Gym Jargon Buster: Your Ultimate Workout Glossary

Workout sessions, training programmes and gyms can be crammed full of technical terms and jargon. This post aims to demystify some of the mid and high level terminology and helps you cut through to the real scoop.


Movement of a limb away from the middle of the body, such as lifting your arm up to shoulder height.


The opposite of abduction, movement of a limb towards the middle of the body, such as lowering the arm down after being lifted to shoulder height.


This is the muscle directly engaged in squeezing and contracting as you perform an exercise.


This is the muscle that works against the agonist, extending out as agonist muscle contracts.


Muscle, tissue or organ shrinkage and withering.

Compound Set

Three or four exercises performed in quick succession, hitting different areas of the same muscle group. These are tricky sets to perform and really blast the body part. Also known as giant sets.

Cheat Reps

When muscle fatigue begins to set in and you can’t lift anymore, consider trying some cheat reps. Use improper form, momentum and adjacent muscle groups to squeeze out a few more reps. Be careful though, lack of proper form can cause injury.


Cardiovascular training that primarily strengthens the heart, lungs and blood circulatory system.

Circuit Training

An exercising technique which involves moving quickly from one exercise to another and doing a set number of exercises at each station to keep the heart rate high and promote overall fitness.


This is the ‘up’ or lifting phase of an exercise, when the muscle shortens or contracts. Also known as the positive phase.


This stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, and is the muscular soreness often occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise. There are a number of ways of reducing the impact of DOMS.


This is the ‘down’ phase of an exercise, when the muscle lengthens and relaxes. Also known as the negative phase.

Fast Twitch

One of two types of muscle fibres within the human body. Fast twitch (type II) fibres fire quickly and are suited to anaerobic activities like powerlifting and sprinting.


Bending a limb, in contrast to extending it.

Forced Reps

These are the reps that you do when you can’t do any more reps! A training partner is needed to offer just a little bit of assistance and help you squeeze out one or two more reps, pushing you beyond your limits and stimulate growth.

Giant Set

Three or four exercises performed in quick succession, hitting different areas of the same muscle group. These are tricky sets to perform and really blast the body part. Also known as compound sets.


An increase in muscle mass and an improvement in relative muscular strength. The opposite of atrophy.

Isometric Exercise

A muscular contraction where the muscle maintains a constant length and the joints do not move. These exercises are generally performed by pushing against a wall or other immovable object.

Isotonic Exercise

A muscular action in which there is a change in the length of the muscle and, with the weight load keeping tension constant. Lifting free weights is a classic example of this type of exercise.

Negative Reps

This is where you just perform the eccentric phase of an exercise (the ‘down’ section). You need a training partner for this one as you’re lifting way more weight than you can handle. For example, in a bench press, have someone help you get the weight to the high position and then slowly lower the weight to your chest, before someone helping you push it back up again. Be careful, this is an advanced technique and can be dangerous.


Also known as cycle training. Train light for several weeks, then go medium for the next phase, then hit your body for several weeks with ultra-heavy lifting. Once the cycle is complete, drop back down to the light phase. This is a great way to avoid injury and plateaus.

Partial Rep

Performing an exercise without going through the full range of motion.

Rest-Pause Training

An advanced technique used to squeeze the absolute maximum out of your muscles and encourage extra growth. Complete a set to muscular failure then rest for five seconds before grinding out a few more reps. Repeat this until you have completed five sets and do not put the weights down in between. A great technique to push you past a training plateau.


Two exercises performed back to back, without rest. This can either be different exercises for the same muscle group or can also be opposing muscle groups, for example back and shoulders.

Slow Twitch

One of two types of muscle fibres within the human body. Slow twitch (type I) fibres fire slowly, are resistant to fatigue and are used in endurance activities such as long-distance running.

Variable Resistance

Strength training using a machine that varies the amount of weight being lifted to match the strength curve, usually utilizing a cam, lever arm or hydraulic cylinder. This form of machinery ensures the muscle is under maximum stress throughout the full range of an exercise.

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