Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Performance vs Training

by Mark Rippetoe | December 29, 2016

working the dumbbell rack

What do you do when you go to the gym? Do you load the bench press or the leg press machine and work up to a heavy weight, just to see how much you can do today? Or start at the light end of the dumbbell rack and go up as heavy as you can, blasting your “pipes”? If you do, you're “performing” instead of training.

A Performance is a physical effort designed to demonstrate your ability that day. Every Sunday, the guys who work for the NFL perform for the fans, in attempt to beat the guys on the other side of the line. Every four years, Olympic athletes perform in the Games, in an attempt to beat the best in the world in their sport. The difference between them and you is more than just genetics: athletes train for their performances, and you just hope something improved – if you have even given any thought to improvement.

If you don't plan your workouts – if you don't train – you're not going to beat anybody.

  • Training is preparation for a physical performance. It is planned in advance to produce a specific physical adaptation for a specific purpose at a specific time. That time may be the Olympics in 2016, or it may be the whole football season – but you know when it is, and you know what you have to do to win. So you train for it.
  • Training means that you have arranged your workouts to improve the things about your physical capacity that are inadequate now, and that you can improve over time. It will always involve getting stronger, no matter what the sport, because strength is the most basic athletic attribute. Even marathoners perform better if they're stronger.
  • Training will also involve some conditioning that prepares the athlete for the demands of the sport. Running backs, shot putters, and marathoners have different conditioning and performance requirements, so their training will be different. But both will have prepared for their performances well in advance of Game Day, keeping the specifics of Game Day in mind as they train. Their plans are based on the performance they need to win, and performances are saved for Game Day, when it really counts.

A performance is the test. Training is studying for the test. Your problem may be that you haven't decided which class you're going to take, so you haven't thought about how to study for it. May I suggest that Strength would be a good class to enroll in first, because strength benefits quite literally everything – your physique, your speed, your endurance, and your toughness.

You may well never aspire to athlete-status. You may just be interested in looking better and staying healthy. Still, give some thought to the way your gym time is spent, and you won't have to just hope you're getting better. You'll know, because you trained for it.

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