isn't motivating when progress stalls or goes backwards. You're more like to stop altogether and you're back to square one. The true pursuit of maintaining good physical fitness is a consistent lifestyle change, not a one off attempt and thus you're going to need a system that can help you progress, set new goals and stay motivated.

This is why training is different because it has a definite performance objective in mind. Training is physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal. Because training utilities the scientific process, if programmed and implemented effectively will yield better progress and results regardless of the circumstance - i.e. the individual and their current level of fitness and experience.

Poor fitness industry standards

The main problem is the fitness industry market and push many so called training programs and group training options which are very poor quality from a scientific perspective. Mass marketed online training options and group training do not take into consideration the individual specifics required for that individual to train optimally and reap the best possible results from their time spent exercising.

It's not training and just exercise. If it was an effective training program you would see far better results from the time you were investing and motivation levels would increase. I would go as far to say that poor training programs today could potentially have the reverse effective or putting people of exercising all together. It's like cheap fast food and not something you can endure indefinitely because you're going to hit road blocks.

Just like nutrition people don't understand the complex science of anatomy, physiology and bio-mechanics they are a susceptible market which blanket wash all terminology under the same umbrella. All exercise is the same!

It is not especially when poor quality exercise and bad movement ultimately lead to future dysfunction such as poor posture, joint imbalances, lending to significant acute and chronic injuries, putting a halt to your fitness pursuit all together.

This scenario is as common as the poor training programs currently marketed by the fitness industry online and face to face. From my perspective as a strength and conditioning coach often takes much longer to get people who have consistently exercised incorrectly in the best possible shape compared someone who has never exercised at all. The non-exerciser is a blank canvas where the regular exerciser is riddled with dysfunction which takes a long time to unwire the Central Nervous System. However genetics often play a role too.

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Rippetoe, Mark; Lon Kilgore (2007). Starting Strength (3rd Edition). USA: The Aasgaard Company.

Rippetoe, Mark; Lon Kilgore (2007). Redefining fitness for health and fitness professionals" Journal of exercise physiology. 10 (2).

American Heart Association (2019), American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids, viewed 20,11,2019