Gym Talk Terminology and Jargon

Gym Talk Terminology and Jargon

Staff Writer
9 minute read

A Glossary of How To Talk in the Gym

It’s that time of the year again.  We are all swearing off those extra pounds that we acquired over the holiday season. The first step we seek is usually a gym membership. Joining a gym can be pretty scary. It’s like going to another country. The members can even speak a different language using phrases and words you’ve never heard before. As if just being at a new gym was not intimidating enough, now you have to speak to people and pretend you know what they are talking about?
Well, I’m here to tell ya, if you feel like an illegal alien in your gym, there are only a few words you need to learn before you will feel like a full-fledged gym citizen. Learning some of this gym slang will not only help you feel more comfortable, but it will help you learn how to maximize your workouts. Let's talk gym jargon!

The Players:

  • Bodybuilder: With bulging biceps and X-shaped frames, these larger-than-life gym bodies don’t just happen overnight. Heavy lifting and a strict diet are a few of the prerequisites— just ask Arnold. Some of the not-so-nice names we had to leave out: meatheads, guerrillas, and many other terms.
  • CrossFitter: In the CrossFit revolution, these super-fit (or at least super-motivated) specimens are its humble disciples. Their daily workouts, aka “WODs,” include tens to hundreds (yes, hundreds) of reps of high-intensity functional movements, including pull-ups, box jumps, burpees, running, Olympic lifts, and squats. Not quite Navy Seal-fit? Weight and intensity are both scalable, depending on fitness level.
  • Gym Rat: Don’t bother calling the exterminator. These workout-aholics will do whatever it takes to get their daily burn. Spot them morning, noon, and night, maneuvering the floor with a cool, “I know what's up” swag.
  • Mr. Varsity: If anyone’s got a game, it’s this guy. Boasting “big man on campus” cockiness, this all-star athlete doesn’t let a day go by without plying his trade. Expect a well-rehearsed variety show of weights, plyometrics, and track work— plus a few winks for the ladies.
  • Powerlifter: Need a hand? These singlet-wearing bundles of might could single-handedly move your entire car. What they might prefer to do? Math (in multiples of 45lbs), and compete in the following three moves: squat, deadlift, and bench press.
  • Personal Trainer: Not only are they fit, knowledgeable, and commanding, the best among these no-fuss pros help clients achieve their fitness goals through safe and effective exercise techniques (and can make stairs a no-go for at least 48 hrs, or until the soreness wears off). There are numerous certifying bodies for trainers, so make sure to check credentials before investing in some serious instruction.
  • Yogis: It’s about more than just a downward-facing dog for this loose and limber set. Armed with toned, sinewy limbs, Lululemon anything, and a healthy dose of WOOOOSAH, these yoga lovers live and breathe its principles beyond the purple mats.


  • Spot: When someone assists another person with an exercise. ie: “Can you spot me?” or “I need a spotter.”
  • Rep: Short for repetitions. This is how many times you do a single exercise in a row. i.e.: “I did shoulder presses for 12 reps at that weight”.
  • Set: 1 Set refers to a group of repetitions done without stopping. i.e.: “Do 3 sets of 15 reps”
  • Super Set: Refers to a combination of complimentary exercises done back to back in one “super set” with little to no rest. For instance, “I did a super set of shoulder presses and lateral raises”
  • Circuit: This is a series of different exercises that are performed back to back with little to no rest.
  • Pyramiding: Doing sets of downward or upward scaling of reps or weight. i.e 4 sets by 12-10-8-6, or 6-8-10-12Intervals: Interval training is when you train at a low intensity for a period of time, followed by a high intensity. (I love interval training!)
  • Tabata: Tabata training is a highly effective style of interval training, doing an exercise for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds, which totals 4 minutes.
  • HIIT: High-intensity interval training is another form of interval training. The exercise strategy alternates periods of short intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods.
  • Resistance Training. Any exercise using resistance, like weight or elastic bands.
  • One Rep Max: The maximum amount of weight one can lift in a single repetition.
  • Negatives: Negative training is when the muscle lengthens during an exercise, called an eccentric contraction. For instance, on a bicep curl, the negative movement is when you are bringing the weight back down. Concentric contraction is what we think of when we flex our muscles, or shorten the muscle (like the beginning of a bicep curl). The negative movement is believed to be a crucial part of muscle development.
  • Recovery: Refers to rest between exercises. Short recovery is best for fat burn and conditioning, and long recovery is best for power lifting and bulking
  • DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the exercise. To treat, increases blood flow to the muscle with low-intensity work, massage, or hot baths. Increased water and protein can also help repair muscles. Staying still can make it worse.
  • Failure: When you cannot do one more rep. Reaching failure is believed to produce muscle growth.
  • Maximum Heart Rate: 220 – your age. This is used when determining your training zone.
  • Target Heart Rate: A good target heart rate for vigorous training is 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. For example, for a 40yr old who wants to train at 75%, calculate 220 – 40 X .75 = 135. Or visit the Mayo Clinic’s Target Heart Rate Calculator to get a cool graph.
  • Selectorized Machines: Also known as universal machines, refers to weight machines where you can easily “select” a weight by inserting a pin in the weight stack. Machines are very safe and effective because they isolate the appropriate body part and leave little room for error.
  • Bar: A long straight bar (typically 45lbs) used to put plate weights, used traditionally for squatting and bench press.
  • Curl Bar: The curved bar, known as the EZ Curl or preach curl bar, typically used for bicep curls, can normally weigh 25lbs.
  • Collar: This is the attachment that secures the plate weights on a barbell or curl bar so the weight doesn’t slip off.
  • Free Weights: Typically refers to dumbbells & barbells. Free weight exercises require more balance and engage more muscles than working out on machines. Free weights are more challenging to use, but highly recommended and offer a gym goer more versatility.
  • Cardio: Short for Cardiovascular exercise, normally refers to a fat-burning workout on a treadmill, elliptical, bike or aerobic class, although real cardiovascular exercise is designed primarily to work the heart and lungs.


  • Pecs: Short for pectoral muscles (chest).
  • Lats: Short for latissimus dorsi (back).
  • Traps: Short for trapezius muscles, which span across the neck, shoulders, and upper back. It’s the muscles you typically think of when you ask someone to rub your shoulders.
  • Delts: Shoulders. You can work the front, middle and rear delts.
  • Tris: Triceps (the back part of the upper arm). This is the part women hate to giggle when they wave.
  • Bis: Biceps (the front part of the upper arm). People often use language like, “bis and tris” for short, when talking about the body parts they trained.
  • Quads: Quadriceps (front of the thighs).
  • Hams: Hamstrings (back of the thighs). Also playfully called Hammies.
  • Glutes: Short for gluteus Maximus – a much nicer way to say “butt”.
  • Core: Refers to your trunk – your low back, mid-back, abdominals, obliques, and stabilizers.
  • Ripped: Someone is ripped when they have very low body fat and muscle separation is visible and defined. i.e.: “That guy is ripped!”
  • Cut: Refers to the sharp lines of definition around muscles. i.e.: “I can see the cuts in your legs” or “she’s really cut”.
  • Jacked: Refers to a guy or girl who has a lot of muscle (like this guy). i.e.: “That guy is jacked!”
  • Juice: If you hear someone say they are on “juice” they aren’t talking about juicing fruits and vegetables, they’re talking about steroids.
  • Pump: This is when your muscle is so full of glycogen and water from training it, it actually will feel like it has been pumped up like a bicycle tire. It will feel tight to the touch and temporarily look swollen (in a good way).
  • Lean Mass: Refers to the amount of muscle you have.
  • BMR: Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the number of calories you burn at rest.

The More You Know, the More You’ll Go!
You don’t have to know all this stuff to get a great workout in. However, in my experience, if you are even the least bit uncomfortable working out in a gym, you won’t go. So, the more you learn, the more confident you will be  – and the more you will go!

Live Life Fitter my new gym goers!

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