Exercise vs. Fitness – Which is right for you?

I’ve always encouraged our coaches to try different exercise programs and drop into other gyms while they travel. Being in classes and getting coached is a great way to hone our skills and learn a thing or two. I also encourage other gym owners to borrow from other exercise programs to help build their own.


I’ve noticed quite a few things, but one in particular has stuck out as a big shift in the group exercise space: Branding. Everything has a “hook” or a cool name. I get it. When I teach marketing to other gym owners, I try to emphasize that they have about 3 seconds – the average amount of time you spend on an Instagram post – to convey  your message. So, it only stands to reason that group exercise classes like Lean Fit, Shred30, ToneUp Yoga, sweat, Spin Fit, Sculpt, Shock, Fusion, RowFit, Grit, Barre Attack, Core Blast/Smash/Crush/Flow/Obliterate (basically just put “Core” before anything in the Thesaurus and you’ve got a packed house), and Circuit Express all exist.

I literally just pulled all of these names out of thin air. Apologies if any of them are real.

But, I get it. In an attention economy, you’re probably not going to join my new forthcoming group exercise class that’s about to take the world by storm. Still workshopping the branding, but I’m open to suggestions:

“Matt’s Constantly-Varied Functional Training Class That Borrows From Strength and Conditioning’s Best Practices Using Compound Strength Training Movements, Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Interval Training, Gymnastics, and Mobility Training in a Coached, Mechanics-Focused, Movement-Centric Environment”

Maybe I’ll just call it “Butts & Guts.”

Exercise and Fitness

As I’ve dug more into this new wave of branded group exercise, I’ve whittled things down into two main categories: Exercise and Fitness. Depending upon where you are now and what your goals are, one environment may be better suited to your long-term needs.


I often classify Exercise as a “mindless sweat.” Not mindless in a negative sense. Sometimes mindlessness is important. It’s a great way to clear your head after a long day at work. Sometimes you don’t want to really think about a safe or optimal squat or press position. Sometimes you want someone to crank up the Beyonce and the thermostat. Here are some features of exercise:

  • Dark room with very loud music
  • Focus on calories burned during the session
  • Focus on ancillary data like heart rate
  • Little to no discussion of nutrition
  • Little to no discussion of recovery and mobility strategies outside of the gym
  • Lots of cheerleading, minimal movement correction
  • Instructors rarely available outside of the class itself
  • Little to no opportunities for individualized assistance

There are some people for whom group exercise is a great fit. And, you don’t even necessarily need to stay in the “exercise” group forever. There’s a fluidity between the two that will ensure long-term adoption.

  • Starting out generally fit with little to no orthopedic issues
  • Do not have a goal of losing significant amounts of body fat
  • Do not necessarily enjoy learning new or increasingly complex movements
  • You use exercise as more of a meditative process than a physiological change


Fitness, on the other hand, can be more aptly defined by relationship. “Instructors” prefer the designation of “Coach” because it denotes a long-term relationship with their athletes. It often times means that they will be there in a supportive role, but will also give you a course correction if necessary. Aside from relationships, here are some other key features of Fitness:

  • Big, bright, open space with more room for movement and coaching. You’ll be able to hear your coach.
  • Calorie discussions are centered around the time outside the gym (where the vast majority of them are burned)
  • Data, like heart rate, is used on an individual basis avoiding the potential dangers of giving broad group recommendations for such individualized data points.
  • Nutrition is the basis of all physical pursuits and discussed regularly
  • Tools and education are paramount to time in and out of the gym
  • Movement pattern correction is at the forefront – with a focus on safe patterns in and out of the gym
  • Coaches will email, text, or call you outside of their classes to provide additional supports
  • Coaches give individualized recommendations for corrective exercises, recovery suggestions, and nutrition

Just as Exercise may not be right for everyone, Fitness is also not everyone’s cup of tea. In a nutshell, Fitness is comprehensive and pervasive. Executed optimally, Fitness will require you to do some challenging work for the long-haul. Fitness assumes that you’ll be actively using your body well into retirement and will ask you to invest in that future today. It will be hard and likely uncomfortable. Fitness is a good fit if:

  • You’ve tried a lot of different things, but nothing’s stuck
  • You have a goal of losing significant body fat and/or don’t have a large baseline of fitness
  • You want to learn how your body works and how to move it safely
  • You value relationships and interaction

With which option do you identify most? Can you recognize times when you’ve been in one camp or the other? Has it changed over time?

To dive deeper into finding a good workout option, check out our “What Type of Gym is Right for You?” Quiz