In resistance training, as in any other field, there’s an established glossary of important terms you need to know in order to understand training and nutrition articles and to be able to communicate effectively with other people.

Back in the day when I got into weight training, I was lucky enough to have my brother introduce me to the most common terms used in the gym.

Here are the most important ones…

1. Rep

The basic unit in resistance training is the rep (or repetition).

If you lie down on a bench, grab the bar with both hands, lower it to your chest and then bring it back up, then you’ve done a single rep of bench press.

2. Set

A group of consecutive reps is called a set. A set can consist of one rep (called a single), low reps (usually 1-5 reps), medium reps (5-12), high reps (13-25) or very high reps (25+). I say usually because this division is subjective and others might refer to slightly different rep ranges as low,medium,high and very high.

An exercise is usually done for multiple sets. Sets are divided into warm-up sets and work sets. Warm-up sets are done with lighter weights and prepare your body for work sets.

A superset is two exercises for different muscle groups performed in sequence. A giant set is three exercises for the same muscle group performed in sequence. A drop set is one where you perform a set, reduce the weight and immediately perform another set.

3. Rep Phases

A rep has 3 phases – the negative or eccentric phase (where the muscle lengthens), the pause and the positive or concentric phase (where the muscle shortens).

4. Lifting Tempo

The lifting tempo, along with the number of reps and type of sets, dictates the time under tension and as such it is very important.

The lifting tempo is signified with 3 digits. For example, a tempo of 321 on squats means you squat down for 3 seconds, you pause for 2 seconds and then you squat up for 1 second. “X” signifies “as fast as possible”.

5. Time under tension

Time under tension signifies the amount of time your muscles are working. Sufficient time under tension is key for eliciting a growth response in your muscles.

For optimal hypertrophy your sets should be 20-70 seconds long.

6. Sticking Point

When the weight gets heavy, most exercises have a point where the resistance seems to be toughest to beat and if you get through that point the rep is easy to finish.

Among other factors, what point of the rep you get stuck at depends on the exercise, your anatomical structure, lagging muscles

7. Plateau

Hitting a plateau means getting stuck on the way to your goal and not seeing progress for an extended period of time.

8. Joint Flexion And Joint Extension

Bringing together the bones associated with a joint is flexion and bringing the bones into alignment is extension.

For example, squatting down involves knee flexion and squatting up involves knee extension.

9. Range Of Motion

Reps can be done with full range of motion (full flexion and extension or vice versa) or with partial range of motion.

Usually the full range of motion is used but some training programs may include partial reps (or partials) to focus on a sticking point.

10. Muscle Groups

Here are the main muscle groups in a simplified format:

  • neck
  • chest – pectorals (or pecs)
  • upper back – small muscles around the shoulder blades and trapezius
  • lats – latissimus dorsi (muscles on the back under the arms)
  • abdominals (abs) and obliques
  • shoulders – deltoids (or delts)
  • biceps and brachialis – front of the upper arm
  • triceps – rear upper arm
  • forearms
  • buttocks or glutes – glutei muscles
  • thighs – quads or quadriceps on the front, hams or hamstrings on the rear, and the thigh adductor muscles
  • calves – gastrocnemius and soleus

11. Hardgainer

A hardgainer (a.k.a ectomorph) is a person who, among other things, has a naturally fast metabolism and therefore has a hard time gaining weight.

12. Training And Equipment

Exercises can be done using free weights (like barbells and dumbbells) or machines.

In my opinion, free weights are superior because they don’t force you into unnatural movement patterns like some machines do. Free weights allow for proper exercise execution, they recruit more muscle cells (which translates into more growth) and they improve coordination.

It’s important to point out that some machines (e.g. cable machines) allow for more freedom of movement than others. Also machines are a great tool for rehabilitation of injured athletes.

As far as barbells go, the most popular ones are Olympic bars. Usually, they’re 7 feet long and weigh 44 pounds. Olympic bars are straight.

Then there’s EZ bars, trap bars,cambered bars and others which serve different purposes and are not straight.

13. Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises are multiple joint exercises involving multiple muscle groups. Thus the weight used is usually heavier. Some examples would be squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and chins.

Isolation exercises invole the flexion and extension of a single joint. The weight used is usually lighter and the goal is to focus on a single muscle group.

14. Types Of Training Routines

Training routines/programs/plans are comprised of exercises. They can be full-body routines or split routines. With full-body routines you work your whole body every workout. Split routines divide the body into different parts (e.g. upper/lower body or chest,triceps,abs/back,biceps,forearms/legs/shoulders,traps) and you only work one division per workout.

A training routine doesn’t necessarily fit into a week. For example, you might have a program which repeats every 6 days.

15. Training Cycle/Periodization

Intermediate and advanced trainees need periodization in order to progress. Their routines are broken down into cycles (usually lasting 6-12 weeks each). During each cycle the basic training variables (exercises, reps, sets, intensity, time under tension, tempo, frequency, rest intervals) are manipulated in order to achieve a specific effect.

16. Degree Of Effort

Some programs prescribe sets to failure. Training to failure means doing as many reps as you can until you cannot complete another rep without taking a break.

Having a training partner help you just enough to complete another rep is called a forced rep.

17. Grip

The supinated grip has both your palms facing you. The pronated grip has both palms facing away from you. The mixed grip has one palm facing you and the other away from you. The parallel grip has you hands parallel to each other.

Usually, for safety you want your thumb around the bar. I wouldn’t recommend the thumbless grip (also known as “suicide grip”) for the bench press but I use it for pull-ups.

There’s also the hook grip where your thumb is placed between your fingers and the bar. It makes your grip stronger but places a lot of tension on your thumb, so if you want to use it, you need to get used to it with lighter weights first.

18. Spotting

Spotting means looking closely after someone who’s performing a set and providing assistance if necessary. It’s a good idea to always have a spotter when you’re lifting particularly heavy weights or when you’re training to failure to prevent injury.

19. Main Categories Of Resistance Training

Within resistance training there are several specializations.

Bodybuilding focuses on aesthetic and proportions. Strength training focuses on relative strength. Olympic weightlifting focuses on performance in the Olympic lifts – the clean and jerk, and the snatch. Powerlifting focuses on perfrormance in the 3 powerlifts – squat, deadlift and bench press. Strongman training focuses on performance with odd objects.

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