The Language of Fitness
Every subculture has its own language and fitness is no different. Not long ago complaining about HIIT workouts would have only been relevant to boxers; however thanks to the popularity of high intensity exercise programs, fitness enthusiasts know that HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. Whether you’re a newb or you’ve been working out in health clubs since leotards and leg warmers were a thing, here are 13 fitness terms that you should know along with some of the geeky science behind them.
Where Terms Come From
The anecdotal experience of hardcore weightlifting enthusiasts who closely monitor their workouts or the research conducted in exercise physiology labs by scientists are how we learn about the ways that exercise changes the body.
Exercise scientists tend to use overly complicated terminology, while on the other hand, gym junkies have developed their own language to describe the results from exercise. The thing is that both are often describing the same physiological responses but in different ways.
FYI – if you really want a geek session, here is my recorded webinar on how HIIT Slows down the aging process; perfect exercise information if you’re over the age of 40!
AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible or As Many Reps As Possible)
Made popular by the CrossFit community. As Many Rounds As Possible describes a workout based on a circuit of exercises that should be performed for a specific number of reps, the goal is to complete as many complete circuits in a specific amount of time. As Many Reps As Possible is also know as Reps for Time – the goal is to do as many reps as you can in a set amount of time, usually between 20 and 60 seconds; you can make the workout harder by counting the number of reps and trying to more on the next set.
Burning literally refers to being on fire. Many consumer-oriented fitness programs promote the fact that they work to the point of ‘muscle burning.’ Does this mean exercising to the point where you catch on fire? NO! When it comes to exercise, burning refers to the feeling when muscles experience an accumulation of metabolic by-product. Acidosis is a change in blood acidity, specifically elevated levels of lactic acid and hydrogen ions (the result of moderate-to-high intensity exercise). A burning sensation in a muscle is an indication of acidosis and is a sign that it is time for a recovery period to allow the body to remove the metabolic by-product from the working muscles and replenish nutrients so muscles can continue working.
Short for cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular; used to refer to exercise that elevates the heart-rate to pump oxygen and nutrient-carrying blood to the working muscles. Most often referred to using equipment like treadmills, elliptical runners or stationary bikes. However, it is important to know that ANY exercise which elevates the heart rate can provide cardiorespiratory benefits. Circuit training with free-weights or any form of strength training can be considered cardio.
The perception is that cardio is the best way to burn fat. Fat is converted to muscular energy at lower-intensity exercise (in fact you’re in your fat burning zone while reading this) but it can be slow process. During higher intensity exercise energy is provided in a shorter period of time through the glycolytic and phosphagen energy pathways. Rather than using the term ‘cardio’ it is more appropriate to use the term metabolic conditioning. Low-intensity exercise like walking draws from the aerobic pathway, moderate-to-high intensity exercise uses energy primarily from the glycolytic pathway and extremely high-intensity or maximal effort exercise uses the phosphagen pathway. THIS BLOG comparing steady state to HIIT can help you to identify the best type of metabolic conditioning
Learn how cardio and other types of exercise can slow down the aging process with my e-book: Exercise for the Fountain of Youth, or CEC course (ACE, AFAA and NASM CECs): Exercise Program Design for the Fountain of Youth
One of the most overused fitness terms. Consider the fact that ANY muscle which attaches to the spine, rib cage or pelvis influences movement around the body’s center of gravity and could be considered a core muscle.
Consider the gastrocnemius (calf) which attaches from the back of the heel (calcaneus) to the bottom of the thigh bone (femur); it can influence motion at the hip, therefore calf raises could be classified as a ‘core exercise.’ Likewise the upper arm muscle of the biceps (the biceps brachii) has two attachments to the shoulder blade (at the glenoid fossa) which sits on the thoracic spine – if the shoulder blade changes position during an upper arm exercise it can change the position of the spine which changes the body’s center of gravity.
If we accept the body’s center of gravity as the foundation around which all upright movement is based then we should consider any exercise performed from a standing position and that affects movement at the spine, rib cage or pelvis as ‘core training.’
Learn more about strength training for your core muscles with my e-book: Functional Core Training, only $7 or CEC course (ACE, AFAA or NASM cecs): Total Body Core Training $67
EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute)
EMOMs are a relatively new way to organize a workout: after a complete, movement preparation warm-up set a timer, at the start of every minute do a certain number of reps of an exercise once you are finished you have the rest of the minute to rest. EMOMs can either focus on only one exercise like kettlebell swings or can alternate between upper and lower body movements like deadlifts on the even minutes and chin-ups on the odd minutes. For example, if it takes you 12 seconds to do 10 push-ups you will have 48 seconds to rest before the next exercise.
In her recent interview on the All About Fitness podcast, actress Katee Sackhoff talks about how she LOVES doing EMOMs in her workouts
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) describes how the body continues burning calories after the workout is over. The body is most efficient at producing ATP through aerobic metabolism. At higher intensities, when energy is needed immediately, the anaerobic pathways can provide the necessary ATP much quicker. This is why we can only sustain high intensity activity for a brief period of time. We simply run out of energy! During EPOC, the body uses oxygen to restore muscle glycogen and help rebuild muscle proteins damaged during exercise. Even after a HIIT workout is over, the body will continue to use the aerobic energy pathway to replace the ATP consumed during the workout, enhancing the EPOC effect. EPOC is influenced by the intensity of exercise and not necessarily the duration (Borsheim and Bahr 2003).
One way to get results from your workouts is exercising at an intensity that can maximize the EPOC effect. Admittedly there is some debate about the significance of the EPOC effect for the average exercise participant. However, if you want results and are up for the challenge, then increasing the intensity of your workouts by completing more repetitions, taking shorter rest intervals, or moving at a faster pace may be worth the effort. Remember that HIIT places a higher stress load on the body, meaning that it is extremely important to allow at least forty-eight hours of recovery time between high intensity exercise sessions. Limit yourself to no more than three strenuous workouts like this per week.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)
This term makes the list because it is often used to refer to exercise performed at maximal intensity, however we have to remember that intensity can be very subjective, what may be low intensity for some may be high intensity for others. For individuals with a history of being sedentary or who have been dealing with chronic medical conditions limiting their ability to exercise simply walking continuously for a few minutes at a time could be considered ‘high intensity.’ Yes HIIT can provide many benefits, but the terms ‘high intensity’ could scare some people away from participating in exercise so we should be careful with how we use it to describe workouts designed for the general public.
Similar to HIIT, ‘Metabolic Conditioning’ is often used to refer to high-intensity exercise performed to the point of being out of breath or experiencing muscle soreness. Here is why this overused term ought to be retired from our lexicon: metabolism is the chemical process by which a biological organism produces energy for muscular contraction, meaning that ANY exercise requiring a muscle contraction (which in itself requires energy) is a form of metabolic conditioning. Standing from your chair after reading this post requires your metabolism to fuel your muscles. If you want to continue using the term then it would be more appropriate to classify metabolic conditioning as low-intensity, moderate-intensity, high-intensity or maximal intensity to appropriately describe the level of effort required to perform the planned activity.
This term is commonly used to describe a general mode of exercise such as yoga or Pilates because they are traditionally performed with bodyweight (with the exception of Pilates programs involving equipment such as a reformer or barrel) and require concentration to execute challenging movement sequences. Purposeful movement requires conscious effort, therefore almost any physical activity that involves learning and executing movement patterns, no matter how basic, requires cognitive focus and should technically be classified as ‘mind-body.’
Simply a marketing term created to describe the physiological effect of periodization which is a method of organizing exercise programs based on alternating periods of intensity. Exercise is the process of applying physical stress to the body but the body actually adapts to the applied stimulus during the post-exercise recovery period.
The concept of periodization was developed by Soviet Union sport scientists who recognized that periods of high-intensity exercise (high stress) should be followed by a period of low-intensity exercise (low stress) to let the body to fully recover from the workouts and allow the time for the physiological adaptations to occur. Two different models of periodization exist: linear – which gradually increases the intensity over a period of time before allowing for active rest or off-loading for the body to fully recovery (exercising at 70% of max intensity for two weeks followed by two weeks of 80% max intensity and two weeks of 90% max intensity before taking one week of rest, commonly called ‘off-loading’) and non-linear – which organizes workouts of varying intensity from one day to the next (high intensity weight-lifting on Monday followed by a low-intensity bodyweight workout on Tuesday followed by a moderate-intensity energy system training day on Wednesday). If you want to sound like you know your exercise science then replace ‘muscle confusion’ with the term periodization.
Many programs or fitness classes refer to using plyo’s which is short for plyometric. Looking at the etiology of the word, ‘plyo’ (from pleio) is a pre-fix for ‘more’ and metric refers to length; therefore plyometric means ‘more length.’ Which describes the physiological affect of the involved muscles during jump training (the most common application for the lower body) or explosive movements such as medicine ball throws (often used for upper body plyometric training).
During plyometric actions the contractile component of muscle, the actin-myosin proteins, actually hold an isometric contraction which allows the elastic element of a muscle, the fascia and connective tissue binding series of muscle fibers to one another, to rapidly lengthen which creates the mechanical energy which is then released when the elastic tissue returns to its original length. Following Newton’s third law: “for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction;” where the practical application is that the faster a muscle can lengthen the faster it can shorten which generates a higher magnitude of force.
Plyometric training was developed by Soviet sport scientists who originally referred to it as ‘shock training’ (urdaniye metod in Russian) because of the high forces experienced by the involved tissue. Proper application of plyometric or ‘shock method’ training is performing for only a few repetitions at a time in an effort to achieve the highest level of force output possible. Any program requiring participants to perform more than five or six rapid movements (i.e. jumps or explosive lifts) in a row can significantly increase the risk of injury by placing too much force on the involved tissue and is not a true ‘plyometric’ exercise.
Swole (as in, ‘getting swole’)
Gym rats use the term swole to mean increasing muscle size. Exercise scientists use the term hypertrophy to describe how muscles increase in size in response to strength training. Getting swole, or increasing muscle size, requires a high volume of reps performed to the point of fatigue for the purpose of creating the mechanical and metabolic overload that causes muscles to grow.
Watch this interview with researcher and professor, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld where we talk about the science of muscle growth
There are a number of exercise programs and classes using the name Tabata which is an actual person, Dr. Izumi Tabata an exercise scientist from Japan. In 1995 Dr. Tabata and colleagues conducted research on ways to improve aerobic capacity using short intervals of extremely high intensity exercise. Their research study involved only 9 athletes who were challenged to perform two exercise protocols at extremely high intensity. The protocol involved exercise at 170% of aerobic capacity on cycle ergometers for a work interval of 20 seconds followed by a brief recovery interval of only 10 seconds, repeated to exhaustion. Dr. Tabata and colleagues found that this protocol was extremely effective at boosting aerobic capacity. Since publishing his work in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 1997 Dr. Tabata’s name has been used to refer to a protocol of high intensity interval training featuring 20 second work intervals followed by 10 second recovery intervals for 8 cycles (a total of 4 minutes).
Toning (Synonym: Sculpting)
If you ask most people what their general fitness goals are you will hear the response: “tone up and get in shape.” We have come to accept the term ‘tone’ to mean muscular definition, or the appearance of a well-defined muscle. The term ‘tone’ is actually short for Tonus which is the technical term used to describe a state of contraction in a normally functioning muscle. Using a muscle repeatedly during a strength training exercise will leave that muscle in a state of semi-contraction creating the defined appearance we have come to expect as the result of exercise.
Now you know what you’re really saying when you use these 13 common fitness terms.
To learn more about exercise or how to design your own workout programs, pick up a copy of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple