Bodybuilding,  Exercises,  General,  Lifestyle,  Strength

Exercise, Training, or Ritual

Are you exercising, training, or performing rituals? You might consider the first two to be synonymous and the third, esoteric and totally foreign. However, I would argue that the first two are similar but distinct, and a lot of people might unintentionally be engaged in the third. Either way, I would argue that each are valuable and can play a role in your fitness journey, IF you know which is which.


Exercise can be defined as “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.”[1] But the devil is in the details, or lack thereof. What exactly is “physical fitness”, is there a general standard that can be applied? Is it the Presidential Physical Fitness Test? Is it the Army’s Basic Training Physical Fitness Test? Or is it just being a little stronger or having just a bit more endurance than you used to? Likewise, we can imagine a large number of activities that would fall within this broad definition. Did you take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator? Did you park a little farther from the store entrance? Take an after-lunch stroll around the neighborhood? You did? Congratulations! You exercised! Exercise is great and should be encouraged. After exercising, and experiencing the benefits of exercise, you may develop some “exercise-related” goals: lose some weight, perform a full-range pull-up, run a mile, etc. Whatever your goals are, you are going to have to figure out a way to achieve them– which I believe, brings us to training.


Training is defined as “the skill, knowledge or experience acquired by one that trains.”[2] Here, the trainee is obtaining more than physical fitness, they are also acquiring information they can apply towards their goals. When most people hear the word training, they probably imagine a high-level athlete of some kind, which is not wrong, but the same mind-set can be utilized by the Average Joe or Jane as well. The major benefit of training is that it narrows your focus to one or a few measurable goals: you want to get faster, leaner, stronger. Another benefit is it will make you start to think about other factors that affect your performance, factors like sleep, nutrition, and recovery. When you are serious about training, you will think twice about late nights out and those extra cheat meals because they are not part of the plan. The easiest way to keep track of all these things is a training journal, this can be as simple as a notebook or full-on Excel spreadsheet. A training journal provides the data you need to determine if you are progressing towards your goals and gives you the ability to tweak specific aspects of your training when necessary. Proper training is like the GPS to your goals; you might be able to get there without it, but it might take you way longer than expected.


And last but not least, “ritual.” A ritual is defined as “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a precise manner.”[3] For purposes of our discussion, I would say a ritual is something you do because it provides some benefit, real or imagined. Do you swear by cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach? Do you believe in anabolic windows and loading your creatine with grape juice, of course? Do you have a magic exercise or number of reps and sets? If so, you might be caught up in ritual; however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Serge Nubret, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, stop reading and go look him up, reportedly did 2,000 sit ups every day and attributed his trim waist and overall health to this practice, even though we all know that abs are built in the kitchen. Herschel Walker, whatever you think of him of these days, famously did at least 1,000 pushups every day. Now, is there any physiological evidence that thousands of reps are better than a more traditional rep scheme, 3×10-12? No, at least none that I could find. However, the real, more interesting question is: Is there a psychological benefit, a placebo effect? There must be, otherwise why would we do it? Or maybe it is the idea that you are working harder than the other guy? Moreover, is that psychological benefit worth the risk of injury? Logically, the answer should be no because an injury can totally derail your progress.

So where does that leave us? Exercise is great and should be something everyone strives to include in their lives, whatever form it takes. If you identify some fitness-related goals, developing and adhering to a training regime is probably your best bet to actually achieve those goals. And rituals, as long as they are not harmful, can give you the psychological boost to get up and get moving, even on those days when you might not want to.


[1] Dictionary, s.v. “exercise,” accessed January 28, 2021,

[2] Dictionary, s.v. “training,” accessed January 28, 2021,

[3] Dictionary, s.v. “ritual,” accessed January 28, 2021,

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