“Working out” vs. “training” the key to making progress in the gym

Last weekend as I went down to the shore and as I was awaiting my take out order to be ready I was talking to one of my family members on my wife’s side of the family to kill a bit of time as we waited.

Knowing that we both exercise and have that as a common ground he told me “Man, I just don’t recover from hard workouts like I used to.” This is someone who always takes his health seriously, exercises hard, and to my knowledge never skips a training session.

He’s also a few years younger than me. As of writing this, I’m 38 even though I look younger and have the sense of humor of a high school sophomore.

So I ask him “What did you do for your workout?”

“A lot of single leg stuff”

Eric Moss 50 Consecutive Pistol Squats
picture of me doing a pistol squat

Having recently discussed pistol squats with a personal training client of mine and knowing that they are considered by many to be the king of single-leg exercises I asked if he could do them.

“One per side without any additional weight. Can you?”

Pistol squats at one point were a pet lift of mine. So I started rattling off the various accomplishments I had with them.

  • A single pistol squat with 106lbs of additional weight.
  • Doing pistol squats while jumping onto a park bench and back down for reps.
  • 12 consecutive with 70lbs of additional weight.
  • 50 consecutive without any additional weight, and without putting my non planted foot on the ground the entire time. I wrote an article for strongfirst about how I did the last two which you can read here.

And as an additional related accomplishment, I had also taught the pistol squat segment of the strongfirst bodyweight training certification course. If you are a personal trainer, that’s an excellent cert that goes way beyond calisthenics btw.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well it highlights how a shift in philosophy can help you make progress with your training program.

First is the difference between working out and training. It’s a different approach with a different goal. The goal of working out is quite simply to work yourself out ie exercise for the goal of getting tired.

Training is working towards something. Basically training to progress towards a goal through the process of adaptation. I train to get stronger. I get stronger by recovering and adapting to the challenges imposed on my body. I had to put a bit of thought into how to train effectively for those goals.

It goes kind of like this. There is a stimulus or challenge to your body that tells your body “hey, you should probably adapt yourself so that if this challenge comes up again, we will be better prepared to handle it.” You recover and various mechanisms work to help you adapt to the training stimulus. You get a bit stronger for when that stimulus happens again.

You might be surprised how fast it can happen, like I had referenced in my article when my personal training client asked if her increases in strength during our personal training session were normal.

And it needs to happen consistently in the right intensity and dosage. If it’s not consistent it’s like your body says “Hey, that was weird before. Probably won’t happen again so don’t worry about adapting.” That’s why consistency is so important. It’s the small changes that compound over time that add up to bigger results.

How much is the right intensity and dosage? It depends on the person and what their current fitness is. Optimal is somewhere between not enough and too much. What is the minimum effective dose? What’s the maximum effective dose?

Now as for recovery to make consistent progress. Well, one of the best recovery methods I know is to train in a way you can recover from effectively. I know it seems simple, but we often have a tendency to overlook the obvious. If you’ve gotten all that you are going to get out of a particular exercise there is no point in going any further. Just move onto something else, or call it a day. More is not better, it’s just more.

So how do you do this? Set a goal. Pick the exercises that can help you get to your goal. Train the exercises at a level that will challenge you without breaking you down or burning you out. If it starts getting harder, back off a bit. This is as much an art as it is a science.

If you need help putting this together I have a one week free trial membership of my personal training program available. Though I’m very busy since I had to temporarily switch to one on one personal training because of the Covid-19 situation I do have availability on Tuesday and Thursday morning and early afternoons. Check my schedule for availability and text me at 973 476 5328 to get started.

Eric Moss is a world-record-holding modern-day professional performing strongman, author, motivational speaker, and personal trainer. In the tradition of the strongmen more common during the turn of the century, he performs feats of strength such as bending steel and breaking chains as part of a show and speaks on goal achievement for corporations, nonprofits, government as well as for schools and universities. His exclusive personal training studio is located on Main Street in Boonton New Jersey, is close to Mountain Lakes, Denville, Montville and Parsippany New Jersey.

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