It’s no secret that gyms and leisure centres see a spike in membership at this time of year. Following the indulgences of December, many of us see January as a time to get back on the path to fitness. In some cases, this might mean trying something new, and taking on an exercise programme we haven’t attempted before.

When doing so, we’ll undoubtedly come across terms and phrases we weren’t previously familiar with.

The fitness industry, perhaps more than most others, can present a sometimes overwhelming abundance of terminology; so with this in mind, we thought it might be useful to put together a definitive (or as close to definitive as possible) list, compiling the various terms a new (and perhaps even seasoned) gym-goer may encounter.

Letter index:



  • Abs

Abdominal muscles, which form part of the core. When well-defined, these muscles are referred to as a ‘six-pack’. Ab workouts typically involve sit-ups, various different types of crunches, and planking.


  • Absolute strength

The highest amount of force that a muscle can exert in one move; or put another way, the maximum amount of weight that a person can lift in one repetition.

  • AB-AB routine

Sometimes used by trainers to describe a workout involves cycling between two different exercises for two sets, before moving onto another two different exercises and doing the same.

For instance, as part of a workout routine person might perform:

before moving on to do another group of two exercises.

When employed in weight lifting, alternating between different exercises might be referred to as ‘super-setting’.

  • Active rest

When employed within a workout, this is when a person continues to move during a ‘rest’ period between exercises or sets (for example jogging on the spot).

It can also refer to when a lower intensity workout is used on a rest day in between higher intensity workouts (to help their body recover from high intensity activity).

  • Adductor muscles

Group of muscles (adductor brevis, adductor longus, pectineus, gracilis and adductor magnus) situated in the upper thigh. Hip adductor exercises work out this group.

Adductor muscles

  • Aerobic exercise

Another term for cardiovascular exercise, which increases breathing rate and heart rate.

  • Aerobics

Rhythmic exercises (typically performed to music in a class) which improve strength, cardio and mobility conditioning, and usually involve minimal equipment.

Classes might generally last for 20-45 minutes (or longer in some cases). Examples include step aerobics (with a stepper) or aqua aerobics (performed in a pool).

  • Agonist muscle

The muscle which drives the movement in an exercise, and is met by resisting torque from the antagonist muscle. The agonist muscle contracts (gets shorter), while the antagonist lengthens and helps to regulate the movement.

For instance, during a bicep curl, the bicep muscle is an agonist, while the tricep is an antagonist.

During a tricep pull down, the roles are reversed.

  • Anaerobic exercise

Activity which involves short bursts of high intensity exertion, causing the body to demand more oxygen than it can take in. Examples include sprinting or lifting heavy weights.

  • Antagonist muscle

Muscle which opposes agonist muscle during a movement (see agonist muscle).

  • Anterior chain

Muscles situated on the front of the legs and torso (including the quadricep, abdominal and pectoral muscles).

(See also: Posterior chain)


  • Back-cycling

Term sometimes used in weight training to describe when someone reduces their workout load by either decreasing the number of sets or repetitions they perform, or lowers the amount of weight they lift.

  • Barbell

Bar with weights on either end. Can be adjustable or fixed. Commonly used in upper body exercises such as bench press or military press, or in compound exercises such as squats or deadlifts.


  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

The number of calories the body needs to keep all organs functioning normally when at rest. It is given as a calories per day figure.

There are several factors which can affect BMR, including gender, BMI and age.

The formulae to calculate BMR is as follows:

For women:

  • 655.1 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in centimetres) - (4.7 x age in years)

For men:

  • 66.47 + (13.7 x weight in kilos) + (5 x height in centimetres) - (6.8 x age in years)

So, for a man aged 30, who is 180 centimetres tall and weighs 65 kilograms, this would be:

  • 66.47 + (13.7 x 65) + (5 x 180) - (6.8 x 30) = 1653 calories per day.
  • Baseline activity

Light actions performed during everyday life which don’t burn a lot of calories, such as standing or walking slowly.

  • Bench press

Upper body exercise which performed lying back on a bench, and pushing a weight up using a barbell or dumbbells. Employing a wide grip on a barbell works the chest muscles, while employing a narrower grip works the triceps. A variation on this when using a cable machine is the chest press.

Bench press

  • Biceps

Muscles situated on the forward portion of the upper arm. Consists of the short and long head biceps brachii. Utilised in shoulder, elbow and forearm movements.

The term ‘t-shirt muscles’ is sometimes used to refer to the biceps (along with deltoids and pectoralis muscles), as these are particularly prominent when a short sleeve t-shirt is worn.


  • Bicep curls

Arm exercise which works the biceps, performed using dumbbells or a barbell. The weight is raised and lowered, bending at the arm and keeping the back straight.

Bicep curls

  • Bleep test

Known also as the beep test. Often used in sports to determine an athlete’s endurance and fitness level, this involves running back and forth between two set points, according the audio prompts given (bleeps). The bleeps start a certain time apart and the duration between them shortens as the test goes on, increasing the intensity required.

  • BMI

Body mass index, which is used to measure whether someone is in the ideal weight rage, underweight, overweight or obese.

It is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms, and dividing this by their height in metres squared:

Weight in kilograms ÷ (height in metres x height in metres)

So, for example, a person who is 1.75 metres tall and weighs 75 kilograms would have a BMI as follows:

  • 75 ÷ (1.75 x 1.75) = 24.5

There are several BMI ranges:

  • 18.5 or less is considered underweight
  • between 18.5 and 25 is considered ideal weight
  • between 25 and 30 is considered overweight
  • and over 30 is considered obese.

Persons who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing weight-related illnesses, such as type-2 diabetes or heart disease.

The BMI formula is widely applied as an overall health indication tool.

However, some experts have noted limitations. For instance, some critics argues that it takes into account a person’s weight, but does not differentiate between body fat percentage and muscle. It is therefore possible for someone with a high percentage of lean muscle mass (such as an athlete) to be classified as overweight, when in fact they are healthy; and for a sedentary person who is less healthy to be categorised in the ideal weight range.

  • Body fat percentage

How much of a person’s mass is composed of fat. This is calculated by taking a person’s fat tissue mass and dividing it by their total mass (and multiplying by 100 to get a percentage).

The body needs fat for normal function, but too much can inhibit organs and be unhealthy.

Women generally need more fat than men for normal function, mainly due to hormonal activity.

The different categories of body fat percentage are as determined by the American Council on Exercise are:

  • Essential fat (10-13 percent for women and 2-5 percent for men)
  • Athlete (14-20 percent for women and 6-13 percent for men)
  • Fitness (21-24 percent for women and 14-17 percent for men)
  • Average (25-31 percent for women and 18-24 percent for men)
  • Obese (32 percent or more for women and 25 percent or more for men)

You can find out what your body fat percentage (or BFP) is using a gauge called a caliper. However, many digital bathroom scales now have a function built in, where they can calculate what your body fat percentage is using electrical signals.

  • Bodyweight exercises

Exercises which help to build strength and muscle through pushing or pulling bodyweight, such as push-ups, pull-ups, planking or tricep dips. (See Calisthenics.)

  • Bone density

Indicator of bone mass and strength, measured using a DEXA scan. People over the age of 35 begin to lose bone density naturally, and this can cause bones to become more brittle and susceptible to breaks and fractures (osteoporosis). Weight bearing exercises (as well as getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals) can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and maintain bone density.

  • Bootcamp

Type of exercise session led by a fitness instructor, which usually involves a series of intense exercises focusing on strength training, fat loss and cardiovascular conditioning.

A combination of aerobic, body weight and weight lifting activities might be utilised, and participants may be organised into competing teams (to promote a teamwork spirit).

Session lengths can vary but 45 minutes to one hour is quite typical.

  • Box fit

Type of exercise based on the principles of boxing training, but not necessarily involving sparring or physical contact.

During a class, participants will throw punches and perform other boxing moves, and this helps to improve cardiovascular conditioning.

  • Bridge

Glute and core exercise, which involves lying on one’s back, positioning the feet underneath the posterior and raising the back off the floor.


  • Bulking

The practice of consciously consuming more calories than your body requires as part of a weight training programme in order to help gain muscle. For bodybuilders, it is often followed by a period of ‘cutting’, in which someone will consume fewer calories in order to lose fat mass and increase their lean mass percentage.

The term ‘clean bulk’ might be used to denote a calorie surplus using healthier foods (such as high quantities of lean meat or fish).

The term ‘dirty bulk’ might be used to describe bulking which involves any and all food, whether they’re healthy and nutrient rich or not.

If you are thinking of changing your diet to complement a weight-training programme, then you should speak to your doctor or a dietitian first, to make sure the diet you’re embarking on is safe and suitable.

  • Burpees

Exercise which helps to improve both strength and cardio. It begins in the crouching position, then the participant pushes their legs back and performs a press-up, before coming back to the crouching position and performing a vertical jump.



  • Cables

Gym machines which are used in strength training, and involve weights being lifted using a cable or pulley system.

  • Calf muscles

Muscles situated at the back of the lower leg (known also as triceps surae, comprising the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles).

Calf muscles

  • Calf press

Weight bearing exercise often performed on a pulley or plate-loaded machine and helps to build calf strength. The participant lifts the weight by bending at the ankle.

Calf press

  • Calf raise

Standing exercise which can be performed with or without a dumbbell or barbell, sometimes with the aid of a stepper. The participant lifts a weight by raising themselves at the ankle, helping to build calf strength.

Calf raise

  • Calisthenics

Exercises which rely on utilising bodyweight, with no added equipment, to aid strength and cardio. Examples include push ups, pull ups, planking, squats and calf raises (with no dumbbell or barbell).

  • Calories

Used as a unitary measure of energy. A ‘small calorie’ is the energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by a degree celsius.

A ‘kilogram calorie’ (kcal) is the unit the term ‘calorie’ generally refers to. This is equivalent to 1,000 small calories.

  • Carbohydrates

A nutrient found in food, which provides the body with glucose, which the body then converts into energy.

Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. However, it is important to get them from healthy sources as much as possible. Examples of healthy carbs are wholegrains and vegetables. Less healthy sources are products containing added or refined sugar, or processed foods.

  • Cardio

Term used to refer to training or exercise which develops cardiovascular conditioning, by increasing heart rate (known also as aerobic exercise) and burning calories. Running, walking, swimming and team sports such as football or netball are all examples of ‘cardio’.

Some forms of cardio are moderate intensity, whereas other are vigorous, or high intensity.

Cardio activity is essential for heart and respiratory health. It is also thought to facilitate the release of endorphins and help mental well-being too.

  • Chair dips

Bodyweight exercise performed with the help of a chair, stepper or bench. It works the tricep muscles, and is a modified version of a tricep dip.

Stand with your back to a chair, place your hands flat on it close to the edge, and place your legs out in front of you. Start with your arms fully extended, and perform a rep by lowering yourself down so that your elbows reach a 90 degree angle, then raising yourself up again.

Chair dips

  • Cheat (or cheat rep)

Term used in weight training to describe failing to keep perfect form when performing a rep, and having to use another body part to complete the rep.

An example might be not keeping your back completely straight when performing a bicep curl, or pushing your hands on your legs to complete a leg press.

Cheat reps might enable someone to lift a heavier weight or perform more reps than they would be able to if they weren’t ‘cheating’.

Opinion on how useful cheat reps are is divided.

But generally, if you haven’t been working out for long or are new to lifting, it is strongly recommended that you keep as perfect a form as possible. Not using proper technique increases the risk of injury.

  • Chest fly

Chest exercise performed on a bench, but can also be performed on a cable machine sitting upright.

Take one dumbbell in each hand, and extend your arms out to the sides. Perform a rep by lifting the weights up in each hand so they meet in the middle, keeping your arms straight, and slowly lowering back down to your sides.

Chest fly

  • Chest press

Upright version of a bench press, performed on a pulley or plate machine. Works the chest muscles.

Adjust your seat so the handles are at shoulder height, then place your hands on the handles and push forwards to perform a rep.

Chest press

  • Chin up

Similar to a pull-up, this involves placing your hands facing towards you on a mounted bar and lifting your body up so that your chin is above the bar. Works the deltoids and bicep muscles.

Chin up

  • Circuit training (circuits)

A series of exercises performed in a cyclical process, to develop endurance and strength. For instance, a participant may perform once set each of five different exercises (either ‘total body’ or focusing on one region of the body) then start again at the beginning once complete.

  • Clean

Lift used in Olympic events, using a barbell.

The participant stands facing the barbell, and bends at the knees to pick it up. They then lift the weight keeping their back straight and straightening their knees, and use the momentum of the bar to get underneath it as they raise it, and finish the move off by raising from a squat position, holding the bar at chest level.

Not a suitable lift for beginners.


  • Clean and jerk

Following a clean, the participant raises the barbell above their heard using a combined squat and military press movement and bending the knees (positioning one foot slightly to the rear behind them, and one in front of them).

For advanced lifters only.

Clean and jerk

  • Clean and snatch

Following a clean, the participant raises the bar above their head and raises up out of a squatting position.

For experienced lifters only.

Clean and snatch

  • Compound movements

Or compound lifts. These are movements which exercise multiple muscle groups.

For instance:

  • Concentric contraction

When a muscle bearing weight shorten and contracts during a movement (such as when the bicep shortens during the bicep curl).

  • Cool down

The period towards the end of a cardiovascular work out, where the level of intensity is decreased, in order to help the body adjust to normal ‘resting’ levels of exertion. For example, someone might perform a five-minute cool down period where they fast walk and gradually decrease their speed, following a 25-minute run.

Treadmills and exercise bikes tend to have a cool down option, which helps you to drop your heart rate back to normal levels gradually and safely.

  • Core

Generally refers to the muscles in the abdominal region, pelvis, posterior and lower back. A strong core is essential in being able to perform a majority of exercises (even those which don’t draw on core muscles) well.

Planking and bridge exercises are particularly useful for developing core strength.


  • Cross-trainer

Or elliptical trainer. This cardio machine causes the user to apply the same movement principles of running, but without the same impact on the joints. The handrails work the upper body, while the foot-holders work the lower body.

Cross trainer

  • Crunch

Abdominal muscle exercise, similar to a sit-up, where the participant lies down and raises their head and upper back off the floor and towards their midsection.


  • Cutting

A type of diet often used by bodybuilders to reduce body fat, after a period of ‘bulking’. It is usually only observed for a short time, and focuses on high protein foods which are low in saturated fat.

Once again, if you are thinking of changing how you eat in order to complement a bodybuilding programme, make sure you speak to a doctor or dietitian for advice first.


  • Deadlift

Compound lift that works the posterior chain, as well as a range of other muscles.

Must be performed with caution; it’s important before trying this lift that someone shows you how to do it with good form, to minimise the risk of injury.

Stand in front of a barbell with a weight you know you can lift safely. Bend the knees slightly, and bend over keeping your back completely straight. Lift the weight up letting your lower back and glutes take the weight. Hold with your back and legs straight for a second, then lower the weight safely back down.

Another method is to lift the weight and hold for several seconds, before lowering down.


  • Decline

Reclining at an angle when performing a lifting move, with your head at a lower elevation than your waist. Benches tend to have a setting which enables decline and incline positions.

Undertaking incline and decline lifts is intended to put emphasis on different sections of muscle groups.


  • Deltoid muscles

Shoulder muscles. The deltoid muscles are comprised of a set of fibres called the anterior deltoid (front delts), lateral deltoid (middle or side delts), and posterior deltoid (rear delts).

Shoulder pressside lateral raises and rows work these muscles.

Deltoid muscles

  • Detraining principle

Known also as the reversibility principle. This refers to when someone begins to lose the physical benefits they have gained through training (increased strength or better cardiovascular conditioning), when they do not train for an extended period or reduce their regime. These effects can be reversed when someone resumes training.

  • Dirty dog

Core, hip and thigh exercise.

Adopt the press-up position, with your knees on the floor. Raise one leg to the side, and then extend outwards straightening the leg to the side. Bring back the same way and lower the leg down to complete the rep.

Dirty dog

  • DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)

When a muscle or group of muscles begins to feel sore or stiff the day after (or on the second day following) a workout.

It is normal to feel some muscle soreness 24 to 72 hours following a workout. During this period, the muscle is healing, and while it can be used for everyday tasks it shouldn’t be subjected to intense exertion through another workout (it should be ‘rested’ or ‘active rested’).

However, if pain becomes severe or persists beyond this, you should seek medical attention.

  • Dumbbell

A small bar attached to two weight plates, designed to lifted in one hand. Weights might be fixed or adjustable, in a similar manner to a barbell.



  • Eccentric contraction

When a muscle both lengthens and contracts at the same time when bearing weight. This might be during the second half of a repetition of a squat, press up or chin up.

  • Ectomorph

Used to refer to a body type. Ectomorphs tend to be naturally skinny and have lean muscle. They may find it more difficult to gain weight and have a quick metabolism.

The body-type ‘opposite’ of an ectomorph is an endomorph.

  • Electrolytes

Minerals which conduct electrical signals in the body, such as sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and chloride. These are important for proper muscle function.

When exercising for a long time, the body can lose electrolytes through dehydration.

It’s important to ensure you have access to water during exercise, and stay hydrated. Some sports drinks contain electrolytes, and can help to replenish depleted stores after an intense exercise session.

  • Endomorph

Refers to a body type which is the antithesis of an ectomorph.

Endomorphs tend to be wider in build and have more muscle mass, and may find it easier to put on weight and harder to lose it.

  • Endorphins

‘Feel good’ chemicals released by the body in response to exercise. They generate from the pituitary gland and central nervous system. Endorphins are thought to help reduce stress and relieve pain, and can have a positive effect on mood.

  • Endurance training

Programme intended to increase a person’s maximum exercise capacity (endurance or stamina). For instance, someone who is preparing for a marathon and trying to extend the length of time or distance they can run for might benefit from endurance training.

There are several different types.

Periodisation is one form, which involves breaking a training regime down into separate phases, which might consist of several weeks each, gradually increasing workout intensity to culminate at a peak in time for a race or competition.

Long slow distance is another form, which involves lower intensity activity such running over extended distances and time periods.

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is another approach and very different to long slow distance.

  • Exercise ball

Inflated ball, sometimes referred to as a yoga ball, gym ball or balance ball. It might be used in a variety of exercises, such as pilates, yoga and even strength training.

Using the ball helps the user to engage core muscles in order to maintain balance.

Exercise ball

  • Exercise wheel

Known also as an ‘ab wheel’. Exercises using one of these, such as ab wheel planks or knee roll outs, help to strengthen core muscles.

Exercise wheel


  • Fasting

Not eating or consuming calories for a certain period. There are several variations of fasting diet. Intermittent fasting for instance (such as the 16:8 or 15:9 diet) is thought by some to help the body to burn fat more efficiently, and for a set period each day.

  • Fast twitch muscle fibres

Muscle tissue which contracts quickly and is used in short bursting movements. This type of muscle fibre tends also to become fatigued more quickly, and will need more time following exertion to recover.

  • Fat burn

One of several ‘zones’ used to differentiate between various levels of exercise intensity (usually cardio). The ‘fat burn zone’ is typically reached through low-to-moderate intensity exercise, which requires the heart to beat at between half and 69 percent of its maximum.

In this zone, someone is thought to burn a higher number of fat calories as a percentage total calories.

However, they may not necessarily burn less fat in total than they would exercising at higher intensities.  

Someone exercising at higher intensities would burn more total calories, and while the fat calorie percentage of this figure might be lower, the actual number of fat calories burned might be higher.

  • Fixed resistance

Type of strength training which uses plate loaded machines (such as the abductor/adductor machine, lateral raise, back extension, leg extension or leg curl). The user moves through a fixed range of motion when performing the press or lift.

The risk of injuries when using fixed resistance machines is lower compared to free weights, and might be preferable for beginners looking to improve core strength before moving onto more complex lifts.

  • Flexibility

The range of motion in a joint. Stretching exercises can help to improve flexibility and benefit overall mobility.

  • Form

The technique employed by a participant during an exercise or move. ‘Good form’ is when the exercise is performed using proper technique, and ‘bad form’ is when an exercise is performed poorly. Maintaining good form lowers the risk of injury, whereas bad form increases it.

Form is a term often applied to strength training. If, for instance, someone performs a lat pulldown without keeping their back straight, and instead hunches over or arches their back, this is using bad form. (See also: Cheat rep)

However, the term can be applied to just about any means of exercise. For instance, if someone undertakes a swimming stroke such as crawl, and doesn’t attempt to keep their body and waist horizontally level with the water, instead swimming at an angle, this is bad form.

If someone performing a stretch doesn’t adopt the right position, and the area of the body which is supposed to be extended subsequently is not, this is also an example of bad form.

Using bad form can mean that the participant will not get the intended benefit of the exercise, in addition to risking injury.

Most gyms will offer induction or personal trainer services which can help you to learn and practise proper form. If you aren’t sure, ask a member of staff to demonstrate.

  • Free weights

Strength training which utilises dumbbells and barbells (such as bicep curlsdeadlift or squats). When lifting free weights, the participant will need to support their own posture and form during a lift; so their use requires good technique (form).

  • Fructose

Sugar type found in fruit, honey and some vegetables. It is metabolised by the liver (unlike glucose, which is absorbed in the intestine and passed into the bloodstream).

Consuming excessive amounts of fructose can increase the risk of certain conditions such as fatty liver disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Fruit juice made from concentrate and foods like corn syrup may contain high levels of fructose, while whole fruit usually only contains very small amounts.


  • Gains

Colloquial term used to refer to amount of muscle someone has built (or intends to build).

  • Glucose

Type of sugar used for energy. Glucose is produced in the gut when the body digests food (particularly carbohydrates). The gut absorbs it and passed into the bloodstream, where it becomes ‘blood sugar’. Insulin the transports it to cells around the body

  • Glutes

Often used to describe the gluteus maximus muscles in the posterior (buttocks), however this term may also be used to refer to the three gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus) collectively.

Some exercises which work the glutes include squatslunges and leg press.


  • Glycemic index

Sometimes shortened to GI, this term refers to how carbohydrate content of a food affects a person’s glucose (blood sugar) levels.

Foods with a high GI digest quickly and cause blood sugar levels to increase quickly.

Lower GI foods take longer for the body to break down, and cause blood sugar to rise at a steadier, more gradual rate.

People metabolise food at different rates, but knowing the given GI of a food can help to give an idea of how much work the body will have to do (specifically how much insulin will be required) to process it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that low GI foods are healthy and that high GI foods are unhealthy. Fat can lower the GI of a food, and some fruit and vegetables may have a high GI.

The glycemic index doesn’t take into account portion sizes, which can also make a difference. Looking at the glycemic load (GL) value of a food is often a better indication of how it will affect blood sugar, as this takes portion sizes into consideration.

  • Good morning

Strength exercise for the back and posterior chain muscles.

Stand up straight, resting a barbell with a manageable weight evenly on your shoulders. Slightly bend the knees, and bend over at the waist keeping your back straight, as far as is comfortable, before raising back up to a vertical position.

good morning exercise


  • Hamstrings

Muscle in the back of the thigh (forms part of the posterior chain). Important for walking, running, jumping, and helping to steady movement in the torso.

Legs curls and deadlifts are example of exercises which work the hamstrings.


  • Hand off

Term with two possible meanings:

1. Exercise performed with a yoga ball.

The participant lies down on their back, holds the ball on the floor above their head and brings it up in front of them. They bring up their feet at the same time, and transfer the ball to their legs and bring it down. This is one half of a repetition.

Hand off

2. When someone provides help getting a weight into the starting position for a lift.

  • Hard set

A series of repetitions performed at maximum effort.

  • Heart rate reserve

Sometimes shortened to HRR, this is the variation between someone’s resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.

HRR is used in the Karvonen formula to help determine cardiovascular exercise intensity as a percentage.

  • High impact exercise

Activity in which both feet leave the floor, and cause the weight of the body to land on the joints when returning to the ground, such as running or jumping.

High impact exercises may be preferable for those who are not at increased risk of joint problems, and want to burn lots of calories through intense exercise.

They are generally not recommended for people recovering from injury, or at high risk of joint problems. (See also low impact exercise.)

  • HIIT

High intensity interval training, which involves exercising at maximum effort for very short periods. Each burst of activity is followed by a short rest period.

There are different variations and levels of intensity, but for example, someone performing a HIIT routine on an exercise bike may alternate between:

  • cycling as hard as they can for 20 seconds
  • and cycling at a leisurely pace for one or two minutes

four or five times, for a period of up to 15-20 minutes in total.

As with any other workout, a HIIT routine should be book-ended by a short warm up and cool down period either side.

The idea behind HIIT is that it encourages the body to carry on burning calories at an increased rate for several minutes or hours beyond the workout period.

Some also think that a shorter but more vigorous workout completed in 15-20 minutes or less has the same overall benefits of a ‘steady-state’ cardio workout that might be performed over 30 minutes to an hour.

However, studies are inconclusive.

It’s generally recommended that those who are new to exercise should build up to intense activity gradually, by starting with light or moderate intensity exercise and using this as a base to develop on.

  • Hip abduction exercises

The gluteus medius and minimus are hip abductor muscles. They are used in certain hip and thigh motions, such as lifting the thigh up and out to the side, and to provide balance when standing or walking.

Side leg raises are one example of a hip abduction exercise.

Hip abduction exercises might also involve pushing a weight using these muscles. The hip abduction machine is one example. This uses plates and the user pushes their thighs out against them.

Some experts have questioned how effective hip abduction machines are, as they do not mimic any movement the body would need to do; they argue that bodyweight exercises such as lunges and squats are more effective.

  • Hip raise

Body weight exercise for posterior chain and core muscles. The participant lies on their back and lifts their posterior up, forming a bridge, before lowering again to complete a rep.

Side hip raises are variations of this, which work oblique and abdominal muscles.



  • Incline

Set or rep normally performed at an adjusted angle, with the head elevated above the waist (instead of being at the same level).

In the graphic, the participant is performing an ‘incline bench press’.

Most benches will have a setting where the user can adjust the back support to enable inclining or declining positions.

Switching to an incline from a horizontal position between reps is intended to work different sections of the same muscle group.

For instance, someone performing 3 sets of chest press might perform one set ‘flat’ (horizontally), one set at an incline and finally one set at a decline; using the latter two sets to place emphasis on working upper and lower sections of the chest respectively.

(See also: Decline)

  • Insanity

Workout programme which incorporates elements of HIIT, called ‘max interval training’. Vigorous exercise will be performed in 3-minute intervals, followed by a 30-second rest period. Sessions tend to last from 30 minutes to an hour, and performed six days per week. The programme lasts for two months, consisting of two phases.

It is intended for people who already have a good level of fitness to further improve conditioning, so isn’t ideal for beginners.

  • Insulin

A hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin plays an integral role in metabolism, and is secreted in response to the absorption of glucose. The hormone helps to regulate the transportation of glucose around the body via the bloodstream. This ensures that cells receive the energy they need to function properly.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where someone does not produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is attacked by the immune system, and becomes damaged to the point where it produces no insulin at all.

  • Interval training

Interval training programmes such as HIIT involve alternating periods of activity with periods of ‘rest’ (more specifically active rest).

Someone undertaking interval training may perform an exercise for a set number of minutes, active rest for a minute, then continue to cycle between the two states for the duration of their workout.

  • Isokinetic exercise

A type of exercise in which the user performs a lift, press or repetition at a set speed, regardless of the force they use.

For example, an isokinetic machine will control the movement of the user, so that they cannot speed up or slow down the movement by applying more pressure or resistant force.

  • Isometric exercise

Exercise in which the target muscle in a contracted state when bearing weight, but the person performing the exercise remains static, with no movement in supporting joints.

Planking, wall sit and holding a weight in a fixed position are examples.

  • Isotonic exercise

When the weight in an exercise remains the same, but the muscle pulling or pressing the weight changes size to do so. One example is a bicep curl.

Concentric and eccentric are the two most common types of movement in isotonic exercise.

In a concentric movement, the muscle shortens to bear the weight (as in the first half of a bicep curl), while in an eccentric movement, the muscle will lengthen (as in the second half of a bicep curl).


  • Jumping jacks

Exercise often used in cardiovascular workouts.

The participant stands with their feet close together, then jumps slightly and widens the space between their feet, while at the same time bringing their hands above their head. They then bring their feet back together and their arms back down to complete the rep.

A similar movement is the star jump.

Jumping jacks



  • Karvonen formula

Equation used to help calculate a person’s target heart rate zone during exercise.

Before using the formula, someone will need to know:

  • their maximum heart rate (there are differing opinions on the best way to calculate this, however the most commonly formula is 220 minus age)
  • their resting heart rate (a person’s heart rate when they wake in the morning from sleep)
  • their heart rate reserve, or HRR (maximum heart rate minus resting heart rate)
  • and the percentage of intensity at which they wish to exercise (50-70 percent is considered light or ‘recovery’ zone, and might be a preferable starting point for beginners; whereas 70-80 percent is considered the aerobic zone, aiding cardiovascular fitness; and above 80 percent might be used by athletes to increase their speed or capacity)

The formula is as follows:

  • (Heart rate reserve x intensity (as a 0.% figure)) + resting heart rate = target heart rate


  • ((Maximum heart rate - resting heart rate) x intensity (0.%)) + resting heart rate = target heart rate


  • (((220 - age) - resting heart rate) x intensity 0.%)) + resting heart rate = target heart rate

So, for a person aged 30 with a resting heart rate of 65, wishing to exercise at 70% percent intensity, this would be:

  • Maximum heart rate = (220 - 30) = 190
  • Heart rate reserve = (190 - 65) = 125
  • (125 x 0.70) + 65 = 152.5

It should be noted that several alternatives to this formula have been developed, and which is the most useful or definitively accurate is not certain.

  • Kegel exercises

Referred to also as pelvic floor exercises. Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder and rectum, and exercising this group of muscles can aid bladder control.

The bridge and the clamshell are examples of effective pelvic floor exercises.

  • Ketogenic diet

Restricted carb, moderate protein, high fat diet, sometimes used by bodybuilders and athletes to aid fat burning and help them develop lean muscle.

The ketogenic diet can help people with diabetes to lower blood sugar and better manage their condition. However, it’s important to get advice from a doctor or specialist before starting the diet, particularly if you have diabetes.

  • Kettlebell

Spherical weight attached to a looped handle.


  • Kettlebell swing

Works posterior chain and core muscles. Standing with legs apart, bring the kettlebell up so that it is at shoulder level, keeping the arms straight. Squat down and bring the bell down between the legs, then raise the bell back up and extend the legs to complete the rep.

Kettlebell swing


  • Lactic acid

Substance produced by the body when glucose is converted into energy.

When someone exercises vigorously, their oxygen levels will fall and they will produce more lactic acid. This can cause muscles to feel like they’re burning, nausea and cramps.

Lactic acid (or lactate) levels will usually return to normal shortly afterwards. Muscle soreness which persists for a day or two after an intense workout is likely to be the result of muscles repairing themselves (DOMS) and not lactic acid.

In cases where lactic acid levels do not drop back to regular levels after a workout, this is known as lactic acidosis. If you continue to experience the symptoms described above for some time after you have finished exercising, you should seek medical help.

  • Lats

The latissimus dorsi muscles stretch from the middle of the back to the sides of the torso. They are involved in various back and shoulder motions.

Lat pulldowns and rows are examples of exercises which work these muscles.


  • Lat pull downs

Strength-building exercise performed on a weighted pulley machine, which works the lats and other back and shoulder muscles, including the posterior deltoid and trapezius.

Position your hands at the end of the pulldown bar, sit keeping your back and shoulders straight and lean back slightly. To perform a rep, pull the bar down bring it to just beneath chin level, then slowly let the bar back up.

lat pulldown

  • Lean mass

Referred to also as lean body mass. This is a measure of body composition: the total weight of the body minus body fat weight.

Lean mass is made up of tissues other than fat, and so includes the bones, ligaments, internal organs and muscle (however bone marrow contains a small amount of fat, and therefore forms a small portion of lean mass).

The goal of cutting when bodybuilding is to lose fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass.

  • Leg curl

There are two variations of leg curl: a seated leg curl and a lying leg curl. Both are performed on a plate loaded machine and work the hamstring muscles.

A seated leg curl (pictured) involves pulling the weight down, bending the leg at the knee.

A lying leg curl involves lying down on the stomach and pulling the weight up towards the posterior.

Leg curl

  • Leg lift

Works the lower abdominal muscles. Performed by lying down back first on a mat, and lifting the legs up, while also keeping them straight, so that the thighs reach a 90 degree angle from the waist (or as close to a 90 degree angle as is possible without lifting the back off the ground). The rep is completed by lowering the legs back down.

For beginners, bending at the knees can help to make this exercise easier.

Leg lift

  • Leg press

Exercise performed on a plate loaded machine or cable machine. The user starts the rep with their knees bent, and pushes the weight by straightening their legs.

Works the quadriceps and glutes.

Leg Press

  • Low impact exercise

Activity where there is always at least one foot on the ground, or joints do not have to bear the full weight of the body. Swimming and using a cross trainer are examples.

  • Lumbar

Lower spine region in the back which supports body weight.

  • Lunges

Exercise which can be performed using bodyweight or added weights (holding kettlebells or dumbbells), and works the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings and lower back.

Stand up straight and take one pace forward, bringing the front leg to a position where the knee is at a 90 degree angle in front, and the rear leg to a position where the knee is at a 90 degree angle underneath the posterior. Bring the front leg back and stand up straight again to complete the rep, before doing the same with the other leg. This is sometimes referred to as a static lunge or standing lunge.

To perform a walking lunge, instead of the bringing the front leg back to the starting position in the middle of the rep, bring the rear leg forward and stand up straight. Then, do the same with the other leg, moving forward with each rep.



  • Macros

Short for macronutrients. Nutritional elements of a diet which are typically consumed in large amounts, required for energy (such as fat, carbs and protein).

Micronutrients are the elements of a diet consumed in smaller amounts (vitamins and minerals).

  • Mats

Area of the gym lined where the floor is lined with soft mats, ideal for performing stretchesball exercises, warm up and cool down exercises.

  • Maximum heart rate

There are different methods of calculating what a person’s maximum heart rate is. The most commonly used formula is:

  • 220 - (age)

However, some studies have questioned the accuracy of this formula, and multiple others have emerged.

Someone’s target heart rate for exercise will be determined taking their maximum heart rate into consideration. There are several different target heart rate zones, depending on what level of exercise intensity is desired (or practical based on ability), and a variety of formulae that can be used to calculate them (such as the Karvonen formula). The majority of these target heart rate zones will fall between 50 and 85 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate.

  • Medicine ball

Weighted ball, typically used in mat exercises (such as v-up, weighted superman or rolling press up).

Can also be used in place of kettlebellsdumbbells or barbells for exercises such as shoulder press, single leg squat or lunge.

  • Metabolism

The term metabolism refers to the various processes that take place inside the body to help it work as it should.

But in fitness, it is generally used as a term more closely associated with how quickly or easily people burn fat and calories.

The number of calories the body needs in a day to function properly when at rest is called the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is calculated using someone’s height, weight and age.

A ‘slow’ metabolism might be understood by many people to be an inability to process energy from food and burn it off quickly; whereas a ‘fast’ metabolism is perceived by many as an innate capacity to burn off what they eat quickly.

However, fast and slow metabolisms don’t tend to just occur for no reason. There are several factors that can affect metabolism. Genes is thought to be one. In some cases, an illness such as an underactive thyroid may be responsible for slowing metabolism.

The body will need to spend more energy on maintaining muscle tissue than than it does on maintaining fat cells, which is why people with a higher lean mass percentage and lower body fat percentage will have a quicker metabolism.

Prior to what many may think, someone who is overweight will tend to have a faster metabolism in the majority of cases, as their body will need to burn more calories to maintain itself.

There is little evidence to support the notion that specific foods speed up metabolism. Some diets, particularly those which involve dramatic calorie reduction, can slow metabolism down.

The best way to maintain a healthy metabolism and weight is to exercise regularly, and maintain a balanced, nutritious diet.

  • MET value

MET stands for Metabolic Equivalent Task.

A MET value is used to determine how many calories an individual performs for a particular activity, with different activities having different MET values.

The MET value formula is:

  • 1 MET = calories burned / (weight of participant in kilograms x number of hours activity performed for)

It’s therefore possible to calculate the hourly calorie burn value of an activity by multiplying the weight of the person doing it (in kilograms) by the MET value:

  • Calories burned performing an activity for an hour = (activity MET value x weight of participant in kilograms)

If we use a person weighing 70 kilograms jogging (MET value 7) for 45 mins (0.75 hours) as an example:

  • (7 x 70) x 0.75 = 368 kcal

These values were devised by American researchers and published in the Compendium of Physical Activities in 1993, with subsequent revisions published in 2000 and 2011.

The most recent version was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

  • Military press

Works the shoulder muscles (deltoids). Can be performed with a barbell or one dumbbell in each hand.

Standing (or sitting) with back straight, hold the weight just above chest level in front of the chin, and fully extend the arms up together to lift the weight (stopping just before completely locking out). Slowly return the weight down to chin level to complete the rep.

Military press

  • Moderate intensity exercise

Activity which requires a moderate amount of effort (this might be roughly categorised as an activity having a MET value of between 3 and 6), such as fast walking or dancing. This type of activity will increase the heart rate.

Exercise guidelines state that the recommended amount of physical activity adults aged between 19 and 65 should undertake per week is: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity; or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (with either in addition to strength training exercises on two or more days).

  • Mountain climbers

Cardiovascular exercise which also works the core and quadriceps.

Adopt the press-up or plank position, and bring one knee forward. Take the knee back to the starting position, and do the same with other knee. Continue in quick succession.

mountain climbers

  • Myositis

Condition which causes inflammation in the muscles. In most cases it is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy muscle tissue.



  • Negative repetition (negative reps)

Lift performed with more emphasis on the eccentric stage, where the muscle lengthens. This allows the participant to perform reps (or rather half reps) with a heavier load.

For instance, a person may perform the lifting portion (concentricstage) of a chest press with assistance from a spotter, or start with the bar in the raised position.

The person performing the rep takes the weight and lowers it down to chest level without assistance, taking 3-5 seconds to do so.

The participant then lifts weight back up with help from their training partner, and performs the same gradual lowering rep again.

(To do this without a training partner, the person performing the rep would set the safety rails at a suitable position above their head, enabling them to manoeuvre out from under the bar. They would then put the bell and weights back in the starting position, before getting into position again to perform their next negative rep.)


  • Obliques

The oblique muscles (external oblique and internal oblique) are located in the sides of the abdomen, beneath the rib cage. The external is the larger of the two. These muscles facilitate range of motion in the torso.

Exercises which work these muscles include side hip raises, wood chop, oblique crunches, bicycle crunches, spiderman plank and Russian twists.


  • One rep max (one repetition maximum)

Also referred to as 1RM. The highest amount of weight a person is able to lift performing one repetition.

This number refers to a specific lift. For instance, a person’s 1RM for bench press is likely to be higher than their 1RM for a one-arm bicep curl.

There are various formulae which can help someone to estimate their 1RM, based on the amount they lift when performing sets of more than one rep at a lower weight.

The Epley formula is one example:

  • 1RM = Weight lifted x (1 + (Number of reps ÷ 30))

So, if someone can bench press 24 kilograms for 10 reps, their 1RM using this formula would be:

  • 24 x (1 + (10 ÷ 30)) = 32kg

It’s unlikely that you’ll lift your 1RM on a regular basis. But some workouts may advise that you perform a certain number of reps at a percentage of 1RM.

(For example, 5 reps at 65% 1RM.)

The 1RM figure is, of course, only an estimation and shouldn’t be taken as a certainty. If you do attempt to test out your 1RM, it is imperative to do so with the help of a spotter or training partner.

  • Overload principle

The concept that the workload of an exercise must be progressively increased over time, to improve fitness, strength, endurance and performance.

For instance, when performing cardiovascular exercise such as running or swimming, a person will strive to improve their fitness by gradually increasing their speed or distance travelled.

Similarly, a body builder will gradually increase the weight they lift or the number of reps they perform in order to achieve muscle growth.

The detraining principle (or reversibility principle) is the concept in reverse; that improvements in physical performance seen will be lost if the person ceases to train.

It’s useful to keep a log to monitor your progress when training, so that you phase your workload to increase gradually, and set achievable goals.

The FITT acronym is a helpful way to organise and structure an exercise programme:

  • Frequency (how often you exercise)
  • Intensity (effort required in an exercise)
  • Time (how long an exercise is performed for)
  • Type (the method of exercise chosen)
  • Overtraining

Exercising to a point where the body does not have enough time to recover, leading to decreased physical performance. Overtraining can cause pain, exhaustion and sleep disruption. It can also result in a change in resting heart rate, and increase the risk of injuries.

To avoid overtraining, it’s best to space out your exercise across the week as much as you can. Having a minimum of 48 hours ‘rest’ between workouts of the same kind is a helpful practice to adopt.

For instance, if you plan to go running for 30 minutes on three separate days in a week, try to do so on alternate days (rather than on three consecutive days at the beginning of the week).

If you’re strength-training, give your muscles 48-72 hours to recover before your next session. It can be helpful to alternate between upper and lower body workouts.

  • Overuse injuries

When a joint, muscle or bone sustains an injury due to repeated impact or trauma. This might come about due to overtraining, or poor technique or bad form.


  • Pectoral muscles

Or ‘pecs’, usually referring to pectoralis major, but may also refer to other muscles situated in the chest region, including pectoralis minor, subclavius and serratus anterior.

These muscles facilitate movement in the arms, shoulders and torso.

One of the most widely used exercises to develop chest muscles amongst bodybuilders is the bench press. The chest fly, seated chest press and the press up are all exercises which work chest muscles too.

Pectoral muscles

  • Pilates

Exercise programme named after the creator, Joseph Pilates. He originally developed ‘contrology’ as an aid to both mind and body. The focus for pilates practitioners today however is more on improving physical health, particularly core strength.

The practice involves the use of various apparatus, such as the Cadillac, Reformer and Wunda Chair. Exercises are low impact and employ pulleys, resistance bands and exercise balls, and many movements might be performed on a mat.

Classes are available in most gyms and leisure centres, and are led by an instructor. In some cases, a class might be instructed on a one-to-one basis.

  • Plank

Static exercise for abdominal muscles. Adopt the starting press-up and lower down to your forearms to support yourself. The line of the body should match the waist and legs. Attempt to maintain this position for as long as possible.

plank chest

  • Plateau

Reaching a point in a training programme where no improvement is made over an extended period of time, or progress halts.

For instance, someone running may reach a stage where they cannot improve on their time or distance; someone performing strength exercises may arrive at a point where they cannot increase the amount they lift.

There are a number of reasons why someone might plateau. This might be due to not letting the body recover sufficiently from previous workouts (overtraining), or failure to make the right modifications to the workout in order to improve performance (observing the overload principle).

  • Plyo box

Cuboid box available in varying sizes, made with wood, plastic or foam, for use in plyometrics.

  • Plyometric training

Sometimes referred to as ‘plyometrics’ and ‘plyos’. This type of exercise utilises quick, explosive movements to increase strength.

Examples include box jump (using a plyo box), vertical depth jump, jump squat, and the plyo push up.

  • Posterior chain

Term used to refer to the muscles in the back, lower back and upper thighs.

  • Press up (or push up)

Bodyweight exercise that works the chest, shoulders, triceps and core.

Hands are positioned directly beneath the shoulders and feet placed hip-width apart. The body is lowered to the ground without letting it touch, before the arms are then fully extended again to lift the body back up. A straight line from the head to the ankles should be maintained throughout the movement.

Press up

  • Prime mover

Muscle primarily responsible for a particular movement. Other muscles may be involved in the movement and act as facilitators (these are referred to as synergists), but not to the extent of the prime mover.

For example:

  • Pulley machine

Used in resistance and strength training. Participants move weights, which are connected to cablesvia a pulley system. The pulleys are usually compatible with various attachments so that users are able to perform numerous exercises using a single machine.

Pulley machine

  • Pull up

Bodyweight exercise where the participant pulls their whole body off the floor using a fixed bar.

The bar is held using an outward facing grip, with hands placed shoulder-width apart. The chin should be raised above the bar and a slight pause held at the top of the movement before lowering back down to the start position.

The exercise is very similar to a chin-up; the main difference is that the participant’s hands are facing inwards during a chin-up (not outwards).

Pull up

  • Pulse

Pulse, pulse reps or burns are the names used to describe a small, partial movement usually performed at the most intense point of an exercise. A small pulsation at this point is thought to aid muscle growth by increasing the amount of time that the muscle spends under tension. This type of repetition is usually performed after a set of full reps.



  • Quadriceps (Quads)

Group of muscles found at the front of the thigh. Comprised of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. Integral in a range of movements such as walking, running, jumping and squatting.

Squats and leg press are examples of exercises that focus on these muscles.




  • Range of motion

A measure of how able a joint is to facilitate movement, be it flexion, extension, internal or external rotation, abduction, adduction and so on. This measure is typically given in degrees.

Active range of motion refers to the amount of movement that can be achieved by the participant on their own.

Passive range of motion refers to the amount of movement present when examined by a physiotherapist or physician.

  • Reference intake (RI)

The maximum recommended amount of a particular nutrient to be consumed by an adult in one day.

On packaging, the amount of a given nutrient in the food contained inside may be given as a percentage of RI.

For instance, a product containing 400 calories would be 20% of RI (2,000 kcal).

Many food manufacturers provide nutrition information using a traffic light scheme to help make it easier to interpret.

Current reference intakes in the UK are:

  • Energy: 8,400 kJ /2,000 kcal (calories)
  • Total fat: <70g
  • Saturates: <20g
  • Carbohydrate: ≥260g
  • Total sugars: 90g
  • Protein: 50g
  • Salt: <6g

Male and female reference intakes differ. However, food packaging tends to use female RI figures as a default, as these tend to be lower than male RI figures.

  • Repetition

Colloquially known as ‘reps’. This term refers to a single complete movement when performing an exercise. In a squat for instance, one rep comprises both the downward and upward motion.

A group of consecutive reps makes up a set (for example, three sets of 10 reps would be a total of 30 reps, with a short break between each 10).

  • Rest

The pause taken following the completion of a set of exercises. The length of a rest may be determined by the amount of exertion required to perform the exercise. High intensity interval training (HIIT) uses very brief rest periods to maximise the time used working out.

(See also: Active rest)

  • Resting heart rate

Recorded first thing in the morning or after at least ten minutes of sitting down. Resting heart rate, or RHR, is calculated by taking a pulse reading. The result shows how many times your heart beats within one minute.

The NHS states that a normal adult heart rate should lie between 60-100 beats per minute (bpm), however it is possible for RHR to fall outside of these parameters and still be categorised as normal.

  • Resistance band

Large elasticated band used to provide opposing force when performing strength training exercises. They are available in a range of sizes and strengths. Some bands have handles, while others have a continuous loop of elastic.

Resistance band

  • Resistance training

Or strength training. Activity where participants work against an external resistance, such as free weights, a machine, resistance bands or bodyweight.

The NHS recommends doing at least two sessions of this exercise type each week, to build muscle and maintain strong bones.

  • Reverse crunch

Core strengthening exercise performed lying on the back.

Arms should placed by the sides with palms facing down to help stabilise the movement. Feet are placed flat on the floor with the knees at a 90 degree angle. Abdominal muscles are contracted to raise the hips off the floor, bringing the knees up towards the chest, before lowering back down to complete the rep.

Reverse crunch

  • Rowing machine

Also known as the rowing ergometer, this is a seated piece of gym apparatus that simulates the action used when rowing a craft on water. The indoor rower facilitates low impact exercise, aiding both cardiovascular conditioning and strength.

Rowing machine

  • Rows

Exercise which targets the back, shoulder and trapezius muscles. It can be performed on a rowing machine, or as an upright row or a bent over row using a dumbbell, barbell or cable machine.

To perform an upright row: Use an overhand grip to pick up the weight. Stand up straight with knees slightly bent and with the weight at chest height, keeping the elbows pointing outwards and the back straight. Raise the weight and pause with it just below chin height, then slowly lower it down to chest level to complete the rep.

To perform a bent over row (pictured): Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, bend the knees and hinge at the waist but keep a straight back. The weight should hang at arm’s length. Tighten the core and squeeze the shoulder blades together to bring the weight up towards the sternum. Lower the weight back down to its starting position using a steady movement to finish the rep.



  • Set

A series of repetitions of an exercise. When one set is complete the participant usually has a short rest period before completing the next set or moving on to a different exercise.

Understanding sets, reps and rests can help to structure a workout.

(See also: Superset and triset.)

  • Shoulder press

Both the barbell and dumbbell shoulder press can be used to work the deltoid muscles.

To perform a dumbbell shoulder press: Adjust a bench so that the back support is almost vertical. Sit down, and start with the dumbbells resting on the thighs. To begin, raise them to shoulder height with palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells up and over the head until the elbows are nearly locked then slowly lower them back down to shoulder level.

To perform a barbell shoulder press: Position a bench under a smith machine or squat rack, with the back support set at an upward angle. The barbell should be set in a start position just above the head. Hold the barbell with palms facing forwards. The bar should then be lifted straight above the head until the elbows are locked. Using a steady movement bring the bar down in front of the head to shoulder level to complete the rep.

Shoulder press

  • Shrugs

A shrug can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. The movement targets the trapezius muscles.

Stand straight, letting your arms hang naturally but holding the weight steady. Pull the shoulders up towards the ears in a smooth motion, then slowly release the muscle to allow the shoulders to return to their starting position. When using dumbbells, arms should be placed at the sides with palms facing inwards.


  • Side hip raise

Mat exercise that works the obliques.

Begin in a side plank position with the lower elbow directly beneath the shoulder, keeping the chest and stomach in line with the legs. The hip should then be lowered towards the floor without it touching and then raised back up into the side plank position. Complete a set on one side before switching to the opposite side.

Side hip raise

  • Side lateral raise

Dumbbell or resistance band exercise that targets the deltoid muscles.

Stand with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the weights upwards and out to the side until the arms are parallel with the floor, bending the elbows so the forearms point forwards. Slowly lower the arms back down to the sides to complete the rep.

Side lateral raise

  • Side leg raise

Can be performed standing up or lying on one side. The move works the hips, hamstrings and glutes.

To perform standing: Use a wall or steady chair for support as you transfer your weight to one leg and lift the other leg out sideways. Once you have extended your leg as far as you can, slowly lower it back down to the starting position. Use a resistance band or pulley machine to increase the difficulty.

To perform lying down: Align the body in a straight line. Lift the upper leg towards the ceiling and slowly lower it back into the starting position.

Side leg raise

  • Sit up

Core strengthening exercise performed lying on a mat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

Hands can be placed at the back of the neck or at the side of the head with elbows pointing outwards. The head and torso are raised by contracting abdominal muscles and pulling the upper back towards the knees, keeping the back straight, then lowering back down to the start position.

Sit up

  • Slow twitch muscle fibres

Muscle tissue which contracts at a slower rate and therefore does not fatigue as quickly. This tissue is able to store higher concentrations of oxygen in order to sustain longer contraction periods.

  • Smith machine

A weight training machine which allows for self-spotting when performing certain exercises such as squats. A barbell is fixed within vertical tracks, which contain hooks at set intervals. The barbell can be secured into these hooks by twisting the bar. The barbell can only move up and down (not forwards, backwards or side to side), allowing the user to more easily maintain form.

For beginners, using a smith machine for compound lifts may be preferable to using free weights.

Smith machine

  • Spiderman plank

Bodyweight exercise which works the core.

Start by engaging the plank position on the floor. Bring the right knee up towards the right elbow. Place the foot back to its starting position and then bring the left knee towards the left elbow.

Spiderman plank

  • Spinning

Popular cardio exercise involving a spin machine, which is similar to an exercise bike. Spin classes are often performed to invigorating music. The intensity of a workout can be altered by increasing resistance, pedal speed and by standing. Spinning is a low impact exercise that can be used to burn calories and improve endurance, whilst working the quadricepsglutescalf muscles and core.

  • Spot (and spotter)

Participants of weight training and resistance exercises may require a partner to ‘spot’ them during certain activities. A 'spotter' can help the participant to safely lift a weight if it is slightly more than the participant is used to lifting on their own. They can also point out drops in form and make sure that the exercise is carried out correctly. If the participant shows signs that they are struggling with the weight, the spotter can intervene.

  • Sprints

Short bursts of running using maximum effort to move as quickly as possible. Incorporating sprints into a workout can help aid fat loss whilst working muscles in the legs, glutes and core.

  • Squat

Full body exercise completed from a standing position.

The hips are pushed back so that a bend forms at the knee, in an action similar to sitting down. The chest should be kept elevated and the back straight before returning to the standing position. The action can be performed with a barbell, on a smith machine, freestanding, or with no weight.


  • Squat rack

Apparatus with place holders for a barbell at shoulder height.

Some squat racks (smith machines) have adjustable safety mechanisms or ‘spotter arms’ to catch the weight if the participant drops it.

  • Static stretch

A static stretch is performed by stretching a muscle to a tolerable position and holding it there for between 10 and 30 seconds.

It is thought to improve flexibility and range of motion.

  • Steady state cardio

This method of cardiovascular activity refers to a workout which maintains a consistent level of intensity for a sustained period of time. For beginners this may be between 10 to 15 minutes, for more experienced exercisers up to an hour, and for experienced athletes even longer. It can be used to increase fitness and endurance levels whilst also burning fat.

  • Step aerobics

A rhythmic workout class performed by stepping onto and off a step block (usually between four and twelve inches high) whilst carrying out various movements.

  • Step master

A machine that simulates the action of walking upstairs. The movement engages muscles in the quadricepsglutescalf muscles and hamstrings.

Step master

  • Stretches

Carrying out a range of muscle stretches may help participants improve flexibility and suppleness when performed after a workout. Stretching is not likely to prevent the onset of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but it may help to increase the range of motion in joints.

  • Superset

Performing sets of two different exercises on an alternating basis, with little or no rest taking place in between them.

This style of workout can be used to effectively exercise in a short period of time.

(See ABAB routine)

  • Supplements

Used to address or help prevent nutrition deficiencies. Typically available as tablets, capsule or powder which can be used with water.

Sports nutrition supplements such as protein shakes might sometimes be used alongside a training programme to provide the body with essential nutrients to help build and repair muscle.


  • Tabata

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.

This type of training has been found to improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

  • Talk test

Used to measure the intensity of an exercise. Moderate exercise should allow participants to hold a conversation, whereas intense exercise is said to prevent participants from being able to say a few words before needing to pause for breath.

  • Target heart rate

Refers to the desired number of beats the heart makes in one minute (and therefore, desired intensity level) when performing exercise. A higher target heart rate indicates a higher level of intensity, and vice versa.

There are several different target heart rate zones. 50 - 85 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate is the typical range for most exercises.

  • Tapering

Refers to the reduction in exercise intensity before an event or competition.

Those training for a marathon may taper their training several weeks before race day to allow for tissue repair and glycogen recovery.

  • Time under tension

Also known as ‘TUT’, this refers to the amount of time a muscle spends under strain or weight during a set.

TUT training puts muscles under strain for a longer period of time, and is a technique typically used by bodybuilders to further develop muscle strength.

  • Train to failure

Term is applied to weight training when an exercise is repeated until the body is unable to complete a further repetition. The technique is used by competent weight trainers to promote muscle growth, by causing a surge in the amount of blood in the target area.

The practice is not usually advisable for those who are new to lifting, as it can lead to use of poor form and increase the risk of injury.

  • Trapezius (traps)

Large muscles located at the sides and back of the neck, extending down towards the middle of the back. Support movement and provide stability in the back, head and neck.


  • Treadmill

A treadmill machine allows users to walk, jog or run on the spot at varying speeds and inclines.

  • Triceps

Muscles situated to the rear of the upper arm, consisting of the long, lateral and medial heads (triceps brachii)

Supports arm adduction, and elbow and forearm movements, and acts as an antagonist to the biceps.

Tricep dips, chair dips, tricep pulldowns (a variation on a lat pulldown) and press ups work these muscles.


  • Tricep dips

bodyweight exercise that targets the tricep muscles.

From a sitting down position, hands are placed shoulder-width apart on a secure bench or chair behind the back, with the feet placed on the floor in front. The body is dipped towards the floor so that the elbow reaches a 90-degree angle. The participant then pushes down on the bench to raise the body back up.

The position of the feet can be modified to change the intensity of the exercise. The further away the feet are from the bench, the more difficult the exercise becomes.

  • Trisets

Tri sets are used to promote fat loss by boosting workout intensity and increasing metabolism.

Three different exercises, sometimes targeting the same muscle group, are carried out one after the other before a pause for rest is taken.


  • Upper body workout

An upper body workout consists of exercises which focus on the muscles in the upper body, such as the shoulders, back, chest and arms. This might utilise pulley machinesfree weights and bodyweight exercises.


  • Vascularity

Term often associated with bodybuilding.

It refers to a physique where veins are highly visible beneath a thin layer of skin so that they appear to be bulging out from it. Veins tend to become more visibly prominent when participants have low body fat (specifically the subcutaneous fat) and low water retention, but genetics can play a part too.

Vascularity cannot be achieved by following a certain workout regime, however the look may be temporarily obtained by pumping muscles and bringing a higher blood flow to the vessel.

  • Vigorous intensity exercise

Exercises which require a very high level of physical exertion. They cause participants to breathe heavily so that they are unable to speak no more than a few words (see also: talk test) and increase their heart rate to upwards of 70 percent of their maximum heart rate.

  • VO2 max

V = volume; O2 = oxygen; max = maximum.

Refers to the maximum amount of oxygen a person’s body is capable of utilising during intense exercise.

The figure is given in millilitres of oxygen, per minute, per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min).

VO2 is measured using sports lab equipment, and is thought to be a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness levels; the higher someone's VO2 max is, the better cardiovascular shape they are in.



  • Wall sit

Can be used to improve strength and endurance in the corequadriceps and calf muscles.

Participants stand with their back against a wall and lower themselves into a squat position, where the hips and knees are at ninety degree angles.

The participant then remains in this position for the desired time, which may be between 20 seconds and a minute. After a short rest, the participant might then perform another sit.

This exercise can also be combined with upper body strength exercises, such as side lateral raises.

Wall sit

  • Warm up

Series of movements and stretches used to get the body ready for exercise.

Warming up increases heart rate and muscle temperature. Carrying out a warm up before partaking in exercise helps to reduce the risk of injury, and can improve the efficacy of a work out.

  • Weight plates

Flat round-shaped weights that can be used in conjunction with adjustable barbells or dumbbells.

They may often be made of cast iron, rubber or plastic. Several plates can be used together in order to achieve the desired weight when performing numerous exercises. Most typically, weight plates are available in 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg, 10kg and 20kg denominations.

Weight plates

  • Wood chop

Targets core and oblique muscles.

It uses a dumbbell or medicine ball and requires participants to squat and twist so that the weight rests next to one of their thighs. The weight is brought diagonally across the body and pushed up past the opposite shoulder until it is above the head. The whole body pivots during the controlled movement. The movement is then reversed so that the weight is brought down back to the starting position next to the thigh.

Wood chop

  • 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.


  • X-Crunch

Bodyweight exercise performed lying on the back. Focuses on coreglutes and hamstring muscles.

The legs and arms are used to form an ‘X’ shape lying on the floor. In alternating movements, one foot and the opposite hand are brought together above the body by engaging the abdominal muscles. These are then lowered to complete the rep, before the other leg and other arm perform the next rep.

X Crunch


  • Yoga

Type of exercise that focuses on posturing, body movements and breathing to improve strength and flexibility, as well as mental wellbeing. Its origins lie in ancient India but it is now a popular exercise throughout the world. Most gyms up and down the country offer classes with yoga instructors.


  • Zumba

Energetic exercise class where movements are carried out to lively music. It was developed by Colombian dancer Alberto Perez in the 1990s.

The appeal of Zumba for many is that it doesn’t necessarily feel like exercise and is a fun way to burn calories and work core muscles. Zumba can provide participants with a moderately intense workout, and is suitable for a wide range of ages and fitness levels.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2021