Fitness Term 101: Understanding Fitness Terms for Beginners

Walking into the gym for the first time and hearing fitness terms from your trainer may make you feel as if you are in Mars. And some trainers seem to derive malicious joy in watching the expression of confusion on your face.

Before you step into the gym it is good to know some of this frequently used fitness terms. That way, you will not feel embarrassed when you do not understand a fitness term and others looking at you as if they did not experience the same confusion when they started.


The first time you hear your fitness trainer say that he wants you to focus on your quads, it is like a doctor telling you that you have adipose tissue or your yoga instructor telling you to blossom your fingers: quads being the front of your thigh, adipose tissue being fat, blossom your fingers being spread your fingers. Why didn’t he just say the front of my thigh? I don’t know.

But let’s take a look at the terms and get familiar with them.


A set is a series of repetitions of an exercise usually done without rest. For example if you are asked to do 10 reps and four set of squats: It means that when you squat 10 times, it is 1 set. Another 10 squats is 2 sets.


Rep is the short form of repetitions. It means the number of times that you perform a complete movement of an exercise. For example if you are asked to do 15 reps of squats – Standing up, squatting and getting up is one rep.


In performing leg lifts, taking your legs up from the floor and bringing them down again is one rep. In pushups, pushing the arms up and down is one rep

Engage your abs

This is contracting your abdominal muscle when you are working out instead of allowing them to sag and hang loose. To do this, Inhale first, as you exhale, pull your navel inwards as if pulling it in towards your spine. You will feel a contraction in your abs. If you hold it in for a longer time you may feel as if you are doing abs exercise

It helps in keeping the tummy flatter and in giving you a good posture

Steady state cardio

This is a cardio workout that uses a steady and continuous pace. There is no high or low energy output. This means that if you are on a stationary bike and the resistance is in level 3, it stays in that level for the 20- 30 minutes of your workout


In this workout you follow this rule:

You work hard for 20 seconds

Rest for 10 seconds

You will Complete 8 rounds

Example of a Tabata workout

Jumping jacks (4 minutes)

Squats (4 minutes)

Plank hip dips (4 minutes)

Mountain Climbers (4 minutes)


Also called aerobics is exercises that increase your heart and breath rate. It involves using equipments like treadmill, elliptical and body weight exercises like jumping jacks, squats and fast feet. It is normally done with a medium to fast tempo.

Aerobic exercise

These are cardio exercises that increase your heart rate, deliver oxygen to your muscle and increase your breath rate in a way that you can sustain the exercise for some minutes

High Intensity interval training

This is a workout that mixes both cardio and strength training. In HIIT, you give it all you have for 1 minute, rest for 30 seconds then go for another fat torching blast for another 1 minute. For example

Jumping jacks – 1 Minute

Active rest 30 seconds

Kettle bell swing 1 minute

Active rest 30 seconds

Cross training

Cross training involves mixing up your fitness activity to build strength, endurance and muscle mass.  A runner can decide to also workout in the gym and swim too. All this different exercise trains and builds endurance in different ways.

Super sets


This is finishing one set of your exercise and without rest in between you move to another exercise. For example you might do bicep curl

Training to Failure

This means doing a particular exercise be it bicep curl or squat till the point where you cannot do one more rep because of muscle fatigue

Progressive overload:

This is increasing your weights as soon as your muscle gets too comfortable with it.

Circuit training

This is high intensity aerobics that targets all over body conditioning, endurance, strength and muscle building. There is 5 – 8 different exercise that work different parts of your body upper body, core, lower body, total body set out in different stations. You do each exercise for 30 seconds or as recommended by your instructor the moment she says switch you move to the next station for the workout.


Station 1- 1Jumping lunge

Station 2 -Sumo squats

Station 3 -Bent over rows

Station 4-Russian abs twist

Station 5 -Jumping rope

Station 6 -Mountain climbers

Do each workout for 30 seconds. When you get to the end of the station, rest for 1 minute and start from the beginning again. Go on as long as you can.


Your core is your entire midsection, both the front and back.  Core exercises are the workouts that target those areas.


This is a body type that has a lot of fat and is soft


This body type does not gain weight easily. A person with this body type is slim, has less muscle and has long limbs. When you think Ectomorph body think Taylor Swift


This body type builds muscle easily. They have a well toned and well defined body. Because they build muscle easily they may appear to be lifting weight when they have never lifted a 1kg weight in their lives. An example is Britney Spears


High impact

High impact exercise put a lot of pressure on the joints and your whole body. An example is the jumping jack and jump squat


Low impact

These are exercise that does not put pressure on your joints and most times you have one foot or both feet on the ground. An example is standing oblique crunch, pelvic tilt and yoga

Lean mass

Lean body mass is the weight in your body that is not fat. Your lean mass includes your muscle, ligaments, tendon and your internal organs. It is always better to have more lean mass and less fat


Glutes is the muscle of your buttocks



These are the muscles in front of your thigh


Your core is your entire midsection, both the front and back.  Core exercises are the workouts that target those areas.

Weight loss Plateau

This is a stall in weight loss. Most people experience plateau at a certain point in their weight loss journey. It can be taken care of by keeping a food and activity diary to check if you have started eating more than you were eating before, if you have gone back to bad old eating habits or if your activity level is no longer challenging to your body,

Dynamic warm up stretches

These are stretches that can be used as a warm up procedure. They include shoulder level am circles, marching in place and arm swings. You do not hold the position but keep moving. It quickly brings up your heart rate.

Static stretching: When performing these stretches, you stretch the body till it gets to a point of tension then you hold the position for some seconds before changing position.

Active rest

Active rest means that instead of stopping your workout by sitting down in between sets, you keep moving. This keeps your heart rate up. You can stretch, just walk around or drink your water and clean up your sweat. In short keep moving in between workouts, do not sit down or stand still.

Compound exercise

These are exercises that involve more muscle group instead of one. Example is the kettle bell swing

It works your glutes, core, legs and upper body.

This is the first part fitness terms.  You are almost ready for the gym and your trainer.

Fitness Term 101: Understanding Fitness Terms for Beginners

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