"Two great principles of strength and conditioning: everything works; everything works, but only for so long." –Dan John
Although the words are interchanged quite a bit, training and working out (exercise) are not the same; in fact they are completely different, and your long-term success is absolutely dependent on an understanding of the difference between the two words.
Difference #1: Working out motivates. Training inspires.
Inspiration acts as a magnetic and irresistible feeling that PULLS you in a definite direction. It takes no work as it is the core of who you are. Inspired athletes don't care about being motivated for a workout because it isn't motivation that pushes them it is inspiration that pulls them like a gravitational force.
Motivation takes serious work. We rely on our motivation to PUSH us to do things we feel like we should or need to do. Some days we feel motivated to work out other times we don't at all. This is why athletes who solely rely on motivation to work out have peaks and valleys in effort and outcomes. If you rely on motivation you will struggle long-term. Motivation depends on what is directly ahead of you today and if you so happen to lack motivation today that heavy set of back squats will be a struggle.
Motivation will fail you, inspiration will not. Working-out relies on the motivation you have today while training relies on the inspiration that pulls you to be more.
Difference #2: The success of workouts are measured by how you feel afterwards. The success of training is statistically measureable over the long term and has little to do with how you feel after finishing.
Work outs are about the effects they produce today. Training can only be judged by changes over time in performance. Exercising is all about instant gratification. Training is a long-term process. Sure the instant gratification of completing a hard work-out can be fun but it doesn't give us any information about long-term improvements. Personally I know I go sweat, sacrifice and strain for one reason: to get better. I don't put in countless hours in the weight room simply hoping I will get bigger stronger or faster.
So why would you?
If you aren't constantly tracking and assessing you're guessing. Use a clipboard, a notebook, your phone, whatever. Just use something that can track what you are doing and tell you if indeed you are making progress.
Harder doesn't equal better. Better equals better and the only way you know if you are working "better" is by tracking and measuring.
Difference #3: The primary difference between working out and training is having a point.
Training involves having a program that is reflective of the specific outcomes you have. It is based on consistency, progressive overload and progresses based on qualitative and quantitative improvements. Goals are specific and dictate everything included in the program. There is always measureable feedback and there is a focused intensity and purpose to everything. Working out on the other hand, doesn't really have much of a purpose. It is based more on a need, lacks consistent intensity, can be boring and isn't measurable or progressive in nature.
If you are a football player wanting to get game ready then I hope your conditioning reflects the work to rest ratios of the game you play rather than that of a cross-country athlete. If you are doing the bench press exercise and your primary goal is to increase maximal strength I hope you aren't doing high repetition sets. If your primary goal is up-start your metabolism and maximize calorie burn I hope you are using all compound, multi-joint exercises with short rest periods.
In other words your program should be reflective of what you want to become....bigger, stronger, leaner, faster, and on and on.
I hope this is an "aha" moment for many of you who have been spinning your wheels for some time. Remember random workouts equate to random results. If you are not inspired for physical greatness then by all means continue working out as it has its merits for a large population, but if you have specific goals do not dabble, train for that purpose and become inspired for that outcome. Think big picture and watch the mental and physical transformation occur.