"Intention Matters: Why are you in the Gym?"

How often do you stop to think about what it is you are doing in the gym and why? Have you taken the time to lay out specific and realistic short and long term goals? Everything begins with the mindset one has going into the gym and whether you are exercising to improve general health and fitness and to reduce injury risk, or if you are aiming to compete several times throughout the year. Many of us may fall somewhere in the middle of this range, exercising to improve general health and wellness, while also participating in a local competition from time to time. This blog will outline the difference between working out, practicing, training and competing. We will provide insight to what we often see as Doctors of Physical Therapy in practice, as well as help fitness enthusiasts get on the right track to maximize performance and recovery.

The difference between exercise, training, practicing, and competing lies with how you approach the activity: What is your intention?

Physical Activity (Any movement using energy)→ Exercise (Physical activity performed for effect today)→ Training (Physical Activity done with the intention of working toward performance goal)

What “working out” or “exercising” often encompasses:

  • More generalized term, done for its own sake

  • Vague goals (e.g. “toning up” “getting in shape”)

  • Varied, non-specific

  • You are trying to do things like lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, stay physically active, relieve stress, improve sleep quality   

  • You may not be incorporating progressive overload or going through periodized programming


  • Revolves around achieving a specific goal or goals/performance objective in mind/preparing for something (e.g. competing in a local competition, running a marathon, improving muscular strength or power)

  • Improvements do not simply happen as a result of general exercise and movement

  • Planned exercise to produce a specific result

  • Applying the concept of progressive overload and periodization (planned, progressive, specific, objective, working weaknesses)


  • Being able to detach from results

  • Going back to the fundamentals and building on the basics

  • Taking a movement out of a workout if you cannot execute at the basic level

  • Changes in the nervous system

  • Can involve novel exercises to work on the different components of a specific movement instead of just adding more volume or increasing load

  • Typically less “fun” or “exciting”


  • TESTING your capabilities

  • You are trying to beat your PR

  • Trying to beat the scores of other athletes

  • Typically at a higher intensity

What do we see in Physical Therapy practice?

  • Tension→ discomfort→ pain (w/o adequate recovery or accessory work based on exercise volume/intensity)

  • Many fitness enthusiasts are unsure of goals and the “Why” of the exercises they are doing

  • Not prioritizing recovery (sleep, nutrition, hands-on work)

  • Over training

  • Limitations in prerequisite mobility, stability, and/or motor control to complete movements/activities

I know what my goals are, but what are some ways that I can balance my strain and optimize recovery to perform optimally and reduce injury risk?  

  • Many athletes have “seasons” where training volume/intensity is higher. Be sure to adjust appropriately by ramping up in a graded fashion, adjusting nutrition to adequately replenish calories from high workload, and tracking sleep patterns to improve readiness to train.

  • Take care of your body daily to promote faster recovery by utilizing simple, yet effective recovery techniques such as cryotherapy, foam rolling, stretching/mobility work, massage and/or active recovery with low intensity exercise like yoga or cycling.

  • Mental Health is important. Be sure you are engaging in healthy ways to deal with life stressors.

  • More is not always better. Assess how you are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally each day and adjust workout load and intensity accordingly to reduce risk for overtraining or injury.

  • Focus on quality movement. Move well before loading. Take time to practice skill work rather than competing all the time.

  • If you are experiencing pain that is not typical of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, be proactive and see a Doctor of Physical Therapy to determine the source of pain. This will also empower you to get after necessary mobility/stability work and accessory strengthening to maximize performance and reduce injury risk.

If you are looking for a great way to track daily physical strain, sleep performance, and recovery, Whoop provides real time analytics to help keep you exercising/training optimally. Check out their website for more info: https://www.whoop.com/

Ryan GodfreyComment