Say what now?
Is there anything more frightening in the world of exercise, than the resistance training terminology?
Well, I mean other than ‘Gym Bros?’
Jokes aside, I don’t blame anyone for feeling completely overwhelmed by the language my colleagues, and myself, use.
It’s complicated. Yes, we could and should use simpler language whenever possible.
Honestly though, sometimes there’s just no easier way to put it. There is a limited amount of space on the page to write exercise programs.
Think of it a little like musical theory. You don’t have to know how to read charts and I won’t fault you if you don’t know the difference between a bass clef and a treble clef.
But, you still need a common language to use with any potential bandmates.
A way to determine what notes or chord to play. How long to play them for. When you play them. You need an idea how it should sound and how it should all fit together.
Same thing here.
Understanding the language used in the little world of lifting weights, can go a long way towards improves your confidence in a gym.
Confidence makes it easier to pick up the opposite sex perform at the gym. If performance goes up, your results go up, and well everybody wins.
You don’t need to know what I know, but it can’t hurt learning some of the basic words.
I’ll do my best to give you the common tongue terms and the more technical terms together.
Table of Contents
- The Training Program
- The Macrocycle (AKA ‘The Program’)
- The Mesocycle (AKA ‘The Phase’)
- The Microcycle (AKA ‘The Week’)
- The Training Session (AKA ‘The Workout’)
- Exercise Order
- Exercise (AKA Lift or Drill)
- Repetitions (AKA Reps)
- Tempo (AKA Cadence)
- Load (AKA Weight)
- (One) Repetition Maximum (1RM)
- Over-Training and Over-Reaching
- Muscular Strength
- Absolute Strength
- Relative Strength
- Muscular Endurance
- Muscular (Explosive) Power
- Effective Reps (AKA Stimulating Reps)
- Periodization (Program Planning)
- Specific Lifting Terms
- Movement Prep (AKA Warm Up)
- Cool Down
- Isometric (AKA Static)
- (Muscle) Hypertrophy
- Bilateral (Two Limbed)
- Unilateral (Single Limbed)
- Contralateral (CL)
- Ipsilateral (IPL)
- Common Lifting Abbreviations
- BW = Bodyweight
- BB = Barbell
- DB = Dumbbell
- KB = Kettlebell
- BR = Band Resisted or Band Resistance
- TB or HB = Trap Bar or Hex Bar
- SB = Stability Ball or Swiss Ball
- FWD = Forward
- REV = Reverse
- Pt = Point
- HED or BED = Hip Extension Device or Back Extension Device
- GHD = Glute Ham Device
- 1A or SA = One Arm or Single Arm
- 1L or SL = One Leg or Single Leg
- Alt. = Alternating
- 1DB or 1KB = One Dumbbell or One Kettlebell
- 2DB or 2KB = Two Dumbbell or Two Kettlebell
- RNT = Reactive Neuromuscular Training
- Anatomical Terms of Motion
Don’t see something in the TofC?
If you want an explanation for something you think I missed…
The Training Program
Let’s start big picture.
A training program is the overall scheduled prescription of exercise to someone like you, from someone like me.
Sometimes just called a macrocycle. Not to be confused with a training session or a workout, as I often see online.
If it’s just one day of ‘programming’ as you see in the first image above, it’s not really a program. It’s a workout.
A program is, or consists for four main elements:
- The Macrocycle — AKA The Program. Typically 2–12 months of planning
- The Mesocycle — Typically 3–8 weeks of planning with a common theme/sequence
- The Microcycle — Typically a week (to 10 days) of planning with a common theme/sequence
- The Training Session — AKA The Workouts, or the days/sessions that make up any given microcycle
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of ways to program. I’m giving you the absolute basics. Creative coaches have come up with a multitude of ways to approach programming (myself included) that defy these terms.
That being said, most beginner programs will be designed resembling something of the following…
The Macrocycle (AKA ‘The Program’)
This is really just the technical term for what I said above, and that example above is far too technical for you to care about.
If a training program doesn’t consist of at least two mesocycles then in my books it isn’t really a “program.” It’s a “phase” of programming.
Yes, that sounds pedantic. A single mesocycle can still useful, don’t get me wrong. If you have a base of training, and you’re grabbing a phase off the internet that will move you where you want to go, great.
If you’re a beginner, a mesocycle often doesn’t give you enough information on what comes next or what should come next.
The macrocycle is the overarching birds eye view of what you want each mesocycle to build upon. It’s in place so that each following mesocycle can build off the one before it.
If you haven’t done exercises for a while, you don’t just want to come out of the gate crushing heavy lifts or explosive lifts, it increases the potential for injury because the body is not prepared for the stress.
You have to methodically stress the body and give it time to adapt.
Muscle takes weeks to months to adapt. Bone takes months. Tendons and ligaments can take six to twelve months to develop.
An average 3–8 week mesocycle may not be enough time for certain structures to adapt to high impact or high loading activity. Meaning you want to plan 2–3 mesocycles in a row to build up to such activities.
The unfortunate reality of a lot of phases (mesocycles) you can grab online, is that they are often geared towards intermediate or even advanced trainees. They are often too much, too soon, for the new trainee.
A good macrocycle design should consider this in it’s approach.
For instance, mesocycle one may start with lighter intensity or lighter volume stuff (or exercise selection) so that the stress isn’t too great to start. Then in mesocycle two, the intensity or volume (or both) is increased.
Perhaps the exercise selection changes dramatically by mesocycle three.
There are just certain exercises that beginners should not be doing in mesocycle one, or even mesocycle two, so the macrocycle allows you to create a smart plan for each mesocycle.
You can see some of those ideas extrapolated further in this article.
The example of a macrocycle above was for a hockey team and it was planning out an entire season of priorities.
As you can see it’s just planning or scheduling. It’s basically a calendar in an excel spreadsheet, where I’ve decided in advance what we want to prioritize in any given mesocycle for the duration of an upcoming season.
It isn’t the specifics of what each mesocycle will necessarily feature. It isn’t necessarily planning out the details of all 9 phases in advance. It’s just having the overall idea of where I want every mesocycle to go.
If I’m being honest, I rarely share this sort of planning with anyone outside of athletics. It’s just too much information.
I’m sharing it with you now, just so you have an idea as to what goes into a program, or what should go into a program.
The Mesocycle (AKA ‘The Phase’)
This is what most people will encounter online if they search for a ‘program.’
It’s usually a 3–8 week period of time, although I’ve programmed some out to 12 or even 16 weeks in some instances.
Usually I keep it to ~4–6 weeks because:
- A month is a nice clean way to program if there are no specific competition dates to consider
- It’s long enough to get a good training effect, but short enough so that people don’t get bored doing the same weekly schedule over and over again
The mesocycle is a collection of microcycles (discussed next) and is really just a smaller condensed version of a macrocycle, but with more detailed planning.
You’ll often supply a suggested calendar for rest days, and suggested training days, followed by the specific information of each microcycle and training session.
As I said above, this doesn’t necessarily make it a good or a bad thing. It needs context.
Getting a program online that is just a mesocycle, if you’re new to training, is usually a mistake. It won’t take into account the time it takes for you to lay down new muscle, bone or tendon.
You could say I have a problem with the number of programs available online pushing high intensity interval training (HIIT) because it’s not an appropriate place to start for a beginner.
Planning mesocycle to mesocycle, if you’re an intermediate or advanced trainee, might be fine. In fact, a lot of programs should have an element of flexibility built into their design.
Most of my programs feature notes providing additional context to how they should organize their own programs.
This is also what most of my clients receive on a roughly month to month basis. Arguably the macrocycle is really important for beginners, but it’s less an issue once someone has some consistent training under their belt.
It’s also less an issue if your goals aren’t specific. If you just want to train on a certain schedule with some structure for safe development, then planning phase to phase can work.
The Microcycle (AKA ‘The Week’)
Usually just the week, but it can sometimes get a little tricky.
In the image under the mesocycle headline, there are only two workouts, so the way each microcycle cycles (or turns over) is actually more like 14 days.
- Monday = Workout 1
- Wednesday = Workout 2
- Friday = Workout 1 (again)
- Weekend Off
- Monday = Workout 2 (again)
- Wednesday = Workout 1 (again)
- Friday = Workout 2 (again)
Each workout is completed 3 times in the total microcycle.
The other way you could look at each microcycle is a 4 day cycle (one day on, one day off, one day on, one day off again), with an extra day on the weekends off.
7 days is an odd number to work with sometimes.
Again, I’m just trying to give you some semblance of how these things can be worked out and planned.
Another microcycle, could be three different workouts, one each on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so the microcycle is more weekly in structure.
Weekly turnover is the most common structure.
The Training Session (AKA ‘The Workout’)
I prefer the term training session to ‘workout’ because it sounds less laborious and more deliberate. However, I realize I’m in the minority.
Basically it’s the period of time (usually 10–90 minutes) whereby you are deliberately training some physical qualities.
It’s the example you saw at the beginning of this article.
It often features a warm up of some kind before getting to the workout but it depends on the coach and what’s being trained that day.
All feature at least one warm up. AKA ‘Movement Preparation.’
Picking up on the vibe that a lot of terms in fitness are used interchangeable yet?
I usually list them out in a bulleted list or a numbered list, with the exercise (often linked to a video on Fitnack.com), followed my recommended set/rep scheme. Or recommended time investment.
Warm ups are usually only one set, so it’s easy to notate.
- Foam Roll: 2–5 minutes (hit key areas for you as discussed)
- McGill Crunch: 3x10s each side
- BirdDog: 3x10s each side (alternate)
- Side Plank: 3x10s each side
Let’s go through each element (another image of a slightly more complicated program will be posted after this section.
In the example above you’ll see a ‘#’ sign. I just use this to signify the exercise order. In the example below, exercise order notation is in the same column as the exercises themselves.
This could be 1, 2, 3, 4… or A, B, C, D…
Both of those would mean that the exercises are done sequentially, with all the sets of each exercise being done before moving on to the next exercise.
Or it could be A1/A2, B1/B2, C1/C2/C3 as they are here (AKA 1A/1B, 2A/2B/, 3A/3B/3C, which means the same thing).
This means that A1 and A2 are done together alternating between the exercises until all sets are done. The same goes for B1 and B2. C1-C3 is three exercises done together in more of a circuit-like fashion.
Exercise (AKA Lift or Drill)
Unlike “cardio workouts,” where you typically only do one exercise for the whole training session. With resistance training (or athletic training) it’s more typical to do multiple exercises within the training session.
Excluding a warm up, you’ll usually see anywhere from 3–12 different exercises. Typically written out as a list, or with the number and letter pairings/combinations, I already mentioned.
Sometimes more and sometimes fewer exercises, but that’s less common.
For instance a training session could be written out as simply as this:
- Bench Press
That would tell you only the three exercises for that day, and the order of execution.
There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lifts out there for training specific muscles, or muscle groups, in specific ways. It adds a lot of complication.
Not to mention to save space, us coaches often use a lot of acronyms that don’t mean anything to you.
I’ve read some coaches programs and had literally no idea, what the hell they are talking about, and I’ve worked in the industry for a dozen years.
Just because I use a shortcut, doesn’t mean every other coach uses the same shortcuts and it doesn’t always follow the same rhyme or a reason.
If I have space I’ll try to communicate my system. As I do in the first example:
- Kettlebell = KB
- Dumbbell = DB
- Single Leg = SL
- Single Arm = SA
- Romanian Deadlift = RDL
- Swiss Ball (or Stability Ball) = SB
To add to your confusion, almost all exercises are named after their anatomical function (leg extension) or a a descriptive legacy term (squat/deadlift).
Yet, they can be even more specific too, like banded ulnar deviation.
Imagine, shaking someone’s hand, but your wrist is only going down and not coming back up. That’s ulnar deviation (or ulnar flexion). The ulna is one of two lower arm bones (the other is the radius), that is on the pinky side of your hand.
If you don’t know much about anatomy, this can make fitness training notation look like Dutch.
This is why I try to send my clients video examples of all the resistance training exercises I program for them. If I can’t do that, then I try to explain what I mean with notes.
Just know that you can usually google an anatomical term to roughly figure out what I’m talking about below.
Once you know the language, it’s a lot easier.
Repetitions (AKA Reps)
I need to explain this before I explain sets.
The technical definition is the act of repeating, or in our case, doing something again. A repeated action, performance, production or presentation.
Repetitions are a recommended number of times you should complete any given full cycle of an exercise.
- Squat x 6
- Bench Press x 8
- Deadlift x 5
This would mean that the exercise prescription is 6 reps of squats, followed by 8 reps of bench press, and finished up with 5 reps of deadlifts.
Most resistance training exercises are dynamic in nature.
Meaning there is an eccentric (lowering) phase to the lift, followed by a very brief isometric (where you change direction), followed by a concentric (lifting) phase, with one last isometric (where you again change direction).
That whole cycle = 1 Repetition or Rep (for short)
Some exercises start and end at the top. Like in a common squat, the first movement is actually lowering the resistance, and the last movement is standing back up with it.
Other exercises start and end at the bottom. For instance, the deadlift, where the first movement is actually lifting the weight (from a dead stop, which is how the exercise got its name) first, and the last movement is lowering it back down to the floor.
Manipulating that starting point can actually change the whole exercise itself. If I start a deadlift form the top and don’t touch the ground, it can become a barbell hip hinge or a barbell Romanian Deadlift. If I
Now prescriptions of this can change a bit depending on the nature of the exercise.
Repetitions of an isometric hold would be notated differently. Isometrics are typically either holding a position, or creating tension against something immovable.
- Wall Sit 3x10 seconds (or ‘sec’ or ‘s’)
- Front Plank 4x5 seconds
- Side Plank 2x20 seconds
Here I’m indicating that you should hold a wall sit for 3 repetitions of 10 seconds, then move onto a front plank for 4 repetitions of 5 second holds, and lastly to finish up with 2 reps of 20 second holds, for both sides of a side plank.
In each instance, you’ll have a brief break between reps, before you get set again to hold the isometric (static) position. I could even tell you the specific rest to take between each repetition (i.e. 3x10 s with a 10 second break)
There are other ways to manipulate training schemes. Some of them can get very complicated but are usually explained in the programming designed by a coach (like me).
It’s easiest and by far the most common to use straight rep sequences.
However, in the first first example at the top of this article you’ll see the term ‘MAX’ which I usually tell people means the maximum number of reps they can do and leave a rep in the tank.
You’ll also see a distance (40 meters) in the reps column, that’s because this exercise can cover a distance.
There are other terms like this I’ll try to cover below or in my program notes.
The pluralized form for the act or state of setting, or the state of being set. They are only ever notated if there is more than one set.
In the context of resistance training, repetitions are almost always performed in succession.
Sets are rounds of repetitions. They are typically broken up by much longer periods of rest and they are usually written similar to my isometrics notation example above.
- Squat 3x5
- Bench Press 3x5
- Deadlift 1x5
In this example, you have three sets of 5 reps, for the Squat and Bench Press. Followed by one set of 5 reps for deadlifts.
The lack of seconds and the type of exercise (i.e. dynamic as opposed to static) gives you a pretty good indication that the sets are first, followed by the prescribed number of repetitions per set.
As opposed to the similar notation example I gave under the Reps heading.
The notation of 1, 2, 3, means that you’re going to do three sets of 5 squats, resting between each set (discussed below). Then you’re going to move onto exercise or lift #2, and do three sets of 5 bench press. Before finishing with one set of 5 deadlifts.
The Initial Example
It’s not always this clear cut, but for our purposes it’s easier for you to use normal set and rep schemes as your main.
In the first example at the top of this article, you’ll see the sets notated at 2/3/4/3. I’m using the ‘/’ symbol to notate the weekly structure of that training session. I do this to avoid writing out each week individually as it’s own page.
In week one, do 2 sets. Week two, you’ll do 3 sets. In week 3, you do 4 sets, and then in week 4, you do 3 sets again.
This is a typical mesocycle structure. We’re slowly adding volume each week to increase the level of stress, but also to manage the soreness people feel when they start doing new stuff in a program.
For beginners, I often start with just 1 set of everything so they don’t get too sore. 2 sets is enough to maintain.
Rest can mean more than one thing in a casual conversation about resistance training terminology (i.e. I need to rest 1 day between resistance training efforts).
In the context of a training program, it usually means the recommended amount of time you rest between sets of any given exercise. Also it’s the amount of time you should rest before moving onto the next exercise.
- Squat 3x5 (2–5 minutes rest)
- Bench Press 3x5 (60–120 seconds rest)
- Deadlift 1x5 (3–4 minutes rest)
In this example, you should rest 2–5 minutes between each set of squats. While between efforts of bench press, the recommended rest is 60–120 seconds (or 1–2 minutes), just to give you a different look.
Then you’re going to rest 3–4 minutes after your one set of deadlifts, although that’s probably a moot point by this time in the training session.
Another way you could see it written:
- Squat 3x5
- Bench Press 3x5
- Deadlift 1x5
Rest 2–5 minutes between sets.
Here the recommended rest is 2–5 minutes for all exercises.
In the very first image example, you’ll see 45s and 30s for A pairing. Then 15s each for B pairing. Finally no rest between C1 and C2, no rest between C2 and C3 and then 30 seconds of rest after C3, before you do C1 again.
I tell most of my clients that these are only recommended rest minimums. Rest as much or as little as you feel you need to.
That means you’ll do the first exercise, rest at least 45 seconds, then do the second exercise, and rest at least 30 seconds before you attempt A1 exercise again.
That seems a lot lower than the 2–5 minutes I mentioned above now doesn’t it?
That’s because rest is prescribed based on research data.
Rest ‘General Rule of Thumb’
If you’re training under the following conditions, here are the typical recommended rest intervals:
*1–5 reps = 2–5+ minutes rest (“Strength Training,” sometimes “Power Training” up to 6 reps is lumped in here, because explosive training requires more rest and should be done with low repetitions)
*6–12 reps = 90 seconds to 3+ minutes rest (“Hypertrophy Training” and research often suggests that longer rest is actually better here)
*12+ reps = 30–60 seconds of rest (“Endurance Training,” here the purpose is to build a tolerance to fatigue; This is the more likely instance where you’ll see rest specifics manipulated from week to week)
My rest recommendations are low, even compared to that, because I’m using paired sets (or a tri-set in the case of C grouping). This approach lets me pack more training into a smaller amount of time.
My recommendations are accounting for how long it takes to do the second and/or third exercise before coming back around.
If it takes 30 seconds to do each exercise, (10 reps at 3 seconds a rep), and you rest 30 second before and after that. Then you’ve rested 90 seconds technically before you come back to the same exercise.
However, sometimes coaches will be highly specific about the rest requirement, meaning sometimes I want you to rest exactly 30 seconds between efforts.
Or in week one, I want you to rest 60 seconds, in week two, I want 45 seconds, in week three, I want 30 seconds.
You don’t see this that often, but rest can be a training variable, just like sets or reps.
It is just generally used for a specific objective only: improved fatigue tolerance or muscular endurance.
This type of training in general isn’t used as much as others. Therefore, it isn’t all that practical most of the time, and you don’t see it manipulated as regularly as other variables.
I tell new clients to rest as long as they feel they need to, in order to keep output of effort high.
If I (or the client) sees a drop off in performance from set to set, it could/can be a sign that not enough rest is being taken. Take more.
Tempo (AKA Cadence)
In more advanced programming designs you might see tempo or cadence listed. Here is an example.
In a nutshell, each number represents the number of seconds each part of the lift should take.
- First digit = Eccentric Action (lowering the weight)
- Second digit = Pause (if any) after that Eccentric Action
- Third digit = Concentric Action (lifting the weight)
- Fourth digit = Pause (if any) after that Concentric Action
If you see ‘X’ that means that part of the lift should be executed explosively.
Otherwise the prescription is in seconds.
Sometimes you’ll see it as a three digit number so it excludes any pause after the concentric action.
There are a variety of reasons why you may want to manipulate how quickly an exercise is done.
If I don’t list tempo (and I don’t always, I think it’s overkill for beginners) I tell people to be ‘controlled,’ or 2–3 seconds down, and 1–2 seconds up.
Load (AKA Weight)
Again this may be slightly more complicated as a resistance training term, than I wanted to get with this article, but in for a penny, in for a pound.
In my more advanced template I have a column for load. This is often left blank, so clients can fill it in with the weights they actually used. I print these off for clients or tell them to print them off if they are online clients.
It isn’t always left blank though.
Sometimes I will recommend specific weights to use (or start with, so it may be set 1 listed only) listed in either pounds or kilograms.
Other times I’ll recommend one of the following:
- A Rep Maximum (explained next)
- A Percentage
- Reps in Reserve (RIR) or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
5RM = 5 Repetition Maximum.
Meaning, I recommend you use a weight you could lift 5 times, even if say the rep prescription was 3 reps.
In that instance, I’m basically telling you to use a little less weight than you could normally lift, or to leave 2 reps in the tank.
A percentage is usually effort in the case of a sprint or athletic movement drill. So for instance, 80% could mean, go at 80% of your maximum effort.
It could also mean a percentage of 1RM. If I’m being honest, I stopped using this because unless a trainee is rigorous with testing, they have no idea what 85% of 1RM actually means (it’s the same as saying 5RM by the way).
RIR is specific to reps left in the tank. If I tell you to do 5 reps of an exercise, but with a 2RIR. What I really mean is, do 5 reps of an exercise with a weight you could actually lift 7 times.
RPE is similar to RIR and discussed at length in this article. The numbers are just inverted and RPE is a scale of one to ten, so pretty similar to percentage of effort.
These all roughly mean the same thing. How much effort you should put into the exercise or what you should load it with.
(One) Repetition Maximum (1RM)
To keep everyone on the same page in the realm of resistance training terminology, it’s easiest to describe loading schemes in terms of repetition maximums.
Especially in the scientific literature.
It’s so we have an idea of the loads actually being lifted as compared to the actual ability of the trainee (person) in question.
Especially one repetition maximum or one rep max or 1RM for short.
Most research papers will test the subjects for their 1RM. And that doesn’t mean they will load them and load them, until they reach a weight they can only lift one time. That’s risky with beginners, so it’s not often done.
It means after a warm up, they’ll load the research subject with a load they think will get them close to 4–6 reps (more often than not). Then they’ll use a formula to determine the 1RM they could theoretically lift.
They test at the beginning of a research study and the end. Then that’s how they determine how much ‘strength’ a research subject has developed over the duration of the study. i.e. how effective was the training program at improving strength.
If you want to calculate it yourself, or to understand the ratios better, visit this webpage.
The formulas are all based off rough assumptions and other research. You don’t just have a 1RM, you have a 2RM, a 3RM, a 4RM….etc…etc…
Basically an infinite number of repetition maximums if you could keep lifting to infinity and beyond.
All of these repetition maximums correlate to a percentage of (%1RM), depending on the data set you look at. I commonly draw the relationships as such:
- 1RM = 100%
- 2RM = 96%
- 3RM = 92%
- 4RM = 88%
- 5RM = 85%
- 6RM = 81%
- 7RM = 78%
- 8RM = 75%
- 10RM = 70%
- 12RM = 65%
OR something to that effect. The thing about all these numbers is that they are far from specific. Ask three different coaches, and you’ll get different numbers in a similar ballpark.
We just looking for a rough comparison so that we’re using the same language.
If I read a research paper where the subjects are doing 8 reps at 65% 1RM, then I know, that they were probably using really light loads, not to failure.
It helps me make sense of that research paper. So to, can it help you make sense of what I’m talking about sometimes.
They are just used to talk about a general relationship so that we can understand the rough relative intensity of the exercise. Which brings me to…
Intensity is a resistance training term I use a lot. In the world of fitness, it does not mean how hard something feels or how intense you have to be while training.
Intensity in the fitness world means the percentage of 1RM used, relative to your ability. Or it means, how fast (like a sprint or race) was done relative to your ability.
A 2RM lift, is more intense than a 8RM lift. If I tell you to do two reps, with a 8RM load, that is also less intense than a 2RM lift for 2 actual repetitions.
Running 200 m, at 70% effort is a low to moderate intensity. It isn’t what will help you win a 200 m race, but it is easier to recover from and may help you do other things.
If you’re competing in the 200m at a track event, you may want to run your first heat at 97% to leave something in the tank for the next heat. At least, if you’re confident you can win still running at a slightly lower intensity.
If you’re there to win against top competition, then you likely need 100% effort.
We can’t train at 100% intensity, 100% of the time or we burn out quickly. People get injured or they develop over-training. We need rest and recovery between extreme periods of stress.
Intensity needs to cycle with volume to help us manage stress and recovery.
If volume and intensity are too high at the same time for too long, we can over-reach or over-train. If volume is low and intensity is high, we can manage for longer. If volume is high but intensity is low, we can also manage for longer.
Volume isn’t always written out in a congruent fashion in the fitness world.
In the research world, it is often just a representation of the number of sets.
Which may explain why light loads and high loads can show similar amounts of hypertrophy. It’s because if you’re doing the same number of sets to failure, then you should theoretically end up doing the same number of effective reps (mentioned below).
However I was taught in school that volume = sets x reps x load lifted
Meaning, if I do 3 sets of 5 reps at 100 lbs, I’ve done a volume of 1500 (or 1500 lbs).
Some people now prefer to use the resistance training terminology ‘volume load’ for that kind of volume.
Others still will simple list that volume = sets x reps.
All great in theory, it’s just hard to match either in research settings, which is why I think they default just to number of sets.
If I have someone do 5x5 with 200 lbs, and someone do 3 sets of 20 with 100 lbs. One yields 5000, the other 6000. They clearly yield different training effects though.
You’d think that 3 sets of 20 is actually harder based on those numbers, but the stress on your body is likely less. Despite doing 35 more reps.
A lot of those reps in 3x20 are more likely to be what we’d call, ‘junk volume.’ Which is basically work done for the sake of work. It’s additional volume that requires more time investment but isn’t doing much more for your goal as a tradeoff.
In other instances the term could refer to volume that is added for the sake of a low intensity training stimulus as recovery. Especially in taking some stress off the joints. Joint stress is generally considered higher during higher intensity, low rep lifting.
In any case, if you see someone mention the word ‘volume,’ you never really know what you’re going to get as the comparison.
A more accurate description of volume is likely the accumulated number of effective repetitions (described below). The problem is, we don’t exactly know how to quantify effective reps as of yet.
It’s likely the last 3–7 reps that are done in any given set, relative to their proximity to failure.
The closer a person is to absolute failure, the more effective reps they are achieving per set. However, the closer to absolute failure you train, the more recovery is warranted.
It’s a delicate balancing act that I discuss that all in a whole article on effective repetitions. Bit of a catch 22.
These days I’ve actually been leaning more towards simply the number of sets too (as they do for research purposes), for simplicity sake.
That being said, you have to consider it relative to intensity and exercise selection. 5 sets of 3 is not the same as 5 sets of 8 or 5 sets of 15.
This blurb is really just to highlight the basic idea that volume matters but is difficult to isolate on it’s own. It’s the total amount of work done, I’m just not sure we’ve found the best way to quantify it yet. Which is why it needs to go hand in hand with intensity, and recovery.
I think we’re getting there with Reps in Reserve research and Effective Repetition research, but I don’t want to dive into that here and confuse everyone.
It’s kind of a broad resistance training term, and again, somewhat of a loose word to use in the fitness world.
It’s the act of recovering; the regaining or possibility of regaining something lost to taken away; a restoration or return to health from sickness or to any former and better state or condition; the time require to recover from something.
It implies that something is gained in recovering.
I train a little bit, and then depending on how great a stressor that training is, it’s the amount of time it takes for me to return to a baseline of ability or ideally return to a slightly better state of conditioning.
If the stressor isn’t that big, then the recovery process could be very quick or even fairly non-existent.
For instance, walking is low intensity exercise that is is pretty easy to recover from generally. A lot of people could almost walk all day and still recover from that stressor by the next day.
In contrast, HIIT training is very high intensity exercise that is difficult to recover from generally. A lot of people won’t be able to do it for more than 30 minutes and even at such low volumes, it could take people a full three days before their ability to do it again returns to baseline (or slight improvement).
Everything you do is a relative spectrum. The more intense, the shorter durations are tolerable. The less intense, the longer durations are tolerable. If you do a lot of something very intense, it’s very difficult to recover. If you do a little of something not very intense, it’s really easy to recover from it.
We’ve been trying to figure out ways to quantify recovery forever and so far the best way to monitor for it is to ask a trainee how they feel on a scale of 1–5 (or 1–10) prior to training. And then for the coach to actually watch how the workout goes down.
In a nutshell, if you can’t reach previous levels of fitness or slightly exceed them, you’ve likely not recovered from the previous bout.
In a perfect world, you’re always adding weight to the bar or speed to the race, or whatever.
It doesn’t always pan out this way, but if you’re keeping track, then you can determine when you may need to extend the recovery process. This is called a “deload,” and it usually goes hand in hand with mixing the training up to push different development qualities.
Over-Training and Over-Reaching
Two conditions within resistance training terminology that should be discussed separately. Both happen as the result of too much stress and not enough recovery.
Over-training is a real problem that can have chronic problems. Everything from:
- Chronic Insatiable Appetite
- Chronically No Appetite
- Chronic Fatigue
- Chronic Trouble Sleeping
- Chronic Headaches, nausea, blurry vision, GI stress, etc…etc…
- Lack of desire to train
- Poor training outcomes when you do
You don’t want to over-train.
Over-reaching on the other hand is an acute period that lasts usually only a few weeks or less.
Some of the same or similar symptoms can occur, but the main one is simply a drop in training performance and consequently the desire to train.
Sometimes coaches do this purposefully in an effort to drive what’s termed ‘supercompensation’ but I’m getting away from this term.
A model that makes much more sense to me is the Fitness-Fatigue Model. Over reaching fits into this model, by simply pushing the stressor longer or harder than you might normally, only to let a person recover completely.
It’s a matter of stress amplitude instead. So you’ll see people do programs like ‘squat everyday.’ We know that you can’t really recover completely from doing that every day. But if you do it acutely (for a month) you may be able to push through a plateau you’ve been experiencing by over-reaching.
In other words, your body accumulates so much fatigue, the adaptation could in theory be greater for the squat in this case by the end of a short few weeks.
This type of program is not for beginners.
Basically we’re starting to understand a hell of a lot more about how fatigue works than when the supercompensation model was proposed (in like the 50’s or something). It’s a lot more complicated than we thought back then.
If you’re reading this to improve your understanding of training lingo, you don’t want end up in either of these states.
Muscular strength is the amount of force that can be applied in any given exercise or lift.
Typically it’s indicated by the load used and is relative to 1RM. A person with a higher 1RM is typically said to be stronger than a person doing the same lift with less weight.
However, there are two qualifiers we use within this term:
This qualifier speaks to the absolute weight lifted, especially from person to person.
A person who can lift 200 kg in a squat has more absolute strength than a person who can only lift 150 kg in a squat.
They would also be said to be stronger period, but there is a reason we have weight classes in the world of powerlifting, olympic lifting and most martial arts.
Arguably the more relevant qualifier. This is strength expressed as relative to bodyweight.
A bigger person will tend to be stronger overall (more absolute strength) but smaller people often express greater amounts of strength relative to their own bodyweight.
In the example above, the person squatting 200 kg, might be 200 kg themselves, so basically 1 kg is lifted per kg of the person’s bodyweight.
If the 150 kg squatter, is only 100 kg, then 1.5kg per kg of bodyweight is lifted. The 150 kg could have more relative strength.
Effectively the second person could be stronger for their size.
Muscular endurance is fatigue tolerance or resistance. In resistance training terminology is refers to the number of repetitions an individual can do with a fixed weight or a fixed % of 1RM.
i.e. how many push ups or pull ups a person can do or how many presses they can do with 20 kg (45 lbs) or 80% of 1RM.
Muscular (Explosive) Power
Power is another one of these confusing terms. From a physics perspective it can mean work divided by time (work over time).
In this context a person who completes the same distance race faster than another person, has more muscular power.
However, this is confusing because that’s how it gets applied to cardiovascular conditioning.
In the context of resistance training it tends to mean force x velocity.
the ability to exert a maximal force in as short a time as possible; As in accelerating, sprinting, jumping and throwing…
Which is why I added the ‘explosive’ in brackets. A push press is more explosive, and subsequently is more of a power resistance training exercise, than a strict overhead press.
A jump is usually a greater display of power than a heavy squat. An explosive med ball throw requires more power, than a push up. Typically anyway…
It gets used in both cardiovascular training (especially on stationary bikes and rowers) and in resistance training (on specialized pieces of equipment like the Beast Sensor, Tendo Unit or PUSH band) and displayed formally as wattage.
Effective Reps (AKA Stimulating Reps)
Basically a (pretty accurate) theory about the mechanical tension achieved by fatiguing a muscle or group of muscles during an exercise.
Effective reps are a key ingredient for muscle building or muscle hypertrophy.
Periodization (Program Planning)
I should could write a whole article on this resistance training terminology. There are dozens of different ways to plan a program or periodize.
I could get semantic about it too but I won’t.
Periodization is just a fancy word for planning or prescription. See the above discussion of macrocycles, mesocycles, microcycles and training sessions above.
There are lots of ways to execute it, but that’s the common language in all of the most widely used systems for planning.
There are activities that seem to go hand in hand with a person’s development that make sense.
Building a base or foundation first. Then moving into more strength movements ~5 reps, then backing off a bit to maybe 8 reps again, then bumping up the intensity to 3 reps.
Once you’re an intermediate, all of those things could be mixed into one program.
The image in this sub-headline is how I’d organize a workout. You typically want to do the most technical stuff first.
It doesn’t include a warm up but warm ups can be periodized/planned.
It depends on the time investment and the goals but there are lot of different sequences I’ve learned and implemented over the years and I won’t bore you with the details. There are many books written on this topic if you want to learn more.
Specific Lifting Terms
Here are a few more terms you might hear specifically mentioned in the world of fitness training.
Movement Prep (AKA Warm Up)
From a resistance training terminology perspective, I prefer the term movement preparation because it has clearer intent. The idea of a warm up is to prepare for higher intensity or higher amplitude movement.
To prepare to move we want to:
- Increase Tissue Temperature
- Prime the Mobility You Have
- Rehearse the Intended Movements of your Training Session
- Prep the CNS for the Impending Training Session
This includes dynamic stretching, self massage sometimes, slowly increasing amplitude of movement and intensity of movement.
You don’t just walk out onto the track and sprint 100 m as fast as you can, you get loose first. You get your joints moving, warm the tissues up with a little jogging maybe, then gradually do a bunch of practice runs that get a little bit faster each attempt until you’re ready to run at 100%.
Likewise, you don’t just throw 5 plates on each side of a leg press and crunch out a bunch of reps. It’s wiser to start with 1 plate a side, then 2 plates, then 3 plates, then 4 plates until you’re at your working weight of 5 plates and then you go to town.
I honestly think less and less about the importance of such a thing except when it seems important to amplify the recovery process.
When I was is school this resistance training terminology was something thought to be really really important, but it’s only really really important for really high intensity activity in my experience.
Recovery is complicated but a lot of research shows that low intensity aerobic oriented work, counter balances high intensity sprint work or resistance training.
A 20 minute light bike ride at the end of a really tough workout, might help a person recover a little bit faster.
Light stretching or walking/swimming after a tough workout, could be in a similar boat.
The idea of a cool-down is to let the heart rate come back down gradually and helps pump a little more blood through the system.
The lower body in particular has a unique vein system whereby valves in the blood vessels push blood back up to the heart segmentally. The cooldown keeps moving muscle, which keeps moving that blood up and theoretically helps people recover faster.
It’s also advisable if you have issues with light headedness during or after training.
The lowering phase of any given lift (i.e. sitting down).
Coming down from the top of a chin up, or back down to the ground on a deadlift.
The lifting phase of any given lift (i.e. standing back up).
Going up to the top of a chin up, or standing up with the weight in your hands for a deadlift.
Isometric (AKA Static)
In resistance training terminology this means holding tension without movement (i.e. pushing into a wall for a duration of time, the wall doesn’t move).
You’ll usually have an isometric moment switching from eccentric to concentric actions and vice versa.
A state that is almost static or isometric.
The transition points from eccentric action to concentric, or concentric to eccentric are often more labelled quasi-isometric because tension isn’t necessarily constant and there may be a little movement going on still.
Pure isometrics are probably best defined as pushing or pulling something immovable.
If I’m contracting my arm up to my shoulder it can’t go any further than this, it’s more of a pure isometric action.
If I lift my arm up to the same position, and down again, the brief pause during the transition might best be described as quasi-isometric because some movement is still happening in the later instance.
In the context of fitness, it means to build muscle. AKA Muscle Hypertrophy or as I’m trying to say more and more, ‘muscle mass development.’
Towards the midline of the body.
This doesn’t get used a ton in exercise notation, more to refer to a certain part of a muscle. Or to describe where a muscle is in relation to another muscle.
Less likely you’ll need or want to know this term, I just wanted to include it. It’s also in the anatomical terms link below.
Towards the outside of the body or out towards the side. The lateral head of the deltoid is the middle outside part of the shoulder muscle.
However, to add to the confusion it is more likely used to describe exercise direction of movement too. If I say lateral squat, lateral lunge or lateral deadlift, I’m implying that this specific movement is out to the side rather than the typical execution.
Bilateral (Two Limbed)
A lot of classic exercises are bilateral. The squat, the deadlift, the push up, the pull up, the chin up, etc… all indicate exercises that are done with both limbs (arms or legs) at the same time.
Unilateral (Single Limbed)
Has become a more popular way to train as of late. Lets you focus and isolate your attention to one limb at a time.
This is more likely to be abbreviated by coaches in programs. i.e. SA Press or SL Squat. Both imply a single arm or single leg version of a traditionally bilateral movement.
I’m giving you my abbreviation here before the abbreviations so I don’t have to write it out twice.
Contralateral in resistance training terminology refers to the load distribution relative to the torso. In this case it means the load relative to the working limb is on the opposite side of the body.
If the torso acts like a ‘X’ sling structure, then the load and/or working leg is either top right and bottom left or top left and bottom right.
So if I’m doing a leg exercise with my left foot and I hold the weight in my right arm or on my right shoulder, I’m contralaterally loaded.
In resistance training terminology this is effectively the opposite of contralateral. If you’re working your left leg and holding the weight in your left hand, that’s an ipsilateral load.
Both this type of loading, and contralateral loading is somewhat unique to single limb type exercises (lunges, single leg squats or deadlifts, etc…) and a lot of torso training exercises.
Common Lifting Abbreviations
AKA Acronyms in some cases. Resistance training terminology can sometimes can get away from you if you don’t have a system of abbreviations in place for exercise prescription.
If you’ve ever seen your chart at a doctors office, you will have seen the rampant use of abbreviations to make writing easier for the practitioner. In this case your trainer…
I usually only abbreviate if I have to, or only in select cases. Mostly because I’m limited in space in any given column/row system that is typically used for exercise programming.
Sometimes exercise names can just get away from you and end up way too long, so here are a few ways I might make it shorter to notate in a program.
BW = Bodyweight
This exercise should be done only with your bodyweight. There are a lot of common exercises that are normally loaded so this just lets the trainee know that no load is to be used on this exercise.
Of course there are certain exercises like pull ups, or chin ups or push ups that naturally imply that bodyweight is to be used. Here I wouldn’t put BW because it adds letters unnecessarily.
BB = Barbell
Self explanatory, this abbreviates a common tool used in most gyms around the world.
DB = Dumbbell
Again a simple abbreviation for a common tool used in most gyms around the world.
KB = Kettlebell
A newer tool (of apparent Russian descent) in the Western world, kettlebells are more and more common in gyms around the world.
BR = Band Resisted or Band Resistance
Implies that the tool for resistance is a band. I usually provide video examples to clients so they can see what I mean anyway (making listing this whole system a little redundant I suppose).
Commonly though you’d expect to see me use a 41" looped band most often. Followed by looped 9" or 11" bands for the legs.
There are also thinner tubed bands with handles and sometimes a fabric covering that tubing for safety purposes. These are incredibly common in home gyms due to their cheap cost.
There are a wide variety of bands on the market though, so keep that in mind when you see this abbreviation.
TB or HB = Trap Bar or Hex Bar
This is a specialized form of equipment that is becoming more and more common in gyms as more and more research indicates it to be a brilliant combination of deadlift and squat.
It’s not as versatile as a barbell but honestly it’s become one of my favourite pieces of equipment.
Especially for taller people or people with mobility challenges due to age or gender or injury.
It’s typically a hexagon (hence the name) that you step into and is loaded like a barbell on either side (with the same style of plates).
The best ones will have handles at more than one height. If you flip it one way, it’s more like a deadlift, if you flip it the other way (to the higher handle) it’s more like a squat.
The line of pull is straighter than both because you’re in the center of the weight distribution. A front squat and a traditional deadlift puts the load slightly out in front, while a back squat puts the load slightly behind. Both of those situations creates more shear forces than the trap bar does.
SB = Stability Ball or Swiss Ball
Some coaches may use the term physio ball or PB but I prefer that abbreviation for personal best.
I honestly don’t know why it’s sometimes called a swiss ball. Did the swiss invent this?
Stability Ball makes the most sense to me but that doesn’t stop other coaches from using other terms.
FWD = Forward
Refers to the movement direction.
A FWD lunge is a forward lunge. A FWD sled drag means you’re going forwards. FWD march means you’re marching forward (rather than stationary perhaps). Make sense?
REV = Reverse
Refers to the movement direction. A REV lunge is a reverse lunge. A REV sled drag means you’re going backwards. REV running is running backwards. Self explanatory?
I don’t have to use FWD as much as I likely use REV. Given that most movements are naturally implied to be moving forward.
Pt = Point
I often abbreviate point because there are lots of exercises I use where points of contact change.
A 4 Pt quadruped position (knees off the ground) is different from a 6 Pt quadruped position (knees on the ground).
A 3 Pt ankle mobility drill is different from a 2 Pt ankle mobility drill, which basically just differentiates the number of movements or sequences involved sometimes.
HED or BED = Hip Extension Device or Back Extension Device
BED is a misnomer, but it’s the more common term for whatever reason. It’s technically incorrect as the tool is not for back extension so much as hip extension. I abbreviate it to HED but I’m probably not the norm.
You’ve seen these in gyms. They are roughly 45º and give you a place to lock your ankles in while you bend at the waist (hip extension). You can hold weight or bands while using it. The best ones can adjust the angle of pull and thus make the movement easier or harder.
GHD = Glute Ham Device
A specialized piece of equipment that is similar to a hip extension device (HED) only it’s straight rather than angled. When used for hip extension and no hamstring curl element, it’s harder than a HED.
However, it’s design also permits for knee flexion to be incorporated. This tool is one of my favourite hamstring training tools but it’s highly specialized so you don’t see it in all gyms.
It’s also extremely difficult for beginners and new trainees. Who will probably start on a more traditional leg curl machine or with swiss ball curls.
Don’t use these for sit-ups please.
1A or SA = One Arm or Single Arm
Indicates that an exercise is to be performed one arm at a time. For instance a 1A DB press = Pressing a Dumbbell One Arm at a Time. While a DB Press would likely default to a two arm version.
These abbreviations also highlight why I prefer to list exercises as A1 or B1, rather than 1A or 1B because 1A can be confusing, if you also use 1A as an abbreviation for one arm or a single arm lift.
1L or SL = One Leg or Single Leg
Indicates an exercise is to be performed one leg at a time. For example, 1L or SL Squat = Single Leg Squat as opposed to the more commonly executed bilateral or two legged squat.
Most exercises are originally two limbed if extra notation (abbreviations) are not added.
Some you know for sure will be one limb or pseudo-one limbed, like a lunge or a step up, but a lot of bilateral (two limbed) exercises can also be done unilaterally (with one limb).
Alt. = Alternating
Indicates that an exercise is to be performed in an alternating fashion. A an alt. db press = you have two dumbbells and you press one at a time holding the other in place while you do the exercise in one arm.
1DB or 1KB = One Dumbbell or One Kettlebell
I’m actually more likely to only use 1DB instead of SA DB or 1A DB because it saves more space and implies the same thing.
Most dumbbell exercises are done with two arms at the same time, so 1DB is more practical.
In contrast, most kettlebell exercises by default actually imply that one kettlebell is being used. I know that’s confusing but it’s just the way it traditionally is.
If I say KB swing, there is one kettlebell in use. If I say KB Snatch, it implies that one kettlebell is in use.
I will only use 1KB to distinguish something specific to someone who may not know that most KB exercises already default to a single kettlebell in use.
2DB or 2KB = Two Dumbbell or Two Kettlebell
Flip the notion above. I rarely use 2DB by default, because most DB exercises tend to be two limbs by default.
There may be a few strange instances where DB implies one dumbbell in use, like a DB snatch. It’s because I’d rarely prescribe a two dumbbell snatch.
Most KB exercises on the other hand imply that one kettlebell is in use only, but there are double kettlebell exercises that exist.
They are just less common. I think in part because the appeal of kettlebells has always been routed in simplicity and training at home. Owning one bell at a time as you get stronger and stronger, rather than two.
Gyms are less constrained by this and tend to have at least pairs of kettlebells for use in a 2KB snatch or 2KB swing or 2KB clean.
RNT = Reactive Neuromuscular Training
I wish this was a resistance training term you’re most likely to find on advanced programs only, because it sounds really complicated.
Sadly, it’s more likely to pop up on beginner to intermediate programs because it’s best application is for teaching good movement.
The principle sounds complicated but the overall execution rarely is.
If I wrap a band around your hips because you lean too far in one direction while you squat or deadlift, I’m using a principle typically called Reactive Neuromuscular Training. I believe it was coined by physiotherapist, Gray Cook but don’t quote me on that.
I’m trying to force your body to compensate in the opposite direction or create tension in a way that it isn’t currently so that you immediately execute the lift with better technique.
If you lean to your left and I put a band around your hips on your right, your natural inclination is to shift your hips more to the right to compensate for the added resistance to your hips. Ideally this forces someone to practice reps where they are ‘straightened out.’
You see this getting applied to knees quite a bit during lunges or single leg squats or deadlifts. A lot of new trainees have weak external hip rotators and their natural tendency is to let the knee roll in, which creates a poor line of pull and needless stress on the knee.
Wrap a band around the outside of the knee (either above or below) and the new natural tendency is for the external rotators to push outward and straighten the leg out to distribute stress more evenly in the leg.
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to do this depending on the movement error. I won’t describe all of them.
Anatomical Terms of Motion
I was going to write a whole bunch of them but instead I found an excellent article on wikipedia that did it for me already with pictures!
Did I Miss Something?
Want an explanation for a term I don’t have here yet?
Originally published at Skill Based Fitness.