Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Entering a gym for the first time can be pretty confusing for absolute beginners when it comes to fitness and working out.
You're going to hear terms and phrases that make no sense at all and leave you blindly guessing what they could mean.
Terms and phrases like:
"Can I get a quick spot?"
"I'm focusing on TUT."
"What was the RPE of that set?"
If you're a complete beginner to the gym, chances are, you're never going to have heard of those terms before.
And even if you can't figure out what these terms mean on your own, you're going to have to eventually.
The basic gym terms are quickly going to find their way into your everyday conversations if fitness is something you're serious about, and you've got no choice but to learn them all and remember exactly what each one means.
Luckily for you, we've created a list of 65 of the most basic gym and fitness terms that you'll need to know for your journey in fitness ahead.
No need to search everything up on Google one term at a time.
Just keep reading below!
The 65 Most Important Gym and Fitness Terms
An exercise is a specific movement that you can perform through an additive range of motion that’s going to place stress on your muscles.
It’s the literal movement that you’re performing.
For example, the barbell bench press is an exercise.
The pull up is an exercise.
It’s important that you understand this as you’re going to hear this work used A TON throughout your fitness journey, from start to finish.
This is another fundamental term that every lifter in the gym should really understand.
Contrary to what many people understand and believe, a workout is different to an exercise.
Many people will use these two terms interchangeably when describing a certain movement, when really they mean completely different things.
Exercise would be the correct term in the example above.
A workout on the other hand, is the entire sequence of movements that a trainee goes through during their training session.
It’s the routine itself.
It’s the plan for what you’re going to do during your training session, including everything such as exercises, reps, sets and rest periods.
Remember not to confuse exercises with workouts.
If you would like to create your own workout program, you can follow our guide on that here.
A warmup is a sequence of movements and activities that's designed to help increase your body temperature and help you physically prepare for the workout session ahead.
Most of the time, a warmup is going to consist of some light cardio, some strength exercises, stretching and light foam rolling.
A warmup is going to help your body prepare for the workout and prevent injury by not hitting it with too much stress too quickly.
The opposite of a warmup, a warm down is a sequence of movements and activities that's designed to help your body cool down after your workout session.
It generally involves a somewhat similar approach to a warmup.
Most of the time a warm down includes some very light cardio, static stretching and foam rolling.
It's important that you get this right as a proper warm down after an intense workout can do wonders in reducing muscle soreness that you're likely to wake up with the following morning, especially if you're a beginner.
A set is a group of repetitions done consecutively without taking any real break in between each one.
For example, if you were to do a set of 8 on the bench press, that means you would do 8 bench press repetitions without taking a break before putting the bar back on the rack.
Sets can come in many different sizes depending on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve.
Those looking to build/test maximal strength will sometimes go as low as one repetition per set, and those that want to build more muscular endurance will go as high as 30 or more reps in a set.
And of course, there are rep ranges in between, which is where most people actually spend the majority of their time training in.
Again, the term ‘set’ is extremely important for you to grasp the concept of and understand.
You’re going to hear it a lot.
A repetition is one single completion of an exercise or movement.
For example, take the barbell bench press.
The full and active range of motion involves you lowering the bar down to your chest and then presiding it back up and locking your elbows out.
Every time you get the bar down and then press it back up fully, you complete one rep or repetition.
The same goes for any given exercise and lift.
You’ll hear this term being used when you’re programming your workouts or hear others talking about their results in previous workouts.
This one should be pretty self explanatory, but we'll run you through it anyways in case it isn't.
This term simply refers to the amount of weight (usually measured in kilograms or pounds) that you're lifting.
For example, if you've got a 20 kilogram plate on each side of a 20kg bar, you're lifting 60kg in total.
That's what is meant by 'weight'.
Intensity is the level of difficulty that you're training at.
It's how hard you're working and pushing yourself in the gym, out on your run or wherever you're training.
Generally, the more intensely you train, the higher your heart rate is going to be.
There are 3 general levels of exercise intensity.
Low, moderate and vigorous exercise are all different levels of workout intensity.
Training at a high or vigorous intensity involves you really working hard and likely finding it tough to hold a regular conversation.
Training at a moderate intensity has your heart rate beating much faster than it would if you were resting, but you're still able to hold a regular conversation and you don't feel like you're pushing past any limits.
Training at a low intensity is actually only really done by people that need to recover from injuries, or are doing active recovery on a rest day.
You're not working hard at all, and this level of intensity could likely be kept up for very, very long periods of time.
If you don't train at the right intensity, you're not going to be able to make progress towards your goals as quickly and optimally as possible.
The term 'endurance' refers to your body's ability to produce force and keep physically working for long periods of time.
It's your body's ability to sustain a level of exercise intensity.
For example, a marathon runner who can hold an average of 5-6 minutes per mile for 26 miles has more muscular endurance than a sprinter who can only run fast for very short distances.
The sprinter would be a lot faster in a 100m dash, but would look very slow compared to the marathon runner over the course of 26 miles or 42 kilometers.
The sprinter can run at higher max speeds, but can't hold it for very long.
Whereas a marathon runner could hold a moderate (still fast) pace for a VERY long time.
That's muscular endurance.
Muscular strength is the term used to describe a person's ability to lift heavy weights.
If you've got more muscular strength than someone else, you will be able to lift heavier weights and higher maximal loads. It doesn't matter how quickly you get the weight up, as long as you can lift it.
Many people often confuse the term 'power' with 'strength'.
However, they are slightly different things.
While muscular strength is the ability to lift heavy weights, muscular power is the ability to produce force and produce it quickly.
For example, take the barbell back squat.
A strong athlete could squat a heavy load out of the bottom position and be upright in 3-5 seconds.
However, a powerful athlete might be able to do it in 1 second.
The term 'power' also usually refers to utilizing as many muscle groups as possible to generate force effectively.
A sprinter that can use his shoulders and arms properly to generate force is going to be a more powerful runner than a sprinter who doesn't have the technique right.
Even if the second sprinter had stronger legs (such as a stronger squat or leg press).
Hopefully that explains the difference between strength and power.
A 'PB' stands for personal best, which means your own best score or results you've managed to achieve on a given physical activity.
For example. hitting the 80kgs for 5 reps in a set on the barbell bench press would mean you set yourself a new personal best.
A 'PR' is just another name for this. It stands for personal record.
A 1RM or one-rep-max is a test to see truly how strong a lifter is in the gym.
A 1RM is a form of PB or PR that's the most accurate indication of human strength.
If you can deadlift 100kg or 225lb, but you absolutely can't do it for a second rep, then that's your 1RM.
A rest period is a break that you take in between sets to regain the lost energy and prepare to work hard again in your next set.
During this period it's common to do completely nothing and just sit on a bench and scroll through your phone.
That is completely fine.
However some people do like to do some stretching during these rest periods to help loosen up and tight muscles and further help them prepare for the following set.
Generally, rest periods are anywhere between 90 seconds and 3-4 minutes.
However some people with specific goals in mind will dip both below and above this.
Rest periods are also important for you to mentally prepare for the following sets, and assess how everything is going.
Do you need to change the weight?
Is your technique feeling right today?
Use your rest periods to ask yourself these questions and make the most out of your workouts!
Strength training is a kind of exercise that aims to develop your muscular strength and size by actively putting your muscles through some kind of resistance.
You force your body to adapt and grow to the stress that you put it through, and eventually it'll get bigger and stronger as you progress.
Examples of strength training include lifting weights, calisthenics and some kinds of cardio such as rowing, which have you pushing/pulling against resistance often.
Weight training is a type of strength training that utilizes external and specially created weights for resistance.
Weight training is usually done with the goals of increasing muscular strength, size and endurance in mind.
It's done by lifting external weights (such as dumbbells and barbells) through certain ranges of motion to create stress and stimulate growth in the muscles that are working.
Pretty much whenever you're lifting an external object (doesn't have to be literal weights) against gravity, you're weight training.
Also know as bodyweight training, calisthenics is another popular type of strength training that involves athletes using their own bodyweight as resistance.
Calisthenics involves bodyweight exercises such as the push up, pull up, dip, pistol squat and more to build both strength and muscle in a way that's fun, creative and effective.
Any time you get down on the floor and perform some push ups, you're training calisthenics.
Powerlifting is a specific sport in weight training that involves lifters aiming to lift as much weight as possible for a single rep.
It revolves around the barbell squat, bench press and deadlift, where athletes will compete and each take turns in front of judges to try and outlift each other for a single rep in their weight divisions.
It doesn't matter how quickly you get the weight up, and it doesn't matter how large your range of motion is.
Lifters will often do whatever they can to maximize their leverages and get the most out of their bodies when it comes to lifting maximal loads.
Bodybuilding is a sport in which athletes will do strength training and sometimes cardio to build muscle mass and look as aesthetic as possible.
The main thing that bodybuilders are going to care about is looking good.
They need to be muscular, proportionate and lean all at the same time, which is definitely not as easy thing to do.
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio is a form of exercise that aims to improve aerobic capacity and improve muscular endurance.
Most of the time it involves exercises such as running, walking, cycling, swimming and rowing.
However, strength exercises such as deadlifts and squats can still and will still improve your aerobic fitness to a degree if you train hard and intensely enough.
Cardio exercises are meant to raise our heart rates and get us into our 'working zones'.
Aerobic exercise also tends to burn more calories for the time that you put in than strength training exercises do.
Because of this, many people will do cardio to lose weight.
And there are two different types of cardio or aerobic exercise, which we'll get into below.
HIIT workouts are a type of aerobic exercise that stands for: High Intensity interval Training.
It involves athletes working hard and vigorously for anywhere between a few seconds to a couple of minutes at a time, before taking a rest period and then repeating this cycle to form a workout.
An example of this would be:
30-40 seconds rest
30-40 seconds rest
Repeat for 5 rounds.
HIIT workouts can actually be used to build muscle and strength if you choose the right exercises and train correctly.
However, they're mainly used to build explosive power and maximal output.
LISS is another form of aerobic exercise that stands for: Low Intensity Steady State.
It's more long-distance or long-duration, which means you'll naturally have to work at a lower intensity to get through the workout without dying.
It's great for building muscular endurance and increasing your aerobic capacity, so that you can continue to go for longer and longer.
Example of this would include:
a 10km run
a 5km row
a casual bike ride
A barbell is the long steel bar that you see people putting plates on and lifting.
It’s one of the fundamental pieces of gym equipment that everyone should have access to in a gym, and they’re also incredibly versatile.
With just a heavy barbell and the right setup, you can work your entire body very effectively in terms of building strength and muscle mass.
A dumbbell is also a steel bar, although usually much shorter and meant to be used with one in each hand/side.
Basically, it's a very short barbell.
You'll find these stacked in racks at the gym, often starting from a couple kilograms/pounds all the way up to 50 or more kilograms (110lb+).
Similarly to a barbell, a pair of heavy, adjustable dumbbells is really all you need to hit your entire body provided you've got the right setup
A gym machine is any weight machine that's designed to provide you with some resistance during a range of motion.
Gym machines can come in all different shapes and sizes, each with their own purpose and advantages.
For example, the man in the image below is using a seated shoulder press machine, which is just one of hundreds of types of machines out there.
'Free weights' is a term given to any kind of external resistance that has the ability to move freely, and isn't fixed in a movement path.
Barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells are all examples of free weights.
You have the ability to move them however you like, and they're not fixed to any movement pattern or motion.
However, gym machines on the other hand are not free weights.
They generally force you to move your body in a fixed movement pattern, and don't allow for the freedom that you otherwise would have with barbells, dumbbells, etc.
Learn more: should you lift with machines or free weights?
A 'pump' is a term that you'll hear people talking about a lot if you're into bodybuilding and are looking to achieve some muscular hypertrophy.
This terms refers to the feeling or sensation that you get when blood rushes into your muscles due to placing them under lots of stress, and hard work.
For example, doing dumbbell spider curls for the first time will likely have your biceps feeling very, very pumped.
It's hard to describe the feeling, but it's likely going to feel like your skin is about to tear and your muscles are about to bulging.
You'll learn the feeling when you get it for the first time.
It's like nothing you've ever experienced before.
'Working in' is a term that's used pretty often in the gym when it's crowded and equipment availability is scarce.
To 'work in' with someone means to simply alternate your sets with them.
So if two people were working in with each other, one would do their set while the other rested, and then they would alternate this until both lifters were done.
It can be frustrating for people to ask you to work in when you've waited for a long time to get your equipment, and you can always politely say no.
And if you do come to ask people to work in with them, you would simply say something like:
"Hey, mind if I work in with you on this? I'm planning on doing the same weight as you."
The term ‘spotting’ refers to giving a person an extra hand when it comes to their safety and helping them get through their set.
For example, during a bench press, the spotter would help the lifter get the bar off the rack, and have his or her hands ready to help bring the bar back up if the lifter failed a rep and couldn’t press it back up.
You’ll hear people saying:
“Could I get a quick spot for this set?”
”Need a spot?”
People will be asking for and offering spots pretty often, and it’s important that you understand what this means do you don’t look like an idiot.
RPE is a way to measure your exercise intensity and how hard you’re working.
It stands for: Rating of Perceived Exertion.
Basically, this means how hard you feel like you’re working and how many reps you‘ve got left in a set before reaching muscular failure.
RPE scales from 1-10, with 10 being a maximal effort and 1 being a a very low intensity set.
The RPE is directly related to the number of reps you had left in the tank.
If you work at an RPE of 8, you would have 2 reps left in the rank for that set.
An RPE of 4 would mean you have 6 reps left in the tank.
An RPE of 10 would mean absolute failure.
Whatever your RPE is, subtract it from 10 and that’s how many reps you should have left in the rank.
Many people will use RPE in this workout programming to decide on set and rep schemes, and you’ll likely come across this if you’re ever trying to create your own or finding one off the internet.
It’s important that you understand what this means.
RIR is pretty similar to RPE, and it’s also used to gauge workout intensity and how hard you’re working.
It stands for: Reps in Reserve.
If you leave 2 reps in the rank on a set, you’re working at an RIR of 2.
If you train to absolute failure and cannot perform another rep, you’re working at an RIR of 0.
Very similar to RPE, and it’s also important that you understand this term so you don’t face any confusion when you come to program workouts or read them from other people.
'Superset' is another popular term that you'll hear being used by many people if you're into bodybuilding and are wanting to build muscle.
A superset is an intensity technique that helps you get more out of your workout in a shorter period of time by doing two exercises back to back before taking a rest.
Or sometimes, lifters will just alternate the two and keep going without resting in between sets.
There are actually several different types of supersets, but we won't get into that in this post.
A drop set is another popular intensity technique that involves lifters going to failure on a given weight, and then immediately reducing the loads by 40-60% and going to failure once again.
This essentially allows lifters to 'push past failure' and keep banging reps out, even when their bodies have told them that they're finished.
An example of a drop set would be something like:
Taking a set on the bench press to failure with 80kg
Immediately reducing the weight down to 40-55kg and continuing to bang out more reps until failure.
You'll see drop sets being used pretty often if you're into bodybuilding, where people like to use lots of intensity techniques to get more satisfaction from their workouts and 'feel' their muscles working harder.
When someone goes to failure, it doesn't literally mean that they're a failure.
It means they've pushed themselves hard.
It means they've pushed to a point where they seriously could not squeeze another rep in, even if they gave it their all.
Put simply, training to failure means going all out and not being able to do any more reps in a set.
It's important to note that always training to failure isn't the best way to go about lifting, and that you need to be smart with your approach and consider recovery costs as well.
Range of Motion
Range of motion is a term that refers to the actual movement you're going through, and how much of it you're actually doing.
For example, during a barbell squat the minimum range of motion you should be going through (unless you've some a limiting factor) is getting your upper thighs to parallel with he ground, and then standing up straight at the top.
You can choose to go lower for some extra glute and hamstring activation, but you don't need to.
If you were barbell squatting but your knees were only bending to 45 degrees, then you wouldn't be going through the entire range of motion and you'd likely need to drop the weight down a little bit.
Achieving more range of motion has been directly linked to muscle growth in several scientific studies, and it's important that you understand this term.
If someone is ever giving you tips on achieving a better range if motion, or you're talking about range of motion, we bet there's a good chance you want to know what the term means to begin with.
In strength training of any kind, this term and the following one are going to be VERY important for you to understand.
Especially if you're wanting to build muscle or you're ever building your own workouts, you're going to want to know what this term means.
An isolation movement is any exercise that only works at one joint, and primarily only has one muscle doing the work.
For example. a bicep curl is an isolation movement because it only works the biceps and only involves movement in the elbow.
Sure, the forearms will be engaged as well, but that's bound to happen if you're gripping anything anyways.
Another example could be the calf raise.
The only muscle that's lifting the weight is your calf, and the only joint that's moving is going to be your ankle.
Any exercise, whether it's with free weights or on a machine is going to be an isolation movement if it only works one muscle group and one joint.
Compound movements are the opposite of isolation movements.
A compound movement is any exercise that works more than one muscle group and more than one joint at a time.
For example, the barbell deadlift has your body go through three joint movements:
Since there are multiple joints moving throughout the range of motion and so many muscles working simultaneously, it's a compound exercise.
Most of the time compound exercises are used to build strength, but they're absolutely great for building muscle as well.
Learn more: 3 steps to knowing all about compound exercises.
TUT is a somewhat advanced training technique that's used to help you get more out of each rep that you do.
Time under tension means specifically slowing down a movement to get more out of it and increase the overall productivity of your set.
Hence the name, time under tension.
You're placing your muscles under stress for a longer period of time.
Research has actually shown that utilizing time under tension correctly is an effective way to make more gains, and see better results with muscle growth.
Learn all about time under tension in our ultimate guide here.
A plateau is a sudden halt in progress that can affect any goal in fitness.
To hit a plateau means to stop seeing gains and progress, no matter how hard you seem to be training and how much you seem to be committing to your goals.
As you can probably imagine, plateaus suck.
Nobody likes them.
Luckily for you, most beginners won't have to worry about them for the first couple of months thanks to their newbie gains.
This is one of those terms that's not going to make very much sense to most people.
Being ripped or shredded means being lean, and sitting at a low body fat percentage.
There is a slight difference between these two terms, where being 'ripped' generally requires you to have a bit of muscle whereas you can be skinny and shredded at the same time.
Generally, 'shredded' and 'ripped' people are going to have good muscle definition, as well as very defined abs and some good vascularity around the body.
Being 'swole' or 'jacked' means to have a lot of muscle mass on your body.
You don't have to be incredibly lean to fit these terms, you just have to have a lot of muscle mass and for others to be able to tell.
This is a slightly more technical term, and it refers to the lengthening phase of a movement where the muscle moves towards its stretched position.
For example, during a bicep curl, the downward motion is going to be your eccentric portion of the lift.
The muscle is contracting whilst lengthening and moving towards its stretched state.
This would also include the downward motion of many other exercises such as the:
The same goes for the part of any movement where the weight is moving downwards, and gravity is being resisted.
The concentric portion of the movement is the opposite of the eccentric.
It's the portion of a movement where your muscle moves towards its shortened position.
For example, curling upwards during a bicep curl is going through the concentric portion of the movement.
Pressing the weight back up in a dumbbell bench press is going through the concentric portion of the movement.
The same goes for the part of any lift where the weight is moving upwards.
Along with the term 'eccentric', this is an important term for you to know fi you're planning on getting a little technical with your training and learning how to optimize it for the best results possible.
This is a simple term that refers to the number of calories you burn through exercising for a certain period of time.
You're going to want to understand and learn more about calorie burning and energy expenditure if you're wanting to get serious about reaching your goals.
Because at the end of the day, it's tough to out train a bad diet.
In fact, if you've got your calories completely wrong, you're not going to make any progress towards your goals in fitness at all.
Hypertrophy is the more technical term for muscle growth.
It's literally just another name for muscle growth in terms of its size.
So whenever you hear someone say that they're training to achieve muscular hypertrophy, or anything along those lines, just know that it means they're training with the intent of increasing their muscle size and looking bigger.
Almost everybody knows what these two terms mean.
Your gains and results are just the progress that you see from your hard work in and out of the gym, and the changes that you see in yourself.
For example, getting stronger is a form of making gains and seeing results.
Building new muscle and looking bigger than you did before is a form of making gains and seeing results.
Learn more: how to get fit quick with 7 easy tips.
Cutting is the process of eating in a calorie deficit and doing as much as you can to lose weight, whilst minimizing loss of muscle mass and preserving as much strength as possible.
Most people who are serious about their goals in fitness (especially those that want to look good) will go through a cut at least some point in their lifetime.
Many people will cut to show off their hard earned muscle mass and physiques during the summer time, when people often go to the pool, beach, clubs, etc.
And bodybuilders especially will go through lots and lots of cutting phases throughout their career, to make sure that they're looking as muscular and ripped as they possibly can when they step on the stage.
Bulking is the opposite of cutting.
It involves athletes eating in a caloric surplus and training intensely so that they can put on muscle mass and gain strength as efficiently as possible.
The entire purpose of going on a bulk is going to be gaining muscle and getting stronger faster, at the expense of having to eat more throughout the day and gaining a little bit of fat at the same time.
Many lifters that start out skinny will go through bulking phases to try and put on some mass, and help build a strong foundation to add to.
And once again, bodybuilders will go through bulking phases all the time as they try to put on more and more mass between each competition on the stage.
Many people will switch to and from bulking and cutting phases throughout the year to match the times when they'll be seen out in public, to build as much as possible and then show it off when the time calls for it.