Training vs. Going to the Gym

Because, in my opinion, they are two different things.

Before I started seriously training my body (and by default my mind simultaneously), I was one of those people who, if they worked out at all, would be like, “I’m going to the gym.”

People, let’s be honest here. What does that even mean? Ok, obviously, yes–you’re going to a place with a bunch of weights and machines and a whole bunch of other equipment and random STUFF that you may not have ever used or even know how to use. Fine. But beyond that?

What I’m getting at here is the ultimate question that I think anyone who wants to really get serious about physical fitness should be asking themselves each and every damn time they go in for a workout, whether it’s at home, in a park, or in the gym:

What is my plan? What am I going to do today while I’m there, and why am I doing it?

In my opinion, and based on my own personal experience in both the training and simply “going to the gym” camps, I feel quite confident when I say that if you don’t have the time, desire, or inclination to look at that question and then answer it, you probably won’t get very satisfactory results.

Why? Well, it’s simple. Working out is like anything else you spend time on in your life. You do it for a reason, right? But with most things you do for a reason, you study and learn and practice to become precise in what you’re doing, taking specific steps to achieve whatever goal or objective you have in mind. For example, in your job, if you have an important task to complete but no one ever really gave you any decent professional training on how to accomplish the task, you’d probably go online and start researching how other people have done it, or what the best practices are.

Strangely enough though, when you think about it, the average person doesn’t do this when it comes to physical fitness.

In my experience, the average person approaches “working out” like it’s something that just magically happens when you simply “go to the gym.”

Next time you’re in your gym, take a look around. I want you to really notice what the people are doing. Honestly. All those TV sets, distractions. People on the treadmills with their cell phones! Obsessively playing with the iPod to get God only knows what obscure song to play.

Meanwhile, are any of those people really sweating?

I’m not out to criticize gym-goers, by any means. God bless anyone who takes the time out of their busy lives to dedicate effort to getting physical activity. But what I want to highlight in this post is that what divides those who get serious results from those who maintain an average level of fitness without seeing any visible results, is the time put in to answering that question above.

For example, I’ve already got my entire workout planned for my trip to the gym tomorrow. It involves new exercises and lifts with the weights that I’ve never done before. So I had to look them up, read instructions about how to do them, maybe watch a YouTube video or two, and then I wrote notes about it on my workout log.

Yes, that’s right: a workout log. Maybe you’ve seen people in your gym carrying around papers and noting things down. And hopefully they weren’t those psuedo-plans that most “intro sessions” with a trainer give you when you first join a gym, because frankly those are (generally) not worth much because they aren’t custom-tailored to you and your goals. A workout log is your personal record of where you’re at, what you’re doing, and how you’re progressing. It takes planning and dedication to keep it updated and current.

I’m following a specific six-month plan right now. Currently I am on stage 4 of the plans in this book, which was recommended to me by this amazing girl who is one of my dearest friends here in Italy, and I highly recommend this book to you as well if you are a woman just coming into weight training. There is also this version by the same authors, geared towards male beginners and elite lifters. It has objectives and reasons and specific exercises, all of which are designed to produce specific results. It also includes dietary guidelines, not as in “diet” in the traditional sense (weight loss, fad diets, etc.) but as in eating the proper foods that will allow my body to perform the lifts in the most optimal way.

That, in a nutshell, is what I’m talking about. I know it’s not for everyone. But honest to God, if you keep just “going to the gym” and mindlessly walking on a treadmill without even knowing why you’re doing it other than “I want to get into shape,” I can assure you that you won’t go anywhere significant in terms of reaching goals.

Why? It’s simple. Because “getting into shape” is a non-specific goal. As in, ok, fine. You want to get into shape. But how will you KNOW when you’re “in shape”? What does that even MEAN?

Let’s think about this. And start asking yourself, what are my fitness goals, specifically? Why am I working out? What do I want to accomplish during my time working out and how will I know when I’ve accomplished it?

Let me know in the comments where you are in your workout regimen. No clue where to start? Walking the treadmill without a goal? Intimidated by the weights and scary-looking machines? Not knowing where to start? Or on a specific training program with set markers and goals? Tips to share?


3 thoughts on “Training vs. Going to the Gym

  1. Annika says:

    I’m just starting to define my goal now, after three times at the gym, getting inspiration from you and Sara and so many others who have already gone down this road. I think I have to get myself a copy of that book! 🙂

  2. Sara Rosso says:

    I’m running into this a bit as I have a pretty planned-out regiment that involves using a lot of weight lifting classes as the base. Lately, and especially because of summer, I haven’t had those classes around (or I’m not near a gym which offers them), so if I’m not running (specific goal: X miles or X minutes), I think I am fuffing a bit more than I should be in the gym. I’m recording what exercises I did after the fact, but I am pretty sure I’ll start pre-planning some of my free-weight days and keeping track of the weight I’m using (progress! moving up!) so I can tell when it’s time to move on.

    In my weight class, I have moved up with the # of weights I put on my barbell and dumbbells but I like the thought of pushing that step up on more of a schedule 🙂

    • Shelley Ruelle says:

      Truly a lot of the discipline and information I got regarding planned workouts and workout logs came from that book you recommended! Such an excellent choice for beginners and non-beginners alike! For example I actually started in on the workout plans in the 3rd stage out of 7. It’s totally easy to modify if you aren’t new to the gym, but totally not intimidating if you are. For me following a very structured plan has been the only way to get results. Plus it makes me feel like I really know I’m getting solid work done without wasting time.

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