Say What? Common Gym Terms and Lingo

By Jaime Rice

Starting a fitness program can be a daunting task and experience if you are brand new to the fitness industry and lifestyle. Just stepping foot into a gym can be the cause of anxiety and intimidation; which machine does what, which exercise is best for your goals, and how to work all the equipment, etc. Not only can the gym be intimidating but also the gym lingo.

I was speaking with a close friend the other day and explaining to her my goals in the gym and a typical workout for me each day. As I was explaining, she looked at me with this blank stare and said, “I have no idea what any of that means.” At that point I realized I might as well be speaking a foreign language to her and she would understand just as much. Since I am immersed in this lifestyle I never noticed language and lingo of the “gym life” as being something that most individuals do not understand. With that said, today I want to focus on the most commonly used terms and what they mean.

Commonly Used Fitness Terms and Equipment:

Rep (Repetitions): A Rep is short for repetition and it is exactly what is seems; completing an exercise for a set number of times or repetitions. For example, Bicep curls for 8 reps or repetitions.

Set(s): A Set is preforming a specific exercise for a set number of repetitions. For example, 8 bicep curls repetitions (Reps) then resting equals one SET. Thus, one could do 4 sets of 8 Biceps curl repetitions (Reps). This is commonly written as 4 x 8 Biceps curls. Essentially one is doing 32 Bicep curls broken down into 4 sets (sections) for 8 reps each time.

Dumbbell: A Dumbbell is simply a weight. They are usually in increments of 5 LBS with the smallest being a 5 LB weight and all the way up to 100LBs.


Set of 35LB Dumbbells

Barbell: A weighted bar which either has fixed weights on each side, usually in increments of 10LBs or a bar in which you can add weighted plates to each end. Remember, when using a bar you add plates too, the bar typically weighs 45LBs by itself.


Barbell in which you add plates to each side for desired weight.

Smith Machine: A machine with a barbell that moves vertically on a stationary rack. This is used when squatting, benching, shoulder press, etc and the lifter does not have a spotter or wants to lift heavier weight with more stability. The Smith Machine requires less stabilizer muscles because it stabilizes the bar for you.

Failure or Muscle Failure: Preforming an exercise to the point of complete muscle exhaustion or failure. This is a technique I often use on last sets of certain exercises. For example, I will do 3 sets of 10 dumbbell bicep curls with the last set to failure. I may only do 12 or do 18 but I will do as many as physically possible.

RPE: Rate of Perceived Exertion/Effort; basically how hard one feels they are working during an exercise. This is a subjective measurement and is typically on a 1 -10 scale with 10 being the highest/max effort. For example and RPE of 8 would be a heavy lift for 8 reps but you are still able to crank out 2 more reps if need be.

MetCon: This is short for Metabolic Conditioning. These circuits are performed at a high level of intensity with very little or no rest in between. The exercises are usually for short burst or low reps, repeated sequentially, and with high intensity. For example:

10 Burpees

15 Box Jumps

10 Pushups

15 Jump Squats

5 Rounds for Time

I could talk about the benefit of high intensity training all day long but I will save that for another post.

Hypertrophy: This one may not be as common as some of the others but if you stick to a strength building program long enough you are bound to hear this term. Muscle Hypertrophy is the growth and increase in size of muscle cells. As one exercises, specifically weightlifting, the muscles contract during lifts promoting Hypertrophy.

I hope this list helps with understanding the Gym Lingo!

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