Set Theory and Exercise

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I’m interested in helping people to understand language so that they may take better command of their lives. I see evidence supporting this observation every day. Because we are careless with the terms we use to describe life and the things we do, we get less than accurate results. I believe we need to look at the language of exercise as precisely as we do the language of mathematics and science.

For example, let’s look at two words that get thrown around a lot with regards to fitness and getting in shape, exercise and training. For example, is all training exercise and when we exercise, are we also at the same time training? These two words when grouped into sets define categories where one set of activities represent exercise, the other training. By applying this logic to the definitions we can show that although these two concepts overlap there are distinct and discrete areas where exercise and training do not coincide. I know this sounds like some heavy shit but it’s essential for anyone who wants to understand how to make effective and lasting change.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines exercise as: … 2a.) regular or repeated use of a faculty or bodily organ, 2b.) bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness, 3.) something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill

Webster’s defines train as: 1a.) to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient 1b.) to form by instruction, discipline, or drill, 2.) to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill

So we can take exercise to mean: regular and repeated bodily exertion, performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, display or maintain fitness, a specific capability or skill.

Likewise, we can define training as: teaching, forming, preparing, directing or drilling so as to make fit, qualified, proficient, instructed, disciplined, prepared, capable or skilled.

The first thing that jumps out (and this is where the diagrams overlap) is the mention of the acquisition of skill. Both exercise and training claim to result in the practitioner acquiring some form of skill. That’s great news because time spent in the gym should add up to something over time. Acquiring and improving our skills means we will have something to show for all of our effort even if not visible on the scale or in the mirror. However, that’s what bothers me most about the idea of exercise. It claims to imbue us with skill although it doesn’t really tell us how or why. Maybe we will get better/loose weight/get stronger if we simply practice???


Let’s dive into this a bit further.

Exercise says you have to engage in regular and repetitive bodily exertion and that doing so will lead to the development of improvements in fitness and skill. The problem here is that the term is nonspecific on how this will be done. Additionally, it’s this discrepancy I believe leads to problems and ultimately injury. I always look at learning how to master your self (i.e. your body in this case) as analogous to learning a musical instrument. Yes there exists a tiny percent of the population who can self teach themselves how to play but the overwhelming majority learn and progress faster with some form of instruction. This is why one must train. Training teaches, forms, prepares and directs us so we may become fit, qualified, proficient, capable and skilled. How does this happen? Well, you need to seek out someone who knows what they are doing, talking about or professing. That person or institution can form, prepare and direct. Look at any reputable school or college and you will see training at work. If the program is well designed the student will emerge capable and skilled. This won’t happen by accident or just through the osmosis of showing up. Teacher prepare their students so they will not only have the ability to pass the test but to then leave the class with the qualifications to apply the knowledge in the real world.

I know this seems like a minor and obvious point but the difference between exercise and training leads to confusion and poor results. When people say, they need exercise, it usually means they have not moved their body for a few days and feel the need to get their heart rate up and sweat a bit. That’s all fine and good but only works for a time. In high school, we had to run to lacrosse practice held at a field a few miles from the school. This activity could definitely be tossed into the proverbial exercise bucket. No one ever instructed us on how to run. The coaches just said be at the field by 3:30pm. As a result I developed persistent knee pain and shin splints. This was in the days before sports trainers attended to high school athletes so either you got over the pain or you quit. Survival of the fittest as if being thrown to the lions. Only decades later after I took a seminar on running did I learn the proper technique and mechanics required to run without causing damage.

Have I made my point? Exercise is the slow road to understanding fraught with pitfalls and lessons learned the hard way. Training, by its nature, aims to accomplish improvements and developments by following a specified path of instruction. I encourage you to find the path and stay on it. May you grow and improve into your old age.