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33 Fitness Definitions To Help You Understand Your Personal Trainer

I've spent several years training both civilian and military clients in various settings toward a variety of fitness goals. I try to empower my clients with the language they need to understand and describe what's happening in the body. Still, not everyone is comfortable with the language of exercise science, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition. Some clients find fitness jargon intimidating, discouraging, and exclusionary.


My training philosophy includes educating and empowering my clients with the tools they need to continue their fitness journeys indefinitely, with or without a trainer. That's why I've created this short list of exercise science and training-related keywords to guide you through your fitness journey. What other words fitness or nutrition words have you heard that you want to know more about? Leave a comment below!

  • Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic exercises require oxygen to metabolize energy and improve the cardiovascular system's conditioning. Aerobic activity is best approached for longer periods at lower intensities. 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a few times per week can offer excellent cardiovascular and other health benefits.

  • Anaerobic Exercise: Anaerobic exercises are those that use the body's stored energy sources, like glycogen, to create movement. These movements do not require the use of oxygen but can not continue anaerobically for extended periods. Many types of exercise incorporate both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, and pinpointing when the body changes from primarily one energy system to another is impossible. A good workout program will incorporate exercises that use multiple energy systems, multiple planes of movement, and a range of intensities.

  • Body Weight: This is your measure of force against the Earth's gravitational pull, commonly measured in pounds, kilograms, or stone. A bodyweight exercise uses only the resistance from your body against the pull of gravity, with no added equipment.

  • Circuit Training: Circuit training is a series of movements designed to be completed in order, and repeated as a set for multiple sets. Circuit training sessions are often designed as HIIT activities, with a time assigned to perform each exercise instead of a certain number of repetitions.

  • Compound Movements or Compound Lifts: "Compound" implies multiple, and in this case, multiple joint actions. Exercises that require multiple joint actions by default require multiple muscular efforts. What this means is that compound exercises require a more full-body effort and require higher energy expenditure.

  • Concentric Motion: This is the muscular movement that involves muscle shortening, during which muscle fibers slide over one another to become more compact. What is commonly referred to as "flexing" your bicep actually describes the concentric muscle contraction that happens when you flex at the elbow.

  • Dynamic Warmup: This type of movement is used to prepare the body for exercise by using lighter intensity movements that mimic the biomechanics of the upcoming exercises. Dynamic warmups help lubricate joints through their full ranges of motion and prime the body's neuromuscular pathways so that your body recruits the maximum number of muscle fibers during exercise. A similar theory applies to functional fitness movements and preparation for every day movement.

  • Eccentric Motion: Eccentric movement describes the other end of the muscular contraction, when the muscle lengthens and fibers slide away from one another. If you are standing and you extend your elbow is fully with arms downward at your sides, your bicep will undergo eccentric motion while your triceps undergo concentric motion.

  • Explosive Exercises: "Explosive" exercises are movements that force your body to use short bursts of readily available anaerobic energy to exert maximal effort.

  • Fitness Assessment: This is a tool your trainer uses to help determine your fitness level before the start of the program. Your personal trainer might also use the same assessments later in the program to assess your progress toward your fitness goals and how your fitness level has changed.

  • HIIT Training: High-Intensity Interval Training. This training type involves periods of high-intensity exercise, permeated by periods of low intensity or rest.

  • Isometric Exercises: Isometric exercises are commonly referred to as "static hold" exercises. Some of my personal favorite examples are the wall sit, the plank hold and all its variations, the tabletop hover, and boat pose. These exercises create muscle contraction without joint action or movement. Even though you're holding a still pose, you still feel your muscles doing work!

  • Joint Action: The joint action is the movement that defines the exercise and determines which muscles are used for the action. For example, if the joint action is elbow flexion, I know that the bicep will be moving concentrically (shortening/contracting) during the movement. If the joint action is elbow extension, the bicep will elongate, and the triceps will undergo concentric movement. Muscles do not flex. Only joints do.

  • Muscle Failure: Muscle failure means that under standard conditions, your biomechanics fail you during an exercise repetition with continuous effort. Because of complete muscular fatigue, you are unable to complete or continue the repetition.

  • Muscle Hypertrophy: This term means muscle growth. In humans, muscle "growth" means an increase in muscle size after damage sustained from exercise. That growth is in the sarcoplasmic glycogen storage capacity of the cell or in the increased size of myofibrils. Muscle damage leads to muscle gain, and lowering body fat percentages show more muscle definition.

  • Muscle Tone: The muscle tone is the continuous and passive-partial contraction of the muscle or the muscle's resistance to passive stretch during the resting state. This is a commonly misused term to describe the appearance of muscles, which depend on muscle size and shape as well as body fat percentage.

  • Overload Principle: The overload principle is a principle of exercise physiology that explains the adaptive change within the body that results from constantly challenging the body. This implies that in order to grow, you need to be adding resistance, time, or intensity to your training to prevent growth stagnation.

  • Proper Form: When your trainer refers to proper form, they're looking at your biomechanics and posture. Good form always begins with a strong foundation, strong posture, and appropriate angles of joint flexion. Maintaining proper form means completing the exercise while effectively working the targeted muscle groups and maintaining alignment to prevent injury.

  • Range of Motion: The range of motion describes each joint's potential degree of movement in each applicable plane. Some joints move in only one plane while others move through multiple planes.

  • Repetitions, or "reps": The number of times you will complete a movement within a set of exercises.

  • Repetition range: Your "rep range" is the range of repetitions within which you are working for each set. For example, if hypertrophy is your fitness goal, you'd be working in the 8-12 rep range. That means you should be completing an exercise 8 to 12 times in each set.

  • Rest Periods or Rest Intervals: This is the non-working period between sets of movements. Depending on program goals, rest periods are between 30 seconds and 5 minutes long.

  • Rest Days: Muscle recovery is important, which is why rest days are recommended for everyone, no matter the fitness goal. Rest days might also be called "active recovery" days because you can perform activities that promote tissue recovery without challenging the body enough to constitute exercise. Active recovery might include light vinyasa-style yoga, foam rolling, or walking.

  • Resistance Training: Resistance training is any form of physical training that involves resistance due to either free weights, body weight, and gravity, or resistance machines.

  • RPE: Rate of perceived exertion. This is the scale your personal trainer might use to determine how well-tuned your workout is to your conditioning level. Think of this as the pain scale at the doctor's office with the ten different faces, except you're using it to rate your perceived exertion, not pain.

  • RIR: Repetitions in reserve. If your trainer asks for your RIR after you complete the set, that might sound like, "how many more reps do you think you could have done?" This is another way the trainer can help determine what percentage of your maximal effort you're performing with. It can also help your trainer adjust reps, sets, and training days and decide if you need heavier weights or lighter weights in your strength training routine.

  • Sets: A set is a group of repetitions of the same movement. One "set" of a bench press might mean you complete 4-6 repetitions of the bench press before taking a rest period.

  • Strength Gains: "Gains" is the gym-enthusiast term for increases in perceived or actual strength through training. Muscle "gains," therefore, are actual or perceived muscular growth

  • Static Stretching: This is the static hold stretching that happens after exercise. It involves getting into a stretching pose and holding that pose while incorporating breath practice or deep breathing techniques.

  • Strength Training: A strength training program is a physical training program designed for those whose primary goal is to build strength. Strength training is very often used synonymously with "resistance training," which can refer to free weight or resistance machine training, as well as bodyweight exercise.

  • Training Goals: Your training goals are what help your trainer shape your workout. Different training goals require different kinds of targeted exercise, different training frequencies, and different resistance levels. Training goals typically include hypertrophy, body fat reduction, weight loss or gain, cardiovascular health, muscular endurance, speed, mobility, agility, or flexibility. At Sanjana, fitness training goals can also include gaining confidence in the gym setting and the real world, feeling more balanced mentally and physically, and creating a stronger connection with the physical self.

  • Training Program: Your training program is the big-picture organization of your regular periods of exercise. Your program should align with your goals and be segmented into both short-term and longer-term goals. Sometimes people refer to training programs as a "workout routine" or an exercise program.

  • Training Volume: This is the amount of work you perform through exercise and can be measured in minutes, miles, reps and sets, laps, etc.

What are some terms that your trainer uses that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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