What is the difference between working out and training?

What is the difference between 'training' and 'working out'? Is there a difference or are the words interchangeable?

The difference between calling your trail hike a 'workout' or 'training' session, in my opinion, relates to your intent, commitment, and long-term physical goals. In this day and age with more and more fitness fads training people like elite athletes, and the physical literacy of our youth is declining to tragic levels, along with with the high rate of injuries suffered by individuals who are ill prepared for their physically demanding jobs. I believe the difference between working out and training is an important distinction for coaches, athletes and YOU to understand. I have been 'working out' and 'training' for nearly 35 years. I have been prescribing 'workouts' and 'training sessions' for thousands of amateur and elite athletes for almost 20 of those 35 years. I feel the difference between training and working out lies within the intent of the physical challenge that you are performing.

A 'workout' is an independent physical challenge that is separate from a bigger more idealistic physical objective. It is a moment in time where the mental and physical benefit of performing the workout is immediate and short-lived. Conversely, a 'training session' contributes to a larger more deliberate physical goal and is understood to be a calculated step within the physical and mental journey to achieve a level of physical readiness for a particular physical demand.

What is the big deal you ask? Why should you care if you call your morning run, lift or yoga session a 'work out' or a 'training session'? I believe you should care as it reflects your state of mind about how you view that physical session was contributing to you achieving a physical ability and well-being that is sustainable and supportive of your lifestyle, sporting goals, or career demands.

Training is a commitment and by definition an understanding that you are involved in a process. A process that takes time and requires focus and responsibility by all involved. A coach should appreciate the difference between a workout and a training session. So that they prescribe what is appropriate for that specific time for that specific person. A workout and training sessions can be part of a training plan that addresses the general and specific needs of the individual. The training plan should emphasize the journey with a clear progression that considers a person's movement competency and physical capacity. Training sessions often focus on specific issues. Within a week a person may do three training sessions all to work on their fitness, but one session focuses on the bodyweight strength for running, one focuses on running economy, and one focuses on challenging the person's aerobic fitness. A training session can as physically demanding as a workout. The difference in my mind is the training session is unique to the person in a general or specific way.

A workout is a physical challenge not unique to an individual, rather a physical test that implies uniformity in physical ability and capacity. A workout can be specific to a person's ability by chance, but by definition, a workout does not consider the person doing the workout, it is a physical challenge for any individual to accept.

So what is the point? The point is to demystify the notion that training is a right afforded only to 'elite' athletes. The point is that everyone should be training. Which means everyone is engaging in a training plan that is designed to get them ready for the physical activity they desire. Their training sessions are, therefore, unique to their ability and capacity and in part and as a whole contribute to their long-term health and well-being.

There is not a quick fix to being healthy and fit. To be healthy and fit is a mindset and those that embrace that mindset understand that achieving a greater degree of physical ability requires time and commitment, and TRAINING. Working out within a training plan is an awesome way to confirm a person's athleticism. At Athlete Nation we believe each workout should be viewed as a challenge designed to confirm a person's fitness and inform an individual's training plan.

Regardless whether you agree or disagree with the point of view discussed above, I hope you appreciate the sentiment. Don't think the odd workout or two will get you in shape or make you more physically capable. Working out should be viewed as part of training. Some workouts performed each week aren't training unless they cater for your specific physical abilities. At Athlete Nation we call that training. Training is a mindset, and it is a journey that has amazing benefits. At Athlete Nation we use workouts to confirm how well a person has been training. We understand that nothing worth achieving is made easily or quickly. Our coaches are in it for the long run. We hope you are too.

How Injuries Happen: A practical explanation

Injuries occur when demand exceeds capacity. It is not sexier than that. Sure I could elaborate and expand the definition using more academic words, but that wouldn't be practical. When the demand in the form of 'force'; force from an impact from the ground, another human or an object, is greater than the strength of the muscle, ligament, tendon or bone that experiences the force then an injury will occur.

Injuries are considered either acute or chronic. Acute injuries are considered sudden and often traumatic. A chronic injury develops more slowly and may last longer. Acute injuries may stop or dramatically limit physical activity. Whereas chronic injuries may be managed through physical activity. Regardless, both acute and chronic injuries happen because the demand or force experienced by the body is greater than what the body can handle. However, HOW an acute injury happens is different to HOW a chronic injury can happen. The difference is important to understand if you want to prevent either from occurring.

Here is a simple graphic illustration of the how acute injuries differ from chronic injuries.

On the vertical line (Y-Axis) is the load or force the body experiences from lifting weights, running, swimming, playing tennis, anything that provides physical stress to the bodies soft tissue. On the horizontal line (X-Axis) is time. The farther you move up or to the right from where the lines start (origin) the greater the load and the longer the time. The blue line represents the tolerance or strength of the soft tissue (muscle, ligament, bone, tendon). The green line represents the load applied by physical activity. In an acute injury, the applied load increases suddenly, and at the point, the load exceeds the strength of the tissue an acute injury occurs. For example, if you fall with great speed, or get tackled in an unexpected way you may experience a break of a bone or a rupture of a tendon or ligament as a result of the force being greater than the soft tissue could handle. That may seem fairly intuitive. However, chronic injuries are a bit trickier to understand.

A chronic injury is still the result of the load being too much for the soft tissue to handle, however, not always because the force is too much. The soft tissue can be weakened by poor mechanics and over time the strength of the tissue is decreased to the point where a force that seems minimal is enough to the cause an injury. For example, let's say you have been running your whole life or swimming three times a week for the past ten years. You have never had an injury as a result of the running or swimming you have done. Then one day 'ouch' that feels weird. Your knee starts to ache, or your shoulder gets a sharp pain during a swim set. You don't understand why all of a sudden what you have been doing so easily for so long is now painful. Essentially, the strength of soft tissue was weakened due to faulty movement mechanics or muscle imbalances. That is why proper technique is so critical and using your body the right way matters most.

The objective of any training program should be to increase the margin of safety between the capacity of the soft tissue and the load that tissue experiences in sport, work or recreation. Moving the right way and using your body the way it was designed to be used while engaging in a progressive training program that systematically loads the body to make it more physically capable is what you need for a long active life.

So the next time you experience an injury, whether it is acute or chronic remember the injury occurred because the demand was greater than your soft tissue could handle. You can't always prevent an acute injury, but the majority of chronic injuries can be prevented. It almost always is not what you are doing, rather HOW you are doing it and whether the intensity is appropriate based on your movement competency and capacity.

Why The Burpee?

INTRO: The Burpee the 'sugar additive' of the exercise profession. The Burpee is used prolifically as a starter, a finisher or hell as the whole session. How many burpees can you do in 30 minutes? GO!

What is the fascination with the burpee? Did you know it was created to be a fitness test? Dr. Royal H. Burpee, Ph.D., designed the original 4-count burpee to see if it could accurately assess the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood. His doctoral thesis investigated the validity of an easy and efficient method for evaluating fitness using the calisthenic movement we know to be the 4-count burpee. He found that collecting five heart rate results before and after four 4-count burpees and extrapolating the results he could accurately predict a person fitness level. Who knew?

Imagine prescribing four burpees to assess someone's fitness, perish the thought, although according to Dr. Burpee any more than four was too intense! How far have we come? If you are asked to do any less than 400 burpees, the session is considered too easy. Whether you are doing one or 1000 of the 4, 6, or 8-count burpee, what should be appreciated is that the burpee is a complex movement task. Given the fact that burpees are used like 'duck tape' in training programs around the world I think it is important to understand how to do a burpee correctly and how to modify a burpee based on a person's bend and push pattern movement competency.

HOW TO: Regardless of the variation of the burpee you perform, here are movement cues to consider to ensure one contributes to enhancing your physical prowess and not the mechanisms of injury.

The primary movement patterns involved in the Burpee are the bend and push patterns. When performing a movement task that requires bending the first coaching cue is to 'bend' through the hips. Another way to think of this is to push the hips back as the trunk comes forward. Allowing for a slight bend in the knees as the hips move back is encouraged. To perform Burpees on the ground one needs good hip mobility otherwise, the bend required to reach for the ground will occur through the lumbar back. Flexing through the lumbar back is an important injury mechanism and is not recommended. If a person does not have the hip mobility necessary for a ground burpee evident by their inability to resist lumbar flexion when they reach the ground then consider attenuating the depth required of the Burpee. An example of how to mitigate the intensity of a Burpee first in the video below.

When making contact with the ground or a box, the body should be stable and strong. A person should be prepared for the impact rather than reacting to the impact. The hands should be positioned shoulder width directly under the shoulders, the fingers strong and ready for the contact gripping the ground or box to stabilize the shoulders. The feet should be pushed back shoulder width. The plank position should look strong and stable for a split second before any other part of the burpee movement is initiated.

Doing the burpee correctly is critical regardless whether you LOVE or HATE the movement. It is a complex bodyweight movement and whether you do 'four' as a fitness assessment or 104 in your training session. Subtle breakdowns in technique over time combined with high repetitions will ultimately make your burpee doing days limited.

I understand the appeal of using the burpee in a training program from a coaching perspective. I also know the satisfaction of completing a lot of burpees with strength and confidence. Whether you are a coach or athlete respect the burpee and strive to coach or do the burpee correctly for it advanced expression of athleticism if done properly and it will expose how unathletic you are if not done properly.

This video demonstrates the original 4-point burpee as well as a 6 and 8-point versions. Also shown is how to reduce the depth and intensity of a burpee.

Special Note: Notice the technique of the athlete in the video. His method may appear almost perfect. However, if you look closely, there is slight lumbar flexion or bending through his lower back when he reaches the ground. He could fix this if he pushed his hips back with more purpose. However, he may have tight hamstrings or hips. Or he may just need more practice pushing his hips back and getting the timing right for the movement. I would recommend he elevate his hand contact to mid-shin height if he were going to do these in a training session. That would allow him to practice the right technique safely without sacrificing his training session or well-being.


1. You keep getting selected for rep teams based on your physical talent, not because of the work you have put into developing your athleticism.

Not entirely your fault, obviously, you were given a gift of size and strength, coordination, and control ahead of your years and using that to excel in youth sports is entirely understandable. However, the mistake you will make is believing that will last your lifetime. Being the best athlete in year six does not mean you will be signing an All Blacks contract when you are 18. There is no guarantee that the athleticism you have now will persist to the same degree through puberty if you experience a significant growth spurt. You should not expect you will be able just to plow through that growth spurt with the same ease you now strike a hockey ball, sprint across the finish line in first place, or win the basketball game for your team.

From my experience, the acclaim you receive at a young age will either give you a false sense of accomplishment and either reinforce an "I don't need to prepare for sport" mentality, or you will swing to the other end of the spectrum and start doing too much. In other words, you will either do nothing and keep pushing your body to a level it will struggle to keep up with, or you will start doing training that is beyond your capability and capacity, and that too will contribute to early breakdown.

2. You like to play more than you like to train.

Just let them play. It is all about participation. Just let the kids have fun playing they don't need to prepare in such a structured way it's not high-performance sport. Those statements echo through the halls of schools, community centers, and sports clubs worldwide. In my opinion, those mental models are not enough to ensure kids turn childhood participation into a lifetime of physical activity. There is evidence that just playing sport can contribute to a high rate of kids dropping out of sport and getting injured. The evidence points to the "winning at all costs" mentality distracting youths from respecting the process of preparation for sport and becoming more athletic. Failing to give kids an opportunity to learn how to prepare for sport and competition in a manner that is within their physical competency and capacity is what can undermine a positive sporting experience and could comprimise the longevity and physical development a young athlete may experience.

Sport is awesome! I have made a career in sport and could not think of anything better. It is during my career that I have realized that structure and preparation do not rob a child of casual play, exploration and physical development, it promotes it. Kids these days do not do as much incidental running, climbing, jumping and playing. Therefore, they do not progressively develop as kids 10-30 years ago did. Which is why structured practices that are supported by warm-up and cool-down programs that strive to mitigate injury and improve athleticism are so essential for the health, safety and continued physical literacy of our youth these days.

Kids should have the opportunity to explore new physical challenges and participate in a variety of sports. The sports organizations that provide a better more structured experience for kids give them a real opportunity to grow and develop physically and mentally as a result of playing sport.

3. You think playing a bunch of different sports will develop your athleticism.

Wrong! For two primary reasons. The first reason I mentioned above, sport today prioritizes competition over development; sport should be used as a vehicle to teach kids how to use their body and provide children the knowledge and expertise to grow and develop themselves athletically. Short youth sport seasons that focus on preparing for competitions regardless of a childs age, time in the sport or athletic ability. Along with a limited number of training sessions per week that give kids an opportunity to develop in a progressive and safe manner have been identified to be mechanisms of youth sport injury. Lastly, coaches need more education on movement in general and in a manner specific to their sport. Structured warm-up, training and cool down protocols that are based on research and practice-based evidence should be made readily avaialbe to all coaches and parents.

Second, the physical demand of basketball is different to the physical demand of swimming. I have heard "my son or daughter swims for fitness to help their basketball, rugby, etc." The reality is swimming can be good cross training for athletes that participate in ground-based sports. However, as I stated above, too often the focus is on the 'outcome' of winning a competition or season, there is less emphasis on structured, progressive physical development based on a child's developmental age and personal situation. Personalizing a program for a child is not as complicated as one may think. Most kids have similar physical development issues. Therefore, structured warm-ups, training plans, and cool downs that focus on progressing children based on their movement competency and capacity and the demands of the sport can help ensure the physical loading children experience during sports participation contributes more to their performance and development and not the mechanisms of injury.

The body moves toward physical strength and away from physical weakness. For example, the structure and function required to jump in basketball can be achieved in a variety of ways. Some ways are good and will contribute to performance and not injury. Other ways are not good that will also contribute to performance AS WELL AS injury. The problem is the difference is not intuitive or commonly understood. A coaches primary responsibility is to teach the skills of the sport and to get an athlete ready to compete. Kids are rewarded based on how high they can jump, how hard and accurate they can pass, and how well they can shoot. Regardless if the strategy they use to accomplish those movement tasks is a injury mechanism. If the child scores, or runs / swims fast then mission accomplished. Which is why playing and training for basketball does not necessary make you a better athlete. Every sports skill can be linked to a foundational movement pattern. It would be great if sport skills where linked to their fundamental pattern and that was then taught to coaches as part of their foundational education. What complicates this, even more, is that kids are very flexible and hypermobile, which affords them the ability to move poorly without suffering the immediate consequences. Going from one sport to the next and the next in a given day or week forces the child to be in a constant state of shock trying to adapt to the demands while never really having an opportunity to develop the physical readiness required to handle those demands. Which is why those kids that are physically more mature (i.e. stronger) do better. They can handle the demands...for now.

So what is the solution? How do I achieve athletic success? Awareness. Feel good that you get picked first and have the physical ability you do have, but don't get swept away thinking you will always have it and you don't need to train as hard as those who appear not to be as physically gifted as you are. You need to train harder and smarter. Proper warm up routines that challenge your coordination, balance and strength are a good place to start regardless of age. Next, if you have access to a movement matters program like the ones offered by Athlete Nation, prioritize your involvement in one of those programs so that as you grow and mature you develop the strength and coordination to support your athleticism. That way whatever sport(s) you do play will promote a healthy, successful life as a result of your sports participation not in spite of it.

Movement Matters Most

Movement Matters Most

How an athlete moves is more important than the movement they do.

Fifteen years ago I would not have appreciated the magnitude of that statement. However, after nearly two decades working with athletes from development to Olympic Champions; over four Olympic Games with ground and water based athletes who have competed in 19 Olympic sports and won over 22 Olympic medals. I believe that movement matters most. How an athlete of any age uses their body is critical when you consider their long-term development or their ability to sustain elite performance over a long career.