Over lunch last week a friend looked up at me and said, “You know, I’ve changed my diet, I’m working out almost every day, and I’m getting more rest like you suggested but I feel like I’m at a standstill.” I looked across the table and her eyes read absolute exasperation.

Its been nearly a year since she moved into her new home and under the stress of the move and the “remodel”, she had “lost herself”. For the last two months, she’s redirected her energy to take care of herself which meant changing her diet, cooking a little bit more, increasing her physical activity and getting more sleep. Not an easy charge, but Al is a champ and she took the challenge head on.

We discussed what she was eating, her nutrient timing; it sound like everything was on the right track. Then I asked her what she was doing physically. “I workout 3-4 times a week, I burn at least 500 calories overtime.”  Ok… I asked if she could be a little more specific. “I generally switch between the treadmill and the elliptical; sometimes I take a spin class.”

“So when you do your workouts are you doing anything in particular… intervals or hills?”

“No, I just kinda go for 20 minutes on one and then switch; I finish with some abs.”

“What’s your focus when you are at the gym?”

“I workout for about 45 minute and try to burn 500 calories.”

Got it. I asked a few more questions and then after a minute or so I rebutted. “I think that I have an idea.” A smile began to peek beneath her cheeks.  “I think you should try training.”

That smile quickly shifted into a smirk, “I told you I’m training four times a week.”

“No, you’re working out. There’s a difference.” From her quizzical expression I knew that I needed to elaborate. “You are hitting the gym, logging in hours, burning calories; you’re working hard. But if you “train”, I think you’re going to see better results.” Confusion remained.

“When you train Al, all that energy you’re exerting is purposeful; you’re working towards a goal. Whats your goal; what are you trying to accomplish?” With a sigh she said, “I just want to get back to myself again.”

“Fair enough… what does that mean? What does that look and feel like?”

We spent about 20 minutes jousting back and forth until we came up with some specific goals, one of which was to be fit enough to run a 10k in 8 weeks. Then we worked backward to identify how we were going to get there. Part of the plan was to develop a fairly aggressive running schedule to help challenge her cardiovascular endurance.

“For the next four weeks, we’ve got a running schedule set up for you. Each day you come in to do cardio, the workout is going to be a bit different that the previous training session with the understand that we are building, This draws a bit more attention to your time here; we’ve created intent. When you have something to focus on, its as though you’ve applied a different texture to the activity. You aren’t just walking the walk; you are talking the talk. After four weeks, we take reassess and see how far you are from your goal.”

“I’m not sure that I really understand the difference between “working out” and “training,” she replied, a smile returning to her face, “but I think I’m gonna love this a shot.”

“Ok, lets see if I can give you a reference… For this anniversary party, you’ve hired a caterer, right?” She nodded, “Ok, so is it safe to say that you and the caterer have met to go over what you would like to be served?”


“Great. The menu you have selected, that’s her goal. Now in order for the caterer to successfully present the menu you’ve put together, do you think that they are going to go on a random grocery run or are will they have a very specific list of items? How far out do you think they will prep for the party? A week, two weeks? The night before?”

“I certainly hope not, I started looking for them three months in advance.”

“Precisely. You have a goal with a specific vision and a specific date in mind. Understanding all that it is going to take to make this vision come to fruition, you created a strategy, working backwards, as to what needed to be done to make it happen. In essence, you were “training” for your party. The caterer, similarly, has a system, a training plan, to deliver the menu as promised.”

“I get it… if I know what I’m working for, it gives me a direction.” I smiled in agreement; she’s a smart cookie.

After paying the check, I gave her a hug and reminded her that it’s just a slight adjustment; a mental shift in focus more than anything. I wanted to make sure that Al left feeling empowered rather than frustrated.

Now, understandably, some may argue that the difference between “training” and “working out” is really just an issue of semantics. I draw a distinction because I feel like it’s all about the mindset. Like driving… driving to a place for the first time, ever notice how you are more aware? Looking for signs and landmarks to give you a place of reference? As opposed to driving home from work or school; have you ever driven home and couldn’t recall how you got there? By having a plan to help you train to reach your goal, you draw more attention to your actions. Just that mental shift can make all the difference in what moves you.

I should also clarify that everyone’s goal is different;  “training” for Jack may not be the same as for Al. For example, perhaps Jack has a 9-5 desk job and his goal is to go to the gym three times a week and work up a sweat after work. That’s it; he just wants to work up a sweat. So if he just goes to the gym and hops on the recumbent bike for 30 minutes every time, chances are, he’s not going to be fulfilled after the second week. It’s not “novel” enough; there isn’t enough stimulation and he slips into a mundane routine and the chances of his consistently meeting his goal decreases.

On the other hand, if he gets a bit more specific and indicates that each day that he comes into the gym, he has to try a different class or a different piece of equipment from the day before. There’s more thought drawn to the activity; we’ve created a purpose and hopefully created a little bit of excitement about going to the gym. That shift may just be the difference from ambivalence and setting him up for success.

I share this with you to hopefully illuminate a different perspective… are you getting what you want from your workouts? Yes? fantastic, keep moving? If you’re not, perhaps exploring a different approach, circle back and ask yourself if theres something that you’re hoping to accomplish. If so, work backward and identify some steps, create a “training” plan, to help get you where you want to be. If you’ve hit a “wall”, lets find a way to work around it. Sometimes a shift in your mindset allows you to see something new, bring more clarity and focus. It may ensure that your training is working out for you.

If you have questions or comments about goal setting, strategies for consistency, or fitness accountability, I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading!

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