Exercise or Recreation? Why You Need to Know the Difference

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If you’re new around here, there’s a chance your fitness routine might include more recreation than actual exercise. 

When our founder, Matt Hedman first read Ken Hutchins’ “Exercise vs. Recreation” article in 1996 his paradigm of exercise was forever changed.  

These principles of exercise vastly improved his quality of life and chances are they will for you too.

 

Exercise Vs. Recreation

Exercise is an activity that is performed to improve the body physically – increase strength, endurance, cardiovascular efficiency, help with fat loss, preserve or increase bone density and lean muscle tissue, etc.

Recreation refers to things that we do for fun and enjoyment which are psychological purposes.

In his essay on the subject, Ken identified 5 key differences between what appropriately qualifies as “Exercise” and what qualifies as “Recreation”:

 

Exercise is Logical. Recreation is Instinctive.

Recreation is whatever you feel is fun for you whereas proper exercise results from a logical approach of looking at how to efficiently, effectively, and safely load the muscle and joint functions of the human body.

The principles of Exercise are Universal. Recreation is Personal.

The muscle and joint functions of the human body are essentially the same for everybody, so the requirements for effectively loading the muscles to provide effective exercise is universal. Recreation, on the other hand, is personal. What your neighbor likes to do for fun may be very different from what you enjoy.

In a sense, effective exercise is the same for everybody. We make exercise available for everybody too- try Virtual Personal Training.

Exercise has General transfer to other activities. Recreation is Specific.

The benefits of exercise - stronger muscles, more endurance, better cardiovascular efficiency, etc.- will enhance your ability to perform any physical task like running a race or carrying groceries from your car to your kitchen. Recreational skills are specific to that activity itself, and the motor skills learned from one task don’t transfer well to other activities. For example, learning the skill of swinging a golf club will do little to enhance your bowling game.

The purpose of Exercise is Physical. The purposes of Recreation are Mental.

The fundamental purpose for exercise is to improve the body physically. Recreation is for fun, leisure, relaxation, etc. (i.e. mental and psychological reasons).

Proper Exercise is Not Fun. Recreation is Fun.

Recreation had better be enjoyable for you – that’s the whole reason for doing it! Exercise is all about loading the muscles of your body in a demanding manner, and that is not fun when you’re doing it effectively. How much fun is that last, impossible repetition on the leg press? The results and benefits of exercise are certainly fun, but if the process of exercising is fun, chances are it’s not challenging enough for the muscles to qualify as meaningful exercise. Get started with Personal Training.

What Now?

Now that you know the difference between exercise and recreation, how does this information shape the way you exercise?

Only certain versions of strength training (including slow-motion strength training) qualify as “exercise.” And it’s not useful to consider other activities as “exercise.” That doesn’t mean other activities are “bad.” It just means they’re not useful for exercise.

Significant problems often occur when people mistakenly confuse and mix exercise with recreation. 

For example, Matt Hedman used to play a lot of basketball both because it was fun and also because he thought it was good exercise. Now, we can see that compared to proper strength training, basketball provides haphazard, inefficient, and often low intensity muscular loading.

 

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Also, the high-force pounding the joints experienced from thousands of hours of running and jumping resulted in him starting to feel the effects of osteoarthritis in his knees at age 23. Read more about his story.

Instead of an improved body, basketball had given him the exact opposite result as far as his prematurely worn out knees were concerned.

He would’ve been better off if he’d separated exercise and recreation, stimulating change in his body from proper strength training, and only played basketball to the degree that it was fun for him.

When Matt became convinced of Ken’s ideas on the subject and quit all the non-strength training activities he’d previously considered to be “exercise,” he didn’t get stronger or weaker, and he didn’t get leaner or fatter after ceasing those activities. 

The only difference was his knees started feeling better after eliminating the pounding they were taking from the jogging and other similar things he’d been doing. 

Exercise for him now is safer and more effective, and the things he does for recreation are more fun because he does them for fun and not because he feels like he needs to do them for exercise.



Exercise to Improve Your Body

Our recommendation is to perform sensible strength training for exercise to improve your body physically, and then make great use of your fitter body to enjoy all of the other activities you like to do for recreation – whatever they may be, including swimming, basketball, running a marathon, badminton, etc.

If you mix exercise and recreation, exercise is less effective as well as more dangerous, and recreation is less enjoyable. 

Keep them separate, and you’ll be better off.



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