Fitness Terminology for Beginners

Getting into exercise can be daunting. Do you have the right kit? Are you going to be able to keep up? How does everyone else manage the moves without looking like an awkward squirrel? The last thing you need is to feel like everyone else is also speaking another language.


Ever been in a class where they use terms that everyone else seems to nod along sagely to, but you have no idea what they mean? Or tried to look up a workout, or a move online and been bewildered by the jargon?


Well this is a beginner’s guide to some of the fitness terminology I’ve been asked to clarify. Remember to always ask if you’re unsure of something, no question is ever too silly and it is infinitely better to clarify things than to go through workouts not sure of what you should be doing. Let me know of any other terms you’d like to know about…and then we can work on that squirrel pose.


Calisthenics – this term simply refers to exercises where you use only your own body-weight as resistance so for example things like push-ups, lunges or squats


Circuit Training – this involves strength-training exercises, usually around 5-10. Each exercise is performed for a certain number of repetitions, or for a certain time period. So you might do 10 bicep curls, or you might do bicep curls for 40 seconds. Each exercise is performed one after another with a short rest between each – that’s one circuit. The circuit is than repeated after a slightly longer rest, for a specified number of times. The total number of repetitions of the circuit performed can vary depending on your fitness levels or objectives, but is usually around 3-5 times.


CV – you’ll often hear trainers talk about doing some CV work and while it’s an obvious one if you know it, it’s often taken for granted that people do. CV is just short for cardiovascular. So if you’re going to be doing some “CV work” it means that you’re going to be doing some exercises that raise your heart rate and breathing rate – for example sprints, jumps, burpees – rather than something that makes you work hard without necessarily getting you out of breath.


High Impact – although it sounds like what it says on the tin, it’s worth flagging this one as a lot of people think ‘high impact’ means just really challenging or sweat inducing. The level of ‘impact’ is not a measure of how hard the exercise makes you work - many low impact classes like barre or yoga, can make you work incredibly hard. Impact refers to the force put into the move – so high impact might be squat jumps, whereas lower impact would be regular squats. This is a really important distinction, especially for beginners, as high impact exercises often put a lot of stress on your joints.


Hiit – as long as you know Hiit stands for High Intensity Interval Training, it’s pretty easy to grasp what it means. It’s short bursts of exercise where you’re working really hard, split up by short periods of rest, or low effort activity. There’s no set length of time for the intervals, you might do 30 seconds of burpees followed by 30 seconds of jogging on the spot and repeat that four or five times. Also, it doesn’t have to be the same exercises though, the principle is high-effort followed by low-effort for short periods of time.


Isometric Movements – this is like a movement where you’re moving your muscles but not (or at least barely) moving the limb. I’ve found the best way to explain this is to imagine you are trying to lift your foot off the floor but it is glued down. The muscles all the way up your leg will engage as you try to pull it up, but your leg is not actually moving. Many moves you will come across involve this isometric engagement of the muscles without the movement of the body – a plank for example.


Muscle Fibres: Slow and Fast Twitch – sometimes you’ll hear trainers talk about firing up different muscle groups or fibres when they’re describing a particular exercise. I know, I know, you’re usually trying to figure out what the muscles are called, let alone the fibres! All they’re referring to though is the type of muscle fibres our bodies use for specific movements. Exercises requiring short, sharp bursts of force – jumping lunges, burpees, tuck jumps etc. - use more fast twitch fibres. Moves where we need lower levels of force but we need to keep going for longer – continuous running at a steady pace for example – use slower twitch fibres.


Sets: Superset, Tri-set, Giantset – again these are terms that are misused a lot, particularly on social media. In simple terms:


·      A superset is two resistance exercises - performed back-to-back for a certain number of repetitions – either for opposing muscle groups or for the same muscle group. So that could be bicep curls followed by tricep kick-backs (opposing muscles), or tricep dips followed by tricep kick-backs (same muscles).

·      Tri-sets are three exercises targeting the same muscle group performed back-to-back for a set number of repetitions, with a brief rest between each set.

·      Giant-sets are like a tri-set but with four or more exercises


Tabata – Tabata is a very specific form of Hiit training named after the guy that designed it, Professor Izumi Tabata. Strictly speaking, this system involves 20 seconds high-intensity exercise followed by 10-seconds rest, repeated continuously for 8 minutes (4 cycles). In a lot of gyms today, however, the term is commonly to describe any repeated intervals where the exercises being performed are the same and the interval time is short.