Gym Jargon Definitions

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If you’re new to the gym, you may hear staff and other gym-goers use unfamiliar terms that make you wonder what they’re banging on about. Wonder no more with our explanations for pieces of gym slang.
Bonking The cycling/Crossfit version of hitting ‘the wall’, when you suddenly and inexplicably run out of energy.

BOSU ball Half a gym ball with a hard flat plastic end. The acronym BOSU stands for ‘both sides utilised’, because you can use it ball up or ball down.

Bumper plates
Plates made of rubber designed to be dropped from the top of a lift without causing damage. Check with your gym whether this is frowned upon.

Cardio Short for cardiovascular exercise, this type of training improves the efficiency of the heart, lungs and blood circulatory system.

The destructive process that breaks down muscle tissue once the energy in your body has been exhausted. This starts to happen after around 45 minutes of intense exercise.

Concentric The portion of a lift where the muscle shortens under tension – for example, the raising phase of a biceps curl.

A strength and conditioning movement that uses a combination of weightlifting, cardio training and gymnastic movements to improve all areas of fitness simultaneously.

Drop sets Multiple sets of an exercise where the weight is dropped with each set to allow you to perform more reps.

The portion of a lift where the muscle lengthens under tension – for example, the lowering phase of a biceps curl.

EZ Curl bar A type of barbell suited to exercises that require a more neutral, less supinated grip because it puts less pressure on the wrists, forearms and elbows.

Performing a set of exercises until you’re unable to complete another rep.

Fat-burning zone A zone of exercise intensity that increases your heart rate to around 60-70% of its maximum and causes your body to use stored fat as its primary source of fuel. 

Fitness instructor A supervised exercise professional with a Level 2 Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) qualification. This means they’ve learnt how to design basic training programmes for a range of people with different fitness goals.

Foam roller Cylinders of foam seen lying around the gym that look like loft insulation, used for self-massage and breaking down muscle knots.

Form The technique used when performing an exercise.

GHD machine A glute-ham developer machine. This device locks your legs into a horizontal tuck and supports your glutes but has no upper-body platform, meaning you can perform exaggerated sit-ups that target your glutes and hamstrings.

Hypertrophy The process whereby muscle fibres grow to become bigger and stronger.

Juicing Using steroids to improve athletic performance.

Originating from Russia, these cast-iron balls of different weights have a handle on top so you can grip them with one or two hands while performing different ballistic exercises.

Olympic bar A bar with thick ‘sleeves’ for the weights to slot on to, which means they can spin when you’re doing lifts such as the clean or snatch. Full-length bars weigh 20kg.
One-rep max The heaviest weight you can push or pull for one repetition of an exercise.

Overtraining Training your body too frequently and intensely for it to recover properly.

Personal trainer An unsupervised exercise professional with a Level 3 Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) qualification. This means they can design sophisticated training routines that include baseline assessment, nutritional advice and progressive programming.

Power plate An exercise machine with a vibrating plate that causes up to 50 involuntary reflex muscle contractions per second as you perform exercises on it, as opposed to the one muscle contraction you’ll achieve during a standard rep. Proponents claim it enables you to work out for a much shorter time than you would do in a normal workout but work the muscles just as hard.
Protein window The space of time – usually within 20-30 minutes of your last rep – when your body is primed to grow and recover if you can fill it with protein.

The pump As Arnold Schwarzenegger explained, “When you train, blood rushes into your muscles and they start to feel really tight – as if somebody was blowing air into them. That’s what we call the pump. It feels fantastic.”
Pyramid sets Multiple sets of an exercise where the weight lifted increases with each set while the number of reps decreases.

Recumbent exercise bike An exercise bike you sit on in a reclining – as opposed to upright – position. It distributes your weight over a larger area, putting less pressure on your legs.
Smith machine A weight-training device comprising a barbell that slides up and down a 2m tall. You lower the barbell on to a series of hooks on the frame to stop it moving, meaning you can lift heavy weights without a squatter. Normally used for squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting.

Squat rack A frame used to hold a weighted barbell. Unlike a Smith machine, the barbell isn’t connected to the frame so you can move it through more than one plane of motion and have to use more muscles to keep it stable. It has a series of hooks and bars to minimise the risk of you being crushed by the weight when you’re performing exercises such as bench presses and squats.
Supersets Two complementary exercises done back-to-back with no rest in between.

TRX A popular suspension training system comprising two pieces of nylon webbing, each attached to a handle. Suspension training enables you to set the body resistance, angle and level of stability you’re working with.
Versaclimber A climbing simulator found in many gyms. Originally designed by NASA to keep astronauts in shape while in space, it has handles and pedals you pull and push to mimic the effect of scaling a wall.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.