This is a post to help you understand the gym and fitness jargon. It covers a variety of health and fitness terms you will probably come across during your journey to become fitter.
Like any niche, the fitness industry has its own language.
If you’re new to training, you might be confused by some of the language used.
I don’t want you to lose heart just as you’re getting going, so I created this list to better understand the language you’ll come across.
This list might be missing a few terms, but it’ll be a good start.
Hope you find it useful.
Basic Workout Terms
These are words and phrases you’ll come across when guys are discussing how to program workouts for their training.
The number of times you perform an exercise or lift and lower a weight in one set of an exercise. So if you do 20 push-ups, that’s “20 reps.”
A group of reps. If a workout calls for 4 sets of 12 reps (4×12), you’ll perform 12 reps of the lift. That’s one set. Rest. Perform the second set of 12 reps. Rest. Perform the third set of 12. Then the fourth set
How heavy a weight is in comparison to your one-rep max (the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for a given exercise)? The heavier the weight, the more intense the lift.
There are a few ways to determine volume. The most common way is to look at how many total reps and sets are completed in a workout. So 6 sets of 15 reps would be high volume compared to 3 sets of 8 reps.
Frequency could refer to how often a movement is trained a week, how often a muscle group is trained a week, or how often a workout is performed a week. E.g., some programs call for you to work out just three times a week, while others call for you to work out every day.
How long your workout lasts. As you probably know by now, most GTW workouts are in the 16 to 24 minute range.
Density is a combination of volume and duration. A one-hour workout with 3 different lifts consisting of 3 sets of 8, plus HIIT cardio at the end is more dense than an hour-long workout with 2 different lifts consisting of 3 sets of 5, plenty of rest between sets, and no conditioning at the end.
Personal Record — the most weight you’ve ever lifted on a particular lift.
One rep max
The maximum amount of weight that you can lift for a given exercise. The easiest way to determine your 1RM is to put weight on the bar until you can’t lift it more than once.
Sets of two reps.
Sets of three reps.
The point in an exercise when your muscles are so fatigued that you can’t perform any more reps with proper form.
GTW workouts insist on proper form always. This is the safest way to train.
As many reps as possible. It’s the same as “going to failure.”
Reps that are performed past failure with the assistance of a spotter. For example, let’s say you have a set of pull ups to do.
Let’s say by yourself, you can do about 5 reps. When your spotter sees that you’re struggling, he’ll grab your feet and help you perform another couple of reps. He’s not doing all the work for you. He’s just lifting you up enough to clear the ‘sticking point’.
These last two reps are what we call ‘forced reps’.
The best spotters hardly do anything. They ‘trick’ you into thinking they are helping, but in fact, your muscles take over and you can perform the extra two reps.
Mind over matter mate!
Over-training can occur when you don’t give yourself enough time to recover between training sessions. This often happens when people focus on one body part over another. For example, some young trainers want to focus on building their biceps. So they train them 3 or 4 days in a row.
With such exertion on one muscle, their biceps are in a constant state of soreness and can lead to injury. In extreme cases, the muscle fibres can actually die.
This is why GTW focuses on intelligent split workout routines which give all your muscles sufficient time to recover before your next workout.
This is when you perform back-to-back exercises without rest in between. This usually consists of 3 to 5 different exercises. But there could be more. There is no fixed amount.
Full Body Training
Full body training or Total body training consists of training the entire body in one workout.
This is often how someone will begin training. A beginner might perform a full-body workout on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the first few weeks.
And then move to Split Training where he’ll train his upper body on Mondays and Thursdays, and lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays. With Wednesdays and the weekend for rest and recovery.
Body Part Training
More experienced trainers often focus on individual parts of their body. So will train one or two of those parts in isolation apart from the rest of the body in a body part split program.
With this kind of routine, you might train five days a week with Mondays as Leg day, Tuesdays as Back day. Then Wednesdays as Delts day. Then Thursdays as Pecs day. And Fridays as Biceps and Triceps day.
As mentioned above, with split training, instead of training the entire body in a single workout, you’ll focus on one major section or movement.
Common split routines could also be for strength versus endurance.
You could also split your routines into pushing and pulling.
You could concentrate on squats and deadlifts on one day. Then two upper-body days concentrating on shoulder press, bench press and dips. Then upper body pulling days, with pull-ups, chin-ups and curls.
I’m a firm believer in mixing up your training routines for a number of reasons, especially to keep your workouts interesting.
To better understand what’s happening in your body when you get stronger, you should have an understanding of physiology and how muscles increase in size and strength.
Aerobic Energy System
The chemical and metabolic pathways within cells rely on oxygen to create ATP. The aerobic energy system depends upon the presence of oxygen and uses fatty acids as well as the products of glycolysis to create ATP. Aerobic energy systems provide ATP at a much slower rate than anaerobic energy systems. Slow-twitch muscle fibres rely primarily on aerobic energy systems.
Anaerobic Energy System
The chemical and metabolic pathways within cells don’t rely on oxygen to create ATP. The recycling of stored ATP by creatine and glycolysis are both anaerobic energy systems. Fast-twitch muscle fibres rely primarily on anaerobic energy systems.
Anabolism is the metabolic process that leads to molecular growth. In the case of strength training, when your body is in an anabolic state, muscle mass increases. Hormones such as testosterone, insulin, and human growth hormone all contribute to anabolism. Strength training, proper diet, and rest help create the positive hormonal adaptation necessary for your body to be in an anabolic state.
A decrease in muscle size.
ATP is short for adenosine triphospate (3 phosphates). Essentially it’s the scientific word for the body’s energy. It’s an enzyme responsible for transporting energy in all cellular processes in the body. ATP is needed for muscle contraction. So, it’s a very important molecule when you are strength training. More ATP and better ATP processing means more strength.
Strength training both increases the ability of muscle cells to store more ATP as well as increases the number of enzymes necessary for ATP production.
Catabolism is the metabolic process that leads to molecular breakdown. In the case of strength training, when your body is chronically in a catabolic state, muscle mass decreases. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline contribute to catabolism. Catabolism isn’t entirely bad. In fact, anabolism requires catabolism. Catabolism only becomes a problem when it’s chronic due to over-stress.
Creatine is a molecule that helps in recycling used ATP. When your body has more creatine in the bloodstream, muscle cells can produce ATP faster. You can get creatine naturally from your diet, but using a creatine powder is much more efficient, and is relatively cheap.
Creatine is an awesome supplement that will improve your success in any high-intensity workout program.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
DOMS is the muscular soreness due to inflammation that often occurs 1-2 days after you have exercised.
Fast Twitch Fibres
Fast Twitch Fibres are also known as Type IIA or Type IIB. When you are training for strength, you’ll need Type IIB. This type of muscle fibre relies on glycolysis, or the breakdown of glycogen to create the ATP necessary to fuel your muscle contractions.
Fast-twitch fibres get their name because glycolysis produces ATP much more quickly than the oxygen-dependent process used by slow-twitch fibres.
Fast-twitch fibres are also much larger, and can generate much more force. They also have more potential to get bigger than slow-twitch fibres.
But, fast-twitch fibres, fatigue much more quickly than slow-twitch fibres.
Slow Twitch Fibres
Slow Twitch Fibres are also known as Type I fibres. This type of muscle fibre relies on oxygen and fatty acids to produce the energy/ATP necessary to fuel your muscle contractions. Slow-twitch fibres get their name because the oxygen-dependent process they use to produce ATP takes much longer than the process fast-twitch fibres use.
Slow-twitch fibres are smaller, generate less force, and have less potential for enlargement than fast-twitch fibres. Slow-twitch fibres are very resistant to fatigue. They are what you use to stand, sit up straight, and walk.
Training that needs muscular endurance, like marathon running will use slower twitch fibres.
These are long, cylindrical cells that your muscles are made up of. Muscle fibres are what gives skeletal muscle its striped or striated appearance.
Lactate is a product of glycolysis. It can be used by aerobic energy systems to produce more ATP through a process called the Krebs cycle.
The production of energy from the respiratory process in which you breathe in oxygen and that oxygen then “oxidizes” (or reacts with) fatty acids. This is the same process you see when you cut an avocado in half and leave it on the counter. It turns brown through the process of oxidization. The exact same thing happens in our body through the cardio-respiratory process.
Lipids used to create ATP when muscle cells are using aerobic energy systems. Oxygen must be present in order for muscle cells to convert fatty acids into ATP.
Glycolosis is the metabolic pathway that converts glucose into ATP/energy.
Glucose stored in your muscles. Used during glycolosis to create ATP/energy.
An increase in muscle size.
Physical Skills Terms
When you train, you can train for a wide variety of physical skills.
Originally, fitness was defined as the ability to be fully prepared for the specific tasks you had to perform. Therefore the fitness needed for a baseball player would be different than the fitness needed for a distance runner. However, in today’s culture, CrossFit has really redefined fitness as a measure of one’s ability to perform the “10 general physical skills,” which they define as “cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.” Of course, not everyone agrees that these are the primary 10 physical skills, nor that all physical skills are created equal.
The force produced against an external resistance. When you’re lifting a barbell, the barbell acts as the external resistance. The more force you can produce, the stronger you are. Strength also makes all other physical attributes better.
Power is strength displayed quickly. It’s the ability to contract a large amount of muscle units in a short amount of time. Examples of power in action: standing vertical jump, power clean, sprinting, punching.
The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement. This could mean running speed or how fast you can perform a repeated movement such as a barbell movement, jump rope, etc.
Ability to quickly change body position or direction of the body.
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against a resistance for an extended period of time. Long-distance and high-rep calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups) are displays of muscular endurance.
The ability for your body to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
The ability of the body to convert glucose into the energy needed for muscle contraction during high intensity exercise, and the ability of your body to efficiently rid itself of lactate/hydrogen (the primary waste product of glycolosis).
Traditionally defined as having a complete range of motion around a joint. A more useful definition according to Rippetoe is the “ability of the muscles that limit motion around a joint to extend beyond their resting length.”
Performance vs aesthetics
Two possible goals for training. Performance-based training is focused on improving a specific domain of fitness, be it strength, power, speed, or agility. Little or no attention is paid to how “shredded,” “ripped,” or “jacked” you look. Aesthetic-based training is focused on sculpting the body so that you look good, rather than on whether you’re stronger, faster, or more powerful.
Biomechanics and Kinesiology
You’ll often read descriptions of exercises using biomechanical and kinesiological terms to explain how the exercise is done. In this section, you’ll find the most common words and phrases you’ll come across in fitness literature.
Abduction and adduction refer to motions that move a structure away from or towards the centre of the body.
Abduction occurs when a body part moves away from the midline of the body. When you lift your arms so your hands are level with your shoulders (like you would in lateral raises), that’s abduction of the shoulder. When you move your knees out in a squat, that’s abduction. The outside muscles of your butt are the primary abductors.
You might have seen an Adduction/Abduction machine in the gym.
Adduction is when body parts move towards the midline of the body. When you lower your arms down to your side that’s adduction of the shoulder. When your knees come back in as you stand up in a squat, your adductors (the inside of your thigh) are at work.
The contraction of a muscle, resulting in its shortening. When you curl a dumbbell, that’s a concentric contraction. Concentric contractions generally cause less soreness and inflammation than eccentric contractions.
Eccentric (Negative) Contraction
The lengthening of a muscle under load. It’s the contraction that occurs in the negative or lowering part of a movement. For example, when you’re performing pull ups, the lowering part of the movement is the eccentric contraction or negative.
Working your negatives in a much more controlled fashion than you are probably doing is a fantastic way to get more out of your training sessions.
In fact, this is one of the most overlooked parts of training. If you go into any high street gym, you’ll see the majority of people doing their negatives incorrectly.
Just by slowing the negative part of any movement will generate much more overload on your muscles.
Eccentric contractions often cause more soreness and inflammation than concentric contractions. This is because more muscle damage occurs during this portion of the movement. This is a good thing.
Whenever you do pull-ups or chin-ups, slow the descent right down to generate much more burn in your muscles.
The contraction of a muscle without significant movement. For example, this is what your back, spinal erector muscles, and abdominals do during a squat or deadlift. They are in an isometric contraction, but they aren’t the muscles doing the main movement of the bar.
Isometric exercises increase the target muscle’s time under tension, which is a key growth stimulus.
Including isometric exercise in your training routine has the dual benefit of injury prevention and strength building.
If you have or have had damaged muscles before, this method can help you to rehabilitate your injury and reduce the recovery time of your muscles.
While it may seem like a good idea to just sit and rest, you may recover healing muscle more quickly by training. Isometrics are great at this because they don’t put too much strain on your muscles and joints.
These isometric exercises build a foundation of functional strength to support you when you advance to more dynamic, explosive routines.
Exercises or movements that involve more than one joint and muscle group. Squats, deadlifts and bench presses are examples of compound movements. There are tons of benefits of compound movements. They give the best workout for your body in the shortest time.
Compound movements work your body as a complete system instead of piece-by-piece. They also create a major hormonal response that causes your body to produce more testosterone and growth hormone. Therefore, compound movements get you bigger and stronger faster.
Too many beginners concentrate on small isolating movements when they should be purely focusing on the big exercises like squats, pull ups, deadlifts, military presses and bench presses.
Exercises or movements that involve only one joint and a limited number of muscle groups. Examples: bicep curls, leg curls and tricep extensions. The benefits of isolation movements are almost entirely aesthetic. Isolation movements cause more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (muscle storage growth) than heavy compound movements. This can lead to larger-looking muscles, but not necessarily stronger muscles.
A supplemental exercise is usually a compound exercise performed immediately after the main exercise for the purpose of supporting and improving the main exercise. For example, if bench press is your main exercise for the day, you may then switch to heavy dumbbell bench presses as the supplemental exercise for the day.
Accessory exercises are performed after the main and supplemental exercises for the purposes of increased work capacity, antagonist muscle training (the opposite of the main muscle groups you just trained), hypertrophy, prehab, rehab, and support of the main lifts.
Pull-ups, bicep curls, and ab work are good examples of auxiliary exercises to a barbell strength training program.
A type of exercise that involves a rapid eccentric contraction followed quickly by explosive concentric contraction. Used to increase power and speed. The most common plyometric exercises involve jumping movements. Usually, you jump down from a box and then immediately jump back on top of it over and over again. Care must be taken with plyometrics as they put a lot of stress on the joints and tendons.
One plyometric exercise I love are explosive push-ups. Slowly drop down to the floor in say 4 seconds, followed by an explosive push up, where your hands come off the floor.
Movements that affect the angle between two parts of the body. Bending the elbow towards you in a bicep curl is a flexion movement because the angle between your forearm and bicep decreases. Squatting down is a flexion movement because the angle between your thigh and calf decreases
Extension movements increase the angle between a segment and its proximal segment. Straightening your elbow in a tricep pushdown is extension. Rising up from a squat uses hip and knee extension.
Rotation of the foot or forearm so that the sole or palm face anteriorly (supination) or posteriorly (pronation). When your palms face out from your body, they’re in a supine position. And when they face in, they’re pronated. Overhand grip on pull-ups is pronation. Underhand grip is supination.
Internal rotation is rotation of an appendage towards the midline of the body. External rotation is rotation away from the midline of the body.
When a muscle is quickly lengthened under load, the eccentric phase, a rebound effect takes place much like a quick stretching of a rubber band. This is why it is harder to pull a deadlift from the floor and reset each rep than to touch-and-go each rep after the first rep.
It would also be much more difficult to start a bench press or squat from the bottom as opposed to the top.
Final Thoughts on GTW Glossary of Health and Fitness Terms
Hope that this list helps you better understand the terminology used in our industry.
Onwards to a better and better life,