Today was my first day back at the gym — now, to be clear, I’ve spent 32 hours in the gym over the last week, but none of it was exercise. So today was my first day back and you know what? It was really hard.
Last week the owners of our gym had their baby and I coached most of the classes at the gym while they were gone. This was my long haul of using my American Council on Exercise (ACE) Group Fitness Instructor certification that I obtained in the spring. My husband jokes that I’m the National Guard of trainers — one weekend a month a two weeks a year, always ready to be called up in reserve. I loved every minute of coaching classes, but the days were really long — up at 4:15am, train until 10:30 (with an hour break in there where the other trainer came in), then write code (my real job) until 3:45 when I was back training until 7pm. Dinner. Sleep. Repeat. During this week I opted not to join in on the workouts, training is fairly physical and I was spent. Even though it was physical it was ‘activity’ and not ‘exercise’.
Jump back a few years, my husband and I would walk around the neighborhood after dinner—we considered this exercise, but honestly it was just activity.
Let’s look at the difference.
- Activity is all the stuff you do that is active—hiking, walking, playing sports, cleaning house.
- Exercise, on the other hand, is when you apply focused effort to strength and conditioning training.
Examples of Activity vs Exercise
Cutting down a tree takes strength, but it’s activity, not exercise to take down a tree—unless you want to cut out a section and do three sets of five reps lifting that section, and then next week take out a large section and do another sets/reps combo until you can lift out the trunk by yourself.
Going for an after dinner walk where you stop and chat with the neighbors and toss sticks in the canal and stop to instagram some seed pods is activity—unless you want to sprint between neighbors for 20 seconds, then pause to chat for 10 seconds, then keep the sprint/rest regimen up for 20 minutes. You will not be popular in your neighborhood. Infamous maybe, but not popular.
Exercise is where you apply a methodical approach to gaining strength and a focus on getting and keeping your heart rate up for a period of time. Activity is everything else. Exercise will make you better at activity, but activity won’t necessarily help you make exercise gains.
To apply it to my week: doing warm ups, demoing exercises and walking around yelling (to be heard, not because I’m a jerk) is activity, not exercise.
Why this is important
I wanted to bring this up because we often try to write off activity as exercise—we feel like we’re putting in the work, but from a sports science point of view we’re not actually getting the benefits. It’s worth looking at, how many of us have wasted hours in the gym doing ‘activity’ and calling it ‘exercise’? I know I have.