Words Associated with Fitness

A Glossary of words associated with fitness and health.

Smiling woman in a hat reading a book

When you read fitness articles and texts, you run into a lot of complex language. Hypertrophy? Glutes?

What you’re dealing with here is something Chip and Dan Heath refer to as the Curse of Knowledge. Authors forget what it’s like to be a beginner.

This is intended to be a running list of fitness jargon and buzzwords that I encounter as I read books. If there is anything that you would like to see included in this list, give me a shout on the gram (what the kids call Instagram, a social media platform).

What changes the most obviously is context. For example, recovery can mean taking time off from exercising and it can also be referring to returning to a baseline between exercises.

This list is alphabetical for ease of use.

Fitness Dictionary

  • Acceleration - Increasing the current speed or velocity you’re moving at.
  • Accessory or assistance exercises - Exercises that typically involve movement at one joint or those that involve smaller muscle groups or single areas. Done to assist more complicated, multi-joint exercises like squatting, deadlifting, presses and pull-ups or for aesthetics.
  • Accommodating resistance - A method of applying resistance that changes throughout the course of a movement such as through bands and chains.
  • Active rest - A day where light exercise may be performed.
  • Agonist - The muscle(s) that perform work in an exercise. Ex. Your biceps are the agonist during a curl.
  • Amortization - The time between the eccentric and concentric portion of an exercise.
  • Angular velocity - The rotational speed at which an object is moving at.
  • Annual plan - A yearlong strength training plan.
  • Antagonist - The muscle(s) that is on the opposite side the joint from an agonist muscle. The antagonist can slow a contraction. Ex. The triceps are an antagonistic muscle group when the biceps are performing a curl.
  • Bands - Elastic resistance available in three major types, loop (think rubber bands), floss (sheets of stretchy material), tube (tubing that commonly has handles on each end).
  • Blocks - A platform or box used to limit the range of motion of an exercise. Ex. Deadlifting from blocks involves deadlifting from a raised platform a couple inches off of the group.
  • Blocks (Training Blocks) - A grouping of weeks aimed at training a specific quality.
  • Body weight exercises - Exercises that involve using your own body weight for resistance against gravity.
  • Cardio - Cardio refers to cardiovascular activity or activity that works the heart muscles at a lower relative intensity. All exercise involves some cardiovascular component.
  • Chains - Chain links, commonly used to provide accommodating resistance.
  • Closed-grip - A grip in which the entire hand and thumb are wrapped around a bar or dumbbell.
  • Complex training - Combining resistance training with plyometrics. Ex performing depth jumps after a heavy set of squats.
  • Compound set - Performing two exercises back to back that work opposing muscle groups.
  • Concentric Contraction - The part of an exercise where your body is doing positive work against resistance
  • Contraindication - Meaning that you should not perform an activity due to an injury or limitation.
  • Contralateral - Occurring on the opposite side of your body. For example holding a single dumbbell on your right side while performing a step-up with your left leg.
  • Cool down - Some activities (commonly stretching) performed after an exercise session.
  • Cross-training - Combining more than one type of exercise into a single routine. Ex. Biking for runners.
  • Deceleration - A decrease in velocity.
  • Density - How much work you are performing in an exercise session per unit of time.
  • Eccentric Phase - The lowering portion of a lift or part of an exercise where the resistance is greater than the total amount of effort your muscles are putting out.
  • Effort - How hard you are working.
  • Endurance - The ability to perform a movement repeatedly.
  • False grip - A method of gripping a bar or dumbbell in which the thumb is not wrapped around the implement.
  • Fatigue - How tired you are physically.
  • Flexibility - The range of motion that your body can move through passively at a joint. Ex if someone raised your leg for you in a hamstring stretch.
  • Forced reps - Forced reps or forced repetitions are reps that are performed with the assistance of a partner.
  • Form - The position that your body is in or moves through while performing an exercise.
  • Frequency - The number of days you train or the number of times you work a muscle group per week.
  • Goal reps - The number of repetitions that are assigned for an exercise.
  • Grip width - The distance between your hands when placed on a bar.
  • Heart rate reserve (HRR) - The difference between your maximum and current heart rate. Ex. If your maximum heart rate was 170 beats per minute and your current heart rate was 120, your reserve would be 50 beats per minute.
  • Hypertrophy - A positive growth in the amount of tissue that you have. This can be something that you can control like contractile muscle tissue or something that you can little control over like non-contractile tissue that aids in creating structure for your contractile tissues to work.
  • Intensity - See load. Also the level of effort you are currently working at.
  • Intraset rest - The act of resting during an exercise, between reps but, within the same set.
  • Ipsilateral - Occurring on the same side of your body. For example holding a single dumbbell on your right side while performing a step-up with your right leg.
  • Liftoff - The process of taking a bar off supports and moving it to a position where someone can begin an exercise. Ex. Lifting a bar from a bench press support and helping your friend get into position to press.
  • Load - The amount of resistance you use on an exercise (also called intensity or weight). Commonly measured in pounds or kilograms.
  • Macrocycle - A grouping of two or more mesocycles.
  • Max Heart Rate (MHR) - Maximum heart rate is the fastest that your heart can beat.
  • Maximal Oxygen Uptake - Also known as V02 Max. The maximal ability of your body to use oxygen during exercise.
  • Mesocycle - A grouping of two or more weeks of exercise, typically 2-7.
  • Microcycle - A grouping of exercise sessions over a number of days. Typically, 7.
  • Mobility - The range of motion that you can control your body through at a joint.
  • Modality - A type of exercise or mode.
  • Multi-joint-exercise - An exercise that involves moving at two or more primary joints.
  • Neutral grip - A grip where your palms face each other.
  • Opposing muscle groups - Muscles located on opposite sides of a joint. Ex. Triceps that extend the arm oppose biceps that flex the arm.
  • Overload - A training stress that leads to gains in fitness.
  • Paired set - The act of performing two exercises back to back with a short break between to ensure both exercises are performed well.
  • Periodization - The broad organization of training programs to achieve a desired goal.
  • Plyometric - Commonly mistaken for jump training, a true plyometric starts with an eccentric activity (like falling from a box) followed by a controlled landing and commonly an explosive concentric action.
  • Power - The rate at which you are performing work.
  • Program - An organization of exercise sessions aimed at achieving a specific goal. Commonly written in 4-16-week increments.
  • Progression - A variation of an exercise that is more difficult. Ex. Increasing the distance or amount of body weight used in a movement like putting a back foot on a bench in a split squat or lunge.
  • Progressive overload - The practice of attempting to increase the difficulty of a training stress over time.
  • Prone - Lying face down.
  • Quadrennial plan - A four-year long strength training plan. Generally, used for olympic or college athletes.
  • Recovery - The restoration of normal body functions. Can be expressed in days, seconds, and minutes depending on the context.
  • Regression - The act of making an exercise easier or choosing an easier variation of the same movement.
  • Rep Max - A rep max or repetition maximum is the highest amount of weight that you can lift for a given number of reps. Ex a 5 rep max or 5RM is the heaviest weight that you can successfully lift for 5 reps.
  • Rep - A rep or repetition is performing an exercise movement once.
  • Rest Days - Days where no exercise is performed.
  • Rest - How long of a break you take. Can be between exercises, during exercise or in days. Commonly expressed in minutes or seconds.
  • RPE - RPE or rating of perceived exertion is how hard you are currently working.
  • Session - A single bout of exercise
  • Set - A set is a group of reps or repetitions. For example, 3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Single-joint exercise - An exercise that involves moving at one primary joint. Ex. The elbows during a bicep curl.
  • Specificity - A fundamental principle in strength training. You get better at the things you spend time training.
  • Split - The way exercises are organized in your program over the course of time. Ex. A full body split commonly means working all your major muscle groups in one session. Upper/Lower indicates working your upper body in one session and lower body in another, separate session.
  • Spotter - Someone who ensures that you are performing an exercise safely, typically there to assist on an exercise if you fail.
  • Sticking point - The most difficult portion of an exercise. Varies in most movements but typically not far from the transition from the eccentric to concentric portions of an exercise.
  • Superset - The act of performing two exercises back to back with no rest between.
  • Supine - Lying face up.
  • Synergist - Muscles that do not directly perform work to carry out a movement but, still may perform some work to allow other muscles to work correctly.
  • Technique - How you perform an exercise. Involves a skill component.
  • Tempo - The speed at which you perform a repetition. Ex., 2 seconds lowering, 0 second pause, 2 seconds up or 2-0-2.
  • Undulate - To change something in an exercise program, such as the number of reps, volume or time spent resting. Also known as variation. (the concept that some marketers incorrectly call "muscle confusion")
  • Valsalva maneuver - Holding your breath in order to create more intra-abdominal stability. The same idea as wearing a weight belt to create more stability.
  • Variation - A type of exercise or the practice of changing something in a fitness routine or undulating. (Depends on context)
  • Velocity - The speed at which you or the object you are lifting are/is moving at.
  • Volume - A measure of the amount of sets you performed times the total reps. Ex. 10 sets of 10 reps is equal to a volume of 100. This can also include other aspects of quantifying work such as distance, time, or number of contacts made when jumping.
  • Warm Up - Activities performed in order to get ready for an exercise session.
  • Weight - See load. Mass multiplied by local gravity.
  • Work capacity - The amount of quality work that you can perform in an exercise session before getting tired.
  • Work - A way of expressing the amount of exercise that your body is performing. Work can be done on a body if gravity is greater than the amount of force you’re applying, like in an eccentric. Work can also be done on your environment if the force you’re putting out is great enough to move you or the implement you’re attempting to manipulate.
  • Work-to-rest ratio - The amount of time you spend performing work and the amount of time you spend resting. Ex. A 2:1 work-to-rest ratio means that you work twice as long as you rest. Ex. 1 min run, 30 seconds rest.

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This article was originally published on 10/5/2019

Last updated: 3/8/22

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.