Today we’re talking fitness lingo!
I recently had a blog follower reach out to me with the following email:
“Hi Athena! I love your blog and the workouts you share. I often look to online fitness trainers like yourself for inspiration in the gym, but sometimes I get confused with all the different terminology out there. There’s AMRAP, circuits, ladders, etc. Do you have any resources or links that outline some of the basics to help people like myself feel more comfortable? Essentially I’m looking for a glossary of fitness terms to reference when I’m unsure what a workout is telling me to do. That would be SO helpful. Thank you!”
This gal is so right. There should be some universal guide out there, huh? There are a lot of words and abbreviations that get thrown around in the fitness industry, and it’s hard to keep track of them all!
For example, if I told you to do 10 reps of a DB bench press, 10 reps of a KB SA KB OH press, and 10 reps of BW jump squats for AMRAP with 3 burpees EMOM, would you know what to do?
Maybe not, and that’s okay! I don’t want unfamiliar vocab to deter anyone from their workout, so I decided to compile a list of what I think are some of the most essential fitness terms to have an understanding of in one place. Below, you’ll get both explanations and examples so that you feel confident going into your workouts.
If you are more interested in the quick version, make sure to at least scroll down to the bottom of this post. I put together a little downloadable one pager PDF of the short version of this blog post for you guys to print and have handy if need be. I don’t want you guys to miss it!
Fifty Fitness Terms Defined
Accessory movements are exercises designed to supplement the main movement during the workout. Accessory movements are typically performed after the main movement, and they are often times done in a higher rep range. For example, I find that good mornings and glute ham raises are great accessory movements to help with my deadlift performance.
Accumulation workouts are done by starting with just one exercise for reps or for time. In the second round, another exercise is added, and you’ll do the first exercise followed by the new one. In the third round, another new exercise is added, and you’ll do the first exercise, the second, and then add on the third. You will continue adding a new exercise in each round until you’ve hit a certain time or you’ve gone through all the exercises in the accumulation workout.
- Round 1: 1 minute of jump rope
- Round 2: 1 minute of jump rope, 10 pushups
- Round 3: 1 minute of jump rope, 10 pushups, 10 squats
- Round 4: 1 minute of jump rope, 10 pushups, 10 squats, 10 sit ups
Aerobic exercise implies the presence of oxygen. It is exercise that requires the delivery of oxygenated blood by the heart to the muscles at work. Common examples of aerobic exercise are distance running, distance cycling, or other activities that you can sustain for more than a few minutes.
AMRAP stands for as many rounds as possible. For example, a circuit for AMRAP in ten minutes would be how many times you can do all the exercises in the circuit, one after another, in the ten minutes prescribed. You may also see this one written as AMAP for as many as possible (reps) or ALAP for as long as possible (time), depending on the workout.
Anaerobic exercise implies the lack of oxygen. It is exercise where the muscles demand so much oxygen that the body can’t replenish it quickly enough. Common examples of anaerobic exercise are sprinting, heavy strength training, or other activities that cannot be sustained for long periods of time.
Bilateral exercises are exercises that work both sides of your body at the same time. For example, barbell chest presses and barbell squats are both bilateral exercises.
A circuit is a series of exercises performed one after the other with little to no rest in between. Each exercise is done for time or for a prescribed number of reps. Once you finish the last exercise in the series, you will go back to the beginning and start over. Repeat in the same pattern for the prescribed number of rounds or until you’ve hit a prescribed amount of time on the clock.
A compound movement is any exercise that engages two or more muscle groups at the same time. For example, when you perform a squat to overhead press, a walking lunge with an oblique twist, or a deadlift to a row, you are performing a compound movement.
Concentric movement is a type of muscle activation that increases tension on a muscle as it shortens. It’s known as the positive portion of a movement, and it occurs when you move the resistance away from the plane of gravity. For example, when you curl a weight toward you during a biceps curl, pull yourself up to a chin up bar, or stand up from the bottom of a squat, you are working concentrically.
Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome
Delayed onset muscle syndrome, also known as DOMS, is just a fancy term for muscle soreness that shows up a day or two later rather than immediately after a workout.
Drop set workouts are done by performing a certain exercise at a heavier load to start and then dropping/reducing the weight and finishing that exercise by performing reps until failure. Typically these are done with more accessory type exercises. For example, in a 1×8 drop set of single arm rows, you would perform 8 reps of the row with a heavy weight before dropping down to a lighter weight and performing reps to fatigue.
A dynamic warmup prepares the body for movement and the workout. The series of movements in the warmup increase your heart rate, elevate your body temperature, and make sure your muscles ready to work. For a well-rounded dynamic warmup, I recommend a combination of soft tissue work, breathing, and dynamic stretching for anywhere between 5-15 minutes.
Eccentric movement is a type of muscle activation that increases tension on a muscle as it lengthens. It’s known as the negative portion of a movement, and it occurs when you oppose the resistance in its movement toward the gravity plane. For example, when you lower the weight during a biceps curl, lower yourself down from the chin-up bar, or lower yourself in a squat, you are working eccentrically.
EMOM stands for every minute on the minute. In this type of workout, you will perform an exercise at the start of every minute and rest in whatever time is left over. For example, an EMOM workout might have you completing 10 kettlebell swings and 10 wall balls at the beginning of minute one. Once you finish both of these exercises, you would rest until minute two arrives. You may also see EMOM style work thrown into circuits. For example, you may have a circuit of moves but you interrupt it EMOM to complete 5 pushups.
Failure is when you reach a point during an exercise where your muscle feels so fatigued that you cannot perform any additional repetitions with correct form.
Finishers are designed to be short bouts of high intensity exercise at the end of a strength workout to give you a little extra metabolic burn. These should be no longer than 5-10 minutes. For example, one of my favorite finishers is 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for five minutes of the following kettlebell complex: clean > squat > swing.
The number of times an exercise or training session is performed per week. For example, I try to lift 2-3 times a week, so my frequency of strength training is 2-3 sessions.
High Intensity Interval Training
Otherwise known as HIIT, high intensity interval training is a form of interval training. It requires repeated bouts of short exercise intervals intermingled with periods of lower intensity intervals of active recovery. The main difference between the two is the intensity in which the work intervals are performed. With HIIT, you will go all out during your work intervals, so the work periods are often shorter than they might be during regular interval training. HIIT will have you working in the upper percentage of your target heart rate zone, or around a 9 on the perceived exertion scale.
Exercises that fall into the hinge movement pattern are those that utilize a lot of extension, or more hip bend with less knee bend. Some people refer to hinge exercises as lower body pull movements because they rely primarily on the posterior (back) muscles of the lower body to pull a load toward you. Sample hinge exercises include deadlift variations (kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, trap bar), glute bridge variations (bodyweight, stability ball, barbell), and hip thrusts.
Intensity refers to how much work is being performed or how much effort is required to perform an activity or exercise.
Interval training involves alternating high intensity exercise with recovery periods for a certain length of time. Unlike staying at the same pace or effort during steady state cardio, you work at a high exertion rate immediately followed by lower-intensity activity or rest. With regular interval training, you work hard during the work intervals, but you don’t go all out like in HIIT. On the scale of perceived exertion, the intensity would fall around a 7-8 out of 10 and below 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Isolation movements, unlike a main movement or compound movement, work a single muscle group in isolation from the rest of the body. For example, a bicep curl is a good example of an isolation movement because the majority of the load is on the bicep as opposed to a squat where the load is distributed across the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, etc.
Isometrics are exercises that do not cause any joint movement, unlike concentric or eccentric. They are done in static positions instead of moving through a certain range of motion. For example, holding a plank, a glute bridge, or a wall sit would all be considered isometric work.
Ladder workouts are workouts where you add to or subtract from the number of repetitions during each round. For example, say you start with five pushups. If you go up the ladder, you will add a rep during each round, so in round two you would do six pushups, round three seven pushups, etc. If you go down the ladder, you will subtract reps. You can do ladders in a superset format or circuit format, and it doesn’t always have to be increasing or decreasing by one. Get creative!
Load refers to the amount of resistance placed on the body during an exercise. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, plates, resistance bands, etc. are all ways you can add load.
Main movements are usually the most important exercise in a training program and are therefore typically done first. Main movements are most often a variation of one of the big three: squat, bench press, or deadlift, and they are generally performed bilaterally. The main movement is done using the heaviest load with a lower number of repetitions per set.
The term max refers to the maximum weight you can do for one repetition of an exercise.
Metabolic conditioning, also known as MetCon, is a term often confused with HIIT because it is also a high intensity training method. Metabolic workouts are fast paced and require a high exertion rate, but they come with very short recovery intervals. The exercises chosen are compound movements that utilize large muscle groups so you get the most bang for your buck (aka no bicep curls or triceps kickbacks). Metabolic workouts often also involve both cardio and strength based exercises at the same time: think kettlebell swings, snatches, push presses, and more.
Personal record is often referred to as a PR. When someone says they hit a PR, it means they just accomplished their best race time, lifted their heaviest weight, or otherwise topped their previous best effort in an activity.
Progressions refer to the process of increasing the intensity, duration, frequency, or amount of exercise as the body adapts to a given activity pattern. Progressions and variety can also come in the form of what equipment is being used, volume, load, variations, rest, tempo, and range of motion.
Pulling describes movement toward the center of the body during the eccentric contraction of the target muscle. For example, a row is an example of a pulling movement.
Pushing describes movement that is done away from the center of the body during the concentric contraction of the target muscle. For example, a press is an example of a pushing movement.
Pyramid workouts are very similar to both accumulations and ladders and can often involve both concepts. In a typical pyramid workout, you will increase and decrease the reps for each exercise. For example, perhaps you do 2, 4, 6, and 8 reps of a certain exercise to go up the pyramid, and then you’ll do 8, 6, 4, 2 to go down the pyramid.
Range of Motion
Range of motion refers to the mobility of a joint, or how far a joint can move during exercise. Muscle strength and flexibility are the key components to achieving a full range of motion. For example, your range of motion in a squat may refer to how much depth you are able to get. Active range of motion is when someone is working on their own flexibility, and passive range of motion is when someone else is moving a part of your body for you. For example, someone pushing your leg toward you while you lie flat on your back would be considered passive range of motion.
Rate of Perceived Exertion
The rate of perceived exertion, also known as RPE, refers to a way to measure the intensity level of your activity. It’s based on a personal scale of how hard you feel like your body is working. This is a subjective measure on a scale of 6-20, 6 being no exertion at all, and 20 being maximum exertion.
Re-rack is a phrase used in the gym that refers to putting your weights, plates, and other equipment back after using it.
Repetitions, or reps, refer to the number of times an exercise is to be performed before resting or moving on to another exercise. One repetition is the equivalent to one complete movement of an exercise. For example, one rep of a squat involves coming to your maximum depth and then coming all the way out of it.
Rest refers to the time between sets of an exercise that allow for proper muscle recovery before moving on to the next set.
A set is a grouping of consecutive reps performed without resting. Sets refer to the number of times you’ll perform the reps. For example, if 8 reps are to be performed in three different sets, it would be written 3×8. Usually after one set is complete, you’ll take a rest interval before beginning another set.
Splits describe how you will split up the movements on different days of your training program. For example, in a full body split, your workout will utilize the muscle groups of the entire body during every workout. If programming based on an upper/lower split, you will work your upper body one day and your lower body another. If programming based on push/pull/lower body, you would work your push muscles one day, your pull muscles another day, and then your squat and hinge movements would come in for the third day. Finally, body part splits refer to working specific body parts on certain days, ie chest and shoulders.
Exercises that fall into the squat movement pattern are those that utilize a lot of flexion, or hip and knee bend. Some people refer to these as lower body push movements, but basically your squat exercises will rely primarily on the anterior (front) muscles of the lower body to push a load away from you. Sample flexion exercises include bodyweight squats, goblet squats, sumo squats, dumbbell front squats, barbell front squats, barbell back squats, box to squat, etc.
Static stretches are those stretches held in a still position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretches are typically done at the end of a workout, while dynamic stretches are more appropriate for the warmup.
Straight sets involve doing one exercise for the prescribed number of reps, resting, and then completing all reps for the second set of the same exercise, etc. For example, in a straight set of barbell bench presses 5×6, I would do 6 presses, five different times, all in a row.
A supserset involves doing two exercises in a row with little to no rest in between. For example, a set of pushups followed immediately by a set of lateral pulldowns would be considered a superset.
Tabata is a style of high intensity interval training that is done for four minutes. The intervals are done in a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off format, eight times through. A true Tabata is when you do the same exercise for all eight intervals that make up the entire four minutes. Tabata intervals can also be done in the same pattern, but just alternating between two or more exercises.
Tempo refers to how slowly or quickly you perform an exercise. Aside from regular reps, some tempo training could include slowing down either the concentric or eccentric part of the exercise on purpose, adding pulses, or adding pauses.
A triset involves doing three exercises in a row with little to no rest in between. For example, a set of lunges, overhead presses, and side bends would be considered a triset. Trisets can be considered circuits, but circuits are not always trisets.
Unilateral movements are exercises that work one side of your body at a time. For example, a single leg deadlift, a single arm row, or a split squat are all considered unilateral exercises.
Volume refers to the number of sets and reps prescribed in a workout. For example, if a circuit workout calls for 10 reps of each move for 4 sets, the volume would be 4×10.
Work in is a phrase that is often used in the weight room. It refers to when someone else is using a machine or piece of equipment that you would also like to use. It’s proper etiquette to ask someone, “can I work in?” before using the machine yourself.
Fitness Acronym Quick Reference Guide
1RM: One rep max
ALAP: As long as possible
AMAP: As many as possible
AMRAP: As many rounds as possible
CT: Circuit training
DOMS: Delayed onset muscle syndrome
EMOM: Every minute on the minute
HIIT: High intensity interval training
METCON: Metabolic conditioning
PR: Personal record
R/L: Right and left side
ROM: Range of motion
RPE: Rate of perceived exertion
SA: Single arm
SL: Single leg
TUT: Time under tension
WOD: Workout of the day
Again, I hope this glossary helps simplify things for you and gives you some increased confidence during future workouts! The last thing I want is anyone to feel stressed in the weight room about vocab of all things. Once you start seeing and using these phrases a few times, they’ll become second nature, I promise. 🙂
Want the downloadable version?
Because I know that many of you like to have a printable of these types of things, I’ve created a one page, downloadable PDF for you to use as a quick reference sheet. Consider it the short version of the info in this blog post. Just enter your name and email below, and I’ll send it right to your inbox!