A Handy Guide to Trainers Lingo, Jargon and Nonsense

I very often take it for granted that my clients understand what I'm talking about when I say something like "4 sets of 6 reps with a 40X0 tempo".

However, there is a very good chance you'll have no idea what I'm talking about!

So here is a glossary of terms that will likely help you navigate the weird and wonderful world of personal training and gyms.


Repetition ("rep"): One performance of a single exercise. For example, 1 squat or 1 bicep curl.

Set: A number of repetitions grouped together without stopping. If you see 3 x 10 written on a training program you can generally take this to mean 3 sets of 10 reps.

Rest Period/Interval: Time taken for recovery between sets, usually expressed in seconds (e.g. 90 seconds rest). No matter the number written, it never seems long enough!

Tempo (cadence): The speed at which a repition is performed. For a full explanation of tempos, see my blog post here.

DOMS: This accronym stands for 'Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness' and relates to the soreness ecperienced in the 24-48 hours (sometimes longer) after training.

Pump: In bodybuilding parlance, the 'pump' stands for the accumulation of blood in a muscle, making it feel 'full'.

Cardio: Cardio is short for cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular exercise and refers to exercise that elevates the heart rate to pump oxygen and nutrient-carrying blood to the working muscles. Cardiovascular exercise is typically thought of as exercises such as running, rowing, cycling, but can include resistance training performed in a circuit format, for example.

AMRAP: Borrowed from the world of cross-fit, AMRAP stands for "As Many Rounds/Reps As Possible". This is usually used for timed workouts where the aim is to complete as much work as possible in a certain amount of time.

Intensity: The intensity of a workout is often misunderstood. As it relates to strength training, the intensity of a workout relates to how much weight is being lifted. The closer the weight is to your maximum, the greater the intensity you are working at. This should not be confused with ‘intensiveness’ which relates to how hard you are working, which can be subjectively scored using the RPE scale…

RPE: Rating of Perceived Exertion. Generally scored on a scale of 1-10 to rate how difficult a set or an exercise was.

HIIT: This stands for 'High Intensity Interval Training" and relates to exercising at maximum effort for very short periods. Each burst of activity is followed by a short rest period.


Body Composition: Many of us want to improve our body composition, but what does that actually mean? Your body composition simply relates to the amount of fat mass you have vs the amount of lean mass you have.

1 Rep Max (1RM): The amount of weight/resistance that can be lifted or moved once, but not twice; a common measure of strength. You’ll typically get asked what your “1RM for your bench press” is, but never what your 1RM is for your squat!

Superset: When you perform two exercises targeting the same muscle groups back to back with only minimal rest.

Paired Set: Performing exercises of opposing muscle groups in an alternating fashion. For example, a set of Push Ups paired with a Seated Cable Row.

Muscular Strength: The ability of the muscle to generate the maximum amount of force.

Muscular Endurance: The ability of the muscle to perform repetitive contractions over a prolonged period of time.

Eccentric: The phase of a rep whereby the working muscle(s) are lengthening under tension (for example the downward phase of a bicep curl).

Concentric: The phase of a rep whereby the working muscle(s) are shortening under tension (for example the upward phase of a bicep curl)

Bodyweight Exercises: Exercises performed with the weight of your own body only. For example, Pull-Ups and Push-Ups.

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Bulking: Purposefully consuming more calories than you expend in order to build muscle mass. Generally thought of as far more enjoyable than ‘cutting’.

Cutting: Purposefully consuming less calories than you expend in order to lose body fat.

Compound Exercise: An exercise that involves more than one joint of the body. For example, the Squat involves the ankle, knee and hip joints and can therefore be considered a compound exercise.

Isolation Exercise: In contrast, isolation exercises isolate a single muscle or muscle group and involve just one joint e.g. Bicep Curls.

Tabata Training: Developed by Izumi Tabata, this activity is a type of high intensity interval training (HIIT). It employs 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest which is repeated for eight sets.

Time Under Tension (TUT): Refers to the amount of time a muscle spends under strain or weight during a set. Can be calculated by multiplying the number of reps by the length of each rep as dictated by the tempo. For example, 10 reps performed with a 4010 tempo should take 50 seconds to complete.

Train to failure: Term is applied to weight training when an exercise is repeated until the body is unable to complete a further repetition. Training to failure can help with muscle growth, but it is extremely taxing on the body and therefore should only be carried out sparingly.

Work In: When gym-users share a single piece of equipment. If someone ‘works in’, they may perform a set with the machine or weight while the other person is resting, and alternate. It is generally good practice to allow others to 'work in' with you. Nobody likes a hogger!!

PB/PR: Personal Best or Personal Record.

Free Weights: A general term for barbells and dumbbells (i.e. equipment in a gym that is not machine-based).

Hypertrophy: Increasing the size of a muscle.