The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training Lingo

February 16, 2021

Do you ever feel like the fitness world has a language of its own?

From “time under tension” to “deloading,” it can be difficult for newbie strength trainers to differentiate between all the lingo. If you feel intimidated by the gym terminology, don’t be!

Here’s a cheat sheet of the most common terms you’ll come across to boost your confidence and know-how.


Your strength training cheat sheet

Get your flashcards ready and start reading!

Term Meaning Real-world application
Rep Repetition — One full movement of a single exercise. If someone asks you to do 12 reps of leg extensions, one extension=one rep. 
Set Completing a number of reps of a specific exercise at one time without stopping.  My goal today is to complete three sets of 12 leg extensions, stopping for one minute in between each set.
Intensity Intensity refers to the level of exertion you reach during your workout. You can generally choose your intensity level based on the number of reps, rest between sets or exertion. I’m feeling super energized and strong today, so I’m going to go for a high-intensity workout. 
Personal Record Your personal record, known as PR, is your personal best performance in a single work out.  I’m so proud of myself for beating my PR run time by two minutes! 
Progressive Overload The foundation behind developing strength and muscle by progressing in increments over a period of time. 

Generally, you start small and work your way up to more weight or reps. By continuously making your muscles work hard, you get bigger and stronger.

To begin building strength, you need to start with the foundation of progressive overload. 
Stress Recovery Adaptation Cycle Stress recovery adaptation cycle is when the body cycles through extreme stress, recovery and then prepares for the stressor again. This is how we get stronger and build muscle!  Generally, you embrace the stress recovery adaptation while you are in the process of progressive overload. 
Superset Two weight workouts done one after the other with little or no rest in between each set.  For your superset, you can pair two exercises that train the same muscle group or two exercises that train complementary muscle groups.
Time Under Tension Time under tension (TUT) refers to the time a muscle is held under tension or strain during a training session. Your muscle needs to be under sufficient tension the entire time. Time under tension workouts require attention to form and control, and force your muscles to work harder (which means optimal results).
Lateral Movement Moving your body from one side to the other is a lateral movement.  It’s great to explore different planes of motion, including lateral movements rather than just moving forwards and backwards.
Loading A set period of time in which you increase your workout’s intensity, frequency and volume. 

The idea is that you don’t give your body time to recover and relax, but keep going for two to three weeks with your intense program. 

We will be loading with both upper body and lower body HIIT training sessions for the next few weeks. 
Deloading The opposite of the loading period, deloading is when you plan to reduce your intensity, frequency and volume of your workout. This makes it possible for your body to recover and reduces fatigue.  We will be deloading with lower intensity workouts for the next week to allow for recovery.
Circuit Training Circuit training involves rounds of exercises performed after one another with little time for rest or recovery between each one.

Generally, you will get a rest between each round. 

The beauty of circuit training is that there’s endless workouts you can combine.
Split Training Split training is when you choose to split the days you focus on specific areas of the body.

A common version of split training is to focus on the upper body two days a week and lower body two days a week. 

We will be split training by alternating days where we do upper and lower bodyweight training. 
Compound Movement A movement in which two (or more) joints are moving or in use simultaneously.  Examples of compound movements include squats, lunges and deadlifts. 
Isolation Movement Focusing on only one muscle at a time.  Examples of isolation workouts include leg extensions and bicep curls. 


CA personal trainers can take you to the next level

The best way to learn to “talk the talk” is to “walk the walk”! A personal trainer can help deepen your understanding by putting you to work on your fitness goals.

CA has more than 30 trainers across three fitness clubs to provide the motivation, expertise and support you need to achieve your goals. Both members and non-members are welcome to participate. Plus, we have virtual personal training for those who prefer to get stronger from home.

The first step is to fill out our referral form, which gives our fitness training supervisors background on your goals and preferences so they can find the right fit. Once you fill out the form, either the fitness training supervisor or the personal trainer will contact you to discuss setting up a free consultation.

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