Common Gym Slang Explained

Gym blackboard
(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / doble-d)

The gym can be a daunting place for many reasons, the main one usually being you’re about to challenge yourself physically in a public environment. Another is that the language used in the gym is often unfamiliar, and if you don’t have someone to ask what it means then it places another barrier in the way of enjoying your workouts.

To avoid that we went out and asked someone for you – Emma Ford, personal trainer at PureGym Aylesbury. You’ll find Ford’s explanations of the most common bits of gym slang below, and there are more definitions available on the PureGym website too.


AMRAP stands for “as many rounds as possible” and it’s a common type of workout format. It’s pretty self-explanatory: complete as many rounds of a series of exercises as possible within the time allowed. There’s no set rest period – you take a short breather when you need to. AMRAP workouts are a great method of developing endurance and also allow people of all levels to train together, each at a speed that best suits their ability. An example AMRAP workout could be a 400m run, 20 press-ups and 40 squats, repeated for 15 minutes.


Calisthenics is a form of strength training that uses a person’s bodyweight, with exercises such as squats, lunges, dips, crunches and press-ups. The aim is to improve strength, flexibility, control and aerobic conditioning to improve all-round fitness. Beginners often start with calisthenics, but as they improve, the difficulty can also be increased to match their development.

Compound Exercise

Compound exercises are those that engage multiple muscle groups at the same time, rather than working one specific muscle in isolation. For example, when performing a squat, the quads, glutes, calves and core are all called on to keep the body steady during the movement. Compound exercises help to improve functional strength and are often an efficient way of completing a workout because you work multiple groups in the same amount of time, rather than each in isolation.

Concentric And Eccentric

Every movement in every strength exercise is either concentric or eccentric. The concentric part of the move occurs when the muscle contracts, while the eccentric phase is the opposite – when the muscle lengthens. Lowering the barbell slowly during a deadlift would be an example of an eccentric movement, while the first half of the deadlift – the lifting motion – is the concentric phase. For more advanced gym-goers, training these movements separately can have its benefits, with eccentric movements in particular placing greater demand on muscles, and also helping to strengthen tendons and ligaments to reduce the risk of injury.


Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the name given to the stiffness that can develop following physical activity. It’s caused by inflamed muscle and connective tissues. DOMS often occurs if you change your exercise routine, start a new programme or alter either the duration or intensity of your usual workout. The discomfort usually starts between 12 and 24 hours after your workout, and peaks around one to three days after before easing off.

Drop Set

Drop sets are a resistance training technique where the participant completes a set until failure, before reducing the load and repeating with no rest. Drop sets are an effective way to promote improvements in muscle size and endurance. Bear in mind that they’re an advanced technique and not to be taken lightly.


This stands for high-intensity interval training and it involves periods of high-intensity activity followed by a period of recovery, with the sequence repeated a set number of times. It’s a great way of making the most of the time you spend in the gym because an average HIIT session lasts around 20 minutes in total, excluding your warm-up. Anyone can take part in HIIT workouts, unless advised otherwise by medical professionals, and many often find it to be more enjoyable than a regular workout due to the regular changes of pace.


This refers to an increase in muscular size achieved through exercise. Hypertrophy training will focus on increasing the size of muscle fibres and developing larger muscles in areas such as the thighs, calves, biceps or back. This style of training is popular within the bodybuilding community, where there is often a focus on growth of certain muscles to achieve an ideal physique.

Isolation Exercise

The opposite of compound exercises, isolation exercises are used to target one muscle group or joint in isolation. When performing isolation exercises, it’s important to maintain balance by training the opposing muscle group too. For example, pair a leg extension with a leg curl. The weight machines found in most gyms are designed for isolation exercises.


Short for macronutrients, macros are the three main categories of nutrient – protein, carbohydrates and fat. “Counting macros” or “tracking macros” is a way of counting the grams consumed of each nutrient to ensure that you’re adequately fuelling your body. In principle, this is similar to counting calories, but it can be more flexible.

One Rep Max

The one-rep max, or 1RM, is the maximum possible effort of a movement for one repetition. For example, the heaviest you can lift for a single deadlift. This also makes up your personal best for weightlifting exercises such as the back squat and deadlift, and is frequently used as a standard for measuring improvement. Keep in mind that it’s always essential to complete a few warm-up sets before attempting a new 1RM to avoid injury.

Posterior Chain

Your posterior chain refers to the muscles that run down the back of the body, including the hamstrings, glutes, calves, lats, rotator cuff muscles and erector spinae muscles – everything from the back of your head to your heels! This group of muscles is essential for completing everyday activities, and a strong posterior chain will help reduce your chance of injury and protect your knees and back.

Progressive Overload

The principle of progressive overload refers to gradually increasing the weight, frequency or number of repetitions in your strength training routine. Doing this over time will allow your musculoskeletal system to get stronger by continuously challenging your body, helping to avoid plateaus. Although it is mainly used in the context of weightlifting, progressive overload can be applied to any type of exercise.


Personal trainers (PTs) are present in most gyms. You can pay to work one-to-one with them, but they can often also provide a quick piece of advice if you have any questions about specific exercises or equipment.


Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a way of tracking your effort during your workout. It’s a subjective measure, based on elevated heart rate, increased breathing and muscle fatigue, where observations of these measures are matched to a scale – the higher the number on the scale, the more intense the exercise. There are two frequently used versions of this scale: the original Borg scale, which ranges from six (no exertion) to 20 (maximum effort), and the modified RPE which uses a scale of zero (no exertion) to 10 (maximum effort).


The idea of supersets is to perform two exercises back to back, with a short rest after both have been completed, rather than between each move. Commonly, these two exercises target opposing muscle groups so that while one muscle group is contracted, its functional opposite relaxes, thus reducing the need for a break between exercises. A biceps curl and a triceps extension is a good example of a pair of exercises to perform in a superset.


Unilateral exercises are movements that are performed using a single arm or leg. The main benefit of unilateral training is to avoid imbalances developing, because when training with bilateral movements, the stronger limb will often compensate for the weaker.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.