30 Workout Terms to Know Before You Hit the Gym

The new year is fast approaching, and like many people, you may be starting to think about your new year’s resolutions.

If you’re new to the gym, it’s a good idea to get familiar with some common workout terms so you can hit the ground (or the treadmill) running. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the most useful fitness terms to know.

workout terms to know

Ready? Let’s go!

Aerobic exercise: The term “aerobic” means your body is using oxygen for energy, helping you keep moving for an extended period. Some examples of aerobic exercise are running, swimming, or biking (also called cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio”).

Anaerobic exercise: High-intensity, short-interval workouts, such as sprinting or lifting heavy weights, when your muscles break down sugar (or glucose) to use for energy because they can’t get enough oxygen.

BMI: BMI stands for body mass index, a way to measure whether someone is below, above, or at the ideal weight range for their age and height (a BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered ideal). BMI is widely used but has been criticized for not differentiating between body fat and muscle.

Calisthenics: Exercises that build strength using just your own body weight, such as push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, and tricep dips (also called body weight workouts).

Circuit training: Moving quickly through different exercises with minimal rest in between, in a cyclical process. For example, a circuit might be 10 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 10 lunges, and 10 tricep dips. Once you finish the tricep dips, you would start the cycle again with 10 pull-ups.

Compound exercise: The word “compound” simply means to combine. Compound exercises work multiple muscles (these are also called compound lifts). For example, a bench press works the pectoral muscles as well as shoulders and triceps.

Cool down: At the end of your workout, you need to cool down to lower your heart rate and bring your body back to a resting state. This is often accomplished with light movements and passive stretching.

Cross training: Mixing different types of workouts to improve your overall performance. For instance, if you’re a runner, you might also do some weightlifting and yoga to increase strength and flexibility to reduce your risk of injury.

cross training

DOMS: DOMS is an acronym for delayed-onset muscle soreness, which you feel 24 to 72 hours after an intense workout. The pain is caused by chemicals that are released when your muscles rebuild themselves.

Electrolytes: Minerals such as sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride that conduct electric signals in the body which help your muscles function properly. It’s easy to lose electrolytes through dehydration during a lengthy workout, which is why you’ll find them in some sports drinks.

Endorphins: The chemicals your body releases in response to intense exercise, believed to reduce stress, improve mood, and even relieve pain. If you’ve heard people talk about a “runner’s high,” they’re talking about endorphins.

Endurance training: Training that serves to increase your endurance or stamina, often done in preparation for an event, such as a marathon. There are several ways to do it: for example, exercising at low intensity for longer and longer periods of time leading up to the event.

Failure: Training to failure is when you repeat a weightlifting exercise until your body cannot complete another repetition. This practice, which is common among seasoned weightlifters, promotes muscle growth by increasing blood to the targeted muscle area.

Free weights: Weights that are not attached to a machine (such as barbells and dumbbells).

High-impact exercise: An exercise during which both feet leave the floor, such as running or jumping, causing the weight of the body to land on the joints when you hit the ground.

HIIT: HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, consists of short, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short recovery periods. These workouts initiate excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (also called the “afterburn effect”), which helps you keep burning calories even after you’re finished working out.  

Isometric exercise: When the targeted muscle is in a contracted state, but there is no movement. For example: wall sits, planks, and holding weight in a fixed position.

Isometric exercise

Low-impact exercise: When at least one foot is always on the ground, so the joints don’t bear the full bodyweight.

Negative reps: To do “negative” repetitions is to perform an exercise slowly in reverse, starting halfway through the movement. For example, to do negative pull-ups, you would start with your chin over the bar and lower yourself slowly.

Plyometrics: Quick, explosive movements — like box jumps, broad jumps, and burpees — that work to increase power, build muscle efficiently, and burn calories.

Recovery: This is the time you spend not working out — when your muscles rebuild themselves bigger and stronger than they were before. It’s your rest day. “Active” recovery means doing yoga or jogging on your rest day to increase circulation and reduce muscle soreness.

Reps: Short for repetitions, which is a single complete movement. Doing 12 reps mean doing the movement 12 times.

Sets: A group of consecutive reps constitutes a set. For example, one set might be 12 pull-ups. If you do three sets, you’ll do 36 pull-ups.

Spot/spotter: When lifting weights, it’s sometimes helpful to have a spotter — someone who can help you if you struggle with the weight. For example, while doing a bench press, the person spotting you stands at your head, ready to help you place the barbell back on the rack if you can’t push it all the way up.

Strength training: This term refers to using resistance to work your muscles, whether it’s barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or your own body weight. Strength training increases muscle mass and improves metabolism.

Super set: Alternating between two different exercises with little or no rest in between. Supersets can work the same muscle groups to fatigue those muscles faster, or different muscle groups to get in a more complete workout in a short amount of time.

Tabata: Tabata (or Tabata protocol) is a type of high-intensity interval training. These workouts consist of 20 seconds of full effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, completed 8 times for 4 minutes total. It can be done with almost any movement, whether it’s rowing, lifting weights, or doing body weight exercises.

Target heart rate: This refers to the desired number of heart beats per minute during exercise. The higher your heart rate, the more intense the workout.

Warm up: Performing a series of movements and stretches prior to a workout to increase heart rate and muscle temperature to prepare the body and reduce risk of injury.

Work in: When people share gym equipment to make the best use of time. One person performs a set while the other rests.

Now that you know all the important workout terms, you can walk into any gym with confidence!

important workout terms

To make sure you optimize your workouts with proper fuel, add THRIVEFIT supplements to your diet to help you build more lean muscle, increase your stamina, and recover faster!

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