Sport isn't exercise.

October 10, 2023
The best way to resolve muscle and joint pain, city of London, St.Pauls private personal training

Find out why it's important to understand the difference between sport and exercise. Just playing sports might not be enough to keep you pain-free.

So what is the difference between sport and exercise

Exercise is something that we associate with improving our quality of life. Improving our strength, joint health, our cardiovascular health and the way we move and feel day to day.

We are encouraged to participate in PE at school (Physical Exercise classes in UK terms). PE consists largely of learning how to play and get better at netball, football, rugby, tennis, gymnastics, dance, rounders, athletics, swimming to name a few. We commonly call these sports.

Where the difference lies.

We are taught that sport is exercise. Let’s look at what the oxford dictionary definition says:

Exercise – ‘a set of movements or activities that you do to stay healthy or develop a skill’

Sport – activity that you do for pleasure and that needs physical effort or skill, usually done in a special area and according to fixed rules.

Sport teaches many things – discipline, working as a team, learning skills, speed, endurance and power. Of course it can increase fitness. Fitness being the ability to perform a specific task. Of course it can be fun and enjoyable for many.

Let it be said that we absolutely love sport.  


What sport doesn’t do much of, is adapt for everyone’s capabilities.

Sport has fixed rules in the way the game is carried out, set movement, set technique and set skills to acquire. It often challenges your body due to its athletic demands and could potentially force your body through ranges that you can’t control yet.

For example, barbell squats or overhead snatches in Crossfit – For the rep to count or to be performed ‘correctly’ there is a specific range that must be met. If your body does not have the strength or structural capability you will end up placing unwanted demand on joints and muscles that are not prepared for the task.

The outcome could potentially result in an injury.

A lot of skill based barbell training can push you to work in ranges in which you may not have the capability to control due to the speed at which the bar has to move. If you start training, without understanding the demands, or limitations of your own body, this could potentially create a path for injury.

Exercise (resistance training), however, can be adapted for each and every body. A good strength training practitioner or a personal trainer that has invested in their education and understands how to apply exercise to your body and will take the time to understand:

How Your joints move.

Your available range of motion.

Your current levels of strength.

Your specific muscular weaknesses.

Each exercise in the programme will be specifically designed for your body enabling you to achieve your goal.

This means you can get stronger safely, more efficiently and train in a range you have the ability to contract muscle. This enables you to prevent injury or if you do have an injury, it enables you to rehab it.

With custom-fit exercise (resistance training) you can maximise output, raise the tolerance of forces on your joints appropriately and strengthen muscles to be able to perform in sport or even to deal with daily stresses on your body. This can go from one extreme to another.

For example:

Sitting down at a desk all day could have similar detrimental effects as pushing yourself through extreme ranges in sports if your body does not have the required strength!

So what is the fix?

Start strength training appropriately or if you don’t know how to, then hire a personal trainer.

Exercise should fit your needs.

Sport makes you fit its needs.

And I hear you.

“But sport has made me fitter, more flexible and stronger. It has only improved the quality of my life’’.

And that may be the case for you, may be that your body can tolerate the demands you are placing on it at the moment.

Or maybe there is some damage being done that cannot be seen or be aware of.

Ever wondered why picking a pen off the floor puts your back into spasm?

Ultimately we cannot see inside our bodies to know if there is damage being done.

What we can do is get stronger with appropriate exercise, which will enable us to play sport for longer if we want to and prevent an unwanted injury.  

We aren’t saying don’t take part in sport at all. It’s fun, it has a sense of community, it’s challenging and for me it's something i hope to do for as long as I am able.

However, take the time to understand the needs of your body and the demand sport can place on it, so you can enjoy it, injury-free.

If you want to get stronger, fitter, and improve your mobility, resistance training can do all of that safely.

If you want to get in touch to know more or book in for a consultation then please get in touch:  

Greg Cornthwaite | Strength House Co-Founder