The MUST Know A – Z Guide Of Fitness Terms…


If you think a pump is something you use to put air into your tyres, or a ‘strip set’ is somewhere you’d take the best man on a stag, then follow me on an A- Z tour of these must know fitness terms and phrases. Improve your confidence in the gym, increase productivity, as well as open your eyes to the breadth of techniques and methods available to you in the fitness world!

First on the list, and in alphabetical order is…

  • Anabolism (antonym = catabolism): And before you say it, no it DOESN’T mean steroids, although you are forgiven for thinking so due to terms such as ‘anabolic steroids’. Anabolism is the technical term for ‘building up’, and generally refers to muscle tissue and organs, so when a steroid (to use this example) is described as ‘anabolic’, it is labelled as such because it results in growth…usually muscle and organ growth. Food is anabolic, so too is individual supplements such as whey protein, BCAAs or even carbohydrate, all of these are precursors to growth.
  • BMR: An acronym for Basal Metabolic Rate, the BMR is your body’s energy expenditure when at rest, the amount of energy needed to maintain your everyday bodily functions. Any form of exercise will increase your energy requirements beyond that of your BMR, which could increase fitness and support fat loss due to increased energy requirements. When estimating your energy requirements we need to ascertain our BMR and then add a physical activity level (PAL) to get an idea of how many calories you need a day. A bodybuilder like Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day would have a higher BMR than Richard Hammond off of Top Gear for example. BMR is determined by bodyweight AND body composition.
  • Core: This is a common term in the fitness industry and for good reason, the core is where it all starts from, similar to the ‘core’ of an apple. The human core generally refers to the stabilising muscles such as the Transverse abdominals (TVA) (the layer of abdominal muscle that lies underneath your six-pack), and even your breathing muscle such as the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Balancing exercises and internal tensing such as that performed during twisting movements like ‘wood chops’, as well as controlled breathing techniques used in pilates and yoga are also ways to strengthen your core.
  • Drop sets: Also known as strip sets (as seen in the title), drop sets are designed to take the muscle to its absolute limits when training. The theory is that you start performing a movement at the heaviest weight that allows you to complete 5-6 reps (this should be to failure i.e. unable to perform any more than 6 reps), then with no rest other than the time it takes to pick up a lighter dumbbell or drop the weight on the machines, begin performing your next set to failure. Now that the weight has been reduced you should be able to achieve 8-10 reps, then reduce the weight further and continue to failure (maybe 8-10 reps again), once you reach the lowest weight available go to failure and notice the immense muscle pump you have!
  • Eccentric: This is a technical term that relates to muscle contraction. To put it simply, muscles can contract in different ways, they either contract whilst getting shorter such as when your bicep curling a dumbbell (known as concentric), or they contract whilst staying the same length such as when you hold a towel in either hand and try to stretch it (isometric), or the muscles contract whilst getting longer such as performing a bicep curl when lowering the dumbbell…this is eccentric. The relevance to fitness is that many people perform something called ‘negative movements’ such as pull-ups whereby you jump up to the top of the pull-up movement but then very carefully lower yourself down to the floor, this is an eccentric movement and strengthens the muscle from a different angle. Try it!
  • Failure: In the fitness world, failure isn’t always a negative thing, instead failure can mean to work until you can’t work anymore…and this is usually a positive thing in the gym for example. Muhammad Ali famously said that when he trains he doesn’t start counting his reps until it starts to hurt because they’re the reps that count! His motto was to work to failure, or the point where he can’t go on anymore, only then does the muscle really begin to adapt.
  • Gaaiiinnnnsss: What fitness is all about! Gains simply refers to improvement in your field, this may be an improvement in your minute mile splits, your PB in weightlifting, or an extra inch on your biceps. Gains is the term that defines an industry…if you aren’t striving for gains in the sport and fitness sector then you’re just pretending!
  • HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is more common today than ever before because of its ability to promote fat loss. HIIT entails short bouts of high intensity/ pace/ speed movements (sprinting or fast pace lunging etc) immediately followed by a short rest spite. A common HIIT routine might include 50 meters of sprinting followed by 50 meters of walking. Alternatively a person may perform 30 seconds of intense burpees followed by 1 minute of rest (depending on your fitness levels). Research has shown that HIIT training is more effective at promoting fat loss compared to steady state distance running such as a 4 mile run for example.
  • Intensity: In physics, intensity is the power transferred per unit area, however, in the fitness industry the term ‘intensity’ is colloquially known as the rate at which you perform a movement. Now, DO NOT think that performing 20 reps in 10 seconds on the bench press with 2 5kg dumbells is ‘intense’, that is just fast reps. To use a bit of physics again, intensity can be calculated by taking the energy density, and multiplying it by the velocity at which the energy is moving. So it is fair to say that the colloquial use of the word intensity is loosely derived from its physics roots.



  • Jacked: Not a word you might hear me say, however, it is pretty common among the gym cult. Not much to explain here, Jacked simply refers to a person who has a lot of muscle e.g. ‘Jay Cutler is Jacked bro’!
  • Kipping: The Crossfitters among us will know this one, Crossfit being the fitness craze that aims to establish total fitness i.e. the best Crossfitter in the world is theoretically the ‘fittest man or women on earth’. Crossfit has attracted some haters, if you’re one of them (I’m not by the way) you’ll reset the kip. Kipping is a viable technique used to enable someone to perform more repetitions during a pull-up movement of any kind. To describe, imagine hanging from the pull-up bar ready to perform a pull-up, but instead of pulling up normally you instead form a hollow and an arch movement in quick succession (basically form a reverse ‘C’ shape followed by a normal ‘C’ shape in order to generate some momentum to get you up into the pull up position. Kipping basically turns the pull-up into a cardiorespiratory burner, basically is makes you breathe out of your arse!


  • Lean Mass: Muscle…lean mass means muscle. Mass refers to any bodily tissue that adds to your total body mass, but place the word ‘lean’ in front and you are basically saying muscle mass minus fat or bone. So to put it in context, when someone says ‘I want to gain lean mass’ they are implying that they would like to gain muscle mass without any additional fat mass.
  • Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): This is your estimated age related number of beats per minute your heart performs when exercising to your relative maximum. 220 minus your age gives you a rough estimate of your MHR (Merriam- Webster, 2015).


  • Negatives: I mentioned this way back at ‘E’ for ‘Eccentric’, the term ‘negative’ basically refers to the ‘lowering’ or ‘releasing’ phase of an exercise movement. Take the bicep curl as an example, the actual bicep curl up is the positive phase, whilst the lowering of the dumbbell back towards your hip is the negative phase. Negative movements can be performed to increase total strength if you cannot perform the positive phase of a movement (such as during a weighted pull-up), so instead you step up to the top phase of a pull-up, and gradually lower yourself down to the beginning.
  • Overtraining: A condition that can come about as a result of too much exercise. Overtraining can occur because of the persistent release of stress hormones, coupled with inadequate rest periods for muscles and physiological processes to recover. The result is a lower immune response and impaired training capacity. Ensure you factor in 1 or 2 rest days a week, eat a healthy balanced diet, and supplement well to reduce the risk of overtraining syndrome.
  • Pre- exhaustion: The act of fatiguing the muscle prior to performing a working set. A good example is a set of 10 heavy reps on the squat rack, followed by 10 reps on a significantly reduced weight. The already fatigued muscles invoke an exercise responsive process called supercompensation, which is basically the process of pushing your body past its normal limit to trigger improvement in performance.
  • Queuing: If you’ve ever been to a busy commercial gym between the hours of 5 and 7pm on a Monday (international chest day) then you’ll know exactly what this is. The immortal words ‘how many more reps you got mate?’ say it all.


  • Ripped: This is the end result that many gym goers strive to achieve… the acquisition of definition. The term ‘ripped’ is used a little loosely by the press, Callum Best for example was described as ripped in yesterday’s Daily Mail...he was toned at best. Ripped is when someone has achieved a dry, extremely low level of bodyfat with significant muscle separation. Current British Champ Elnan Noval is the epitome of ‘ripped’…


  • Supplements: A shameless plug maybe, but like it or not sport and health nutrition supplements are integral to achieving your physiological potential. Supplements are anything that add to your habitual food and drink intake, so whey protein, creatine or a multi- vitamin and mineral adds to your regular food and drink intake so that you don’t fall short of any key nutrients.
  • TUT: Time Under Tension (TUT) training is an exercise methodology that emphasises the amount of time the muscle is contracting during an exercise. When performing a squat you should aim to lower yourself slowly, using the count of 5 on the way down followed by the count of 5 on the way up. The theory is that the longer the muscle is under tension the greater the potential for muscle breakdown and growth.
  • Up Downs: This nicer cousin of the dreaded burpee is a little kinder in that it requires you to drop into a plank position i.e. the top position of a press- up, rather than right down to the floor so you’re your chest touches the ground. This is rapidly followed by the person rising back up tot eh standing position, hence the name ‘up down’.


  • Vasodilation: This is basically the widening in diameter of your blood vessels, which means more blood and oxygen reaches your muscles and brain. The widening of your blood vessels can help performance, which is exactly why many sports nutrition supplements contain ingredients such as L- arginine, citrulline malate and agmatine, all of which increase blood flow. These supplements are generally known as pre-workout supplements.
  • Weight: Now before you skim over this one because it seems a little obvious…REMEMBER THIS… weight is different to mass. The mass of an object is a measure of the amount of matter in the object, whereas the weight of an object is a measure of the force on an object caused by a gravitational field. So the gravitational force between an object and earth is the weight of that object, so when you stand on the scales the more mass you have the greater the weight will be. So I repeat…REMEMBER THIS… when weighing yourself next time, your mass may be mainly muscle which means you’ll weigh more than someone who has a belly and looks out of shape. This doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy, it’s just that your composition is different. Taking waist circumference measurements or mid- upper arm measurements is a better way of gauging weight/ fat loss in people who may have lots of underlying muscle mass (, 2015).
  • X- training: A training method that is comprised of 6 races designed by some of the fittest people in the UK. The events are meant to test strength, stamina, endurance, mental fortitude and emotional resilience. Exercises include sit- ups, bench press, press- ups, rowing, squat thrusts and much more. One of the fittest British athletes of all time is an acquaintance of mine called Tracy Davies… and seriously, she has literally been dubbed one of the ‘fittest’ British athletes ever! Unbelievably fit!


  • Yoga: If you haven’t tried it yet, why not? When the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, the All Blacks Rugby Team, and even Manchester United Football Club players all perform it as part of their training routine. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing as a means to improving physical and mental wellbeing. You’ll find that you are put into various postures whilst maintaining a regular breathing rhythm, this should help to reduce the risk of sport and training related injury, as well as keeping you calm and composed.
  • Zone: This term is used by gym and sporting enthusiasts to imply getting in the right mindset for optimal performance. The ‘zone’ is considered a ruthless state of focus whereby nothing else but the job at hand matters. Getting into the zone is not easy, it takes practice and confidence, this is why many supplements that tune you in exist, improve mental focus and well as calm you. If you attempt a big lift whilst not in the zone, you run the risk of getting an injury, some people get in the zone by getting fired up, relaxing or even visualising the task at hand.


OK, so this wasn’t an exhaustive A- Z list of fitness and sport related terms, but I feel that these are not only some of the more useful terms to support your training goals, but also to keep you ‘down with the kids’, go to your son, nephew, niece or whoever, and say that you’re on the road to shreddddssssviiilllleeee, and expect some serious cool credits to come your way…either that or they’ll laugh in your face J Worth a try either way!

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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