The Language of Fitness

Knowing your reps from your sets, your glucose from your glycogen, and your TFL from your ITB, all helps to inform your exercise journey. Work your way through healthpro’s A – Z of fitness terminology and be baffled by fitness jargon no more.  


Abduction – movement away from the midline of the body, e.g. raising the arms out to the side

Active recovery - A training session, or segment of a training session, that is performed at a low intensity in order to promote recovery

Adduction – movement towards the midline of the body, e.g. lowering the arms from out to the side of the body back towards the midline

Aerobic exercise – activity, generally of a low to moderate intensity, which can be sustained for long durations and is fuelled by energy derived from aerobic metabolism (energy produced in the presence of oxygen)

Anaerobic exercise – activity, generally of a high intensity, which is sustainable for only very short durations and is fuelled by energy derived from anaerobic metabolism (energy produced in the absence of oxygen)

Anterior – referring to the front of the body

Anterior tibialis – a group of muscles located on the front of the lower leg which function to pull the foot upwards during the motion of walking, running or cycling, for example

Aquathon – sporting event involving the combination of two sporting disciplines, swimming and running, over varying distances, as in the annual Howth Challenge Series



Biceps – major muscles of the upper arm which are responsible for arm flexion

Bonk – the phenomenon of running out of energy, or ‘hitting the wall’, a consequence of reduced blood glucose levels

Brachialis – a group of muscles which assist the biceps in flexion of the arm and also help the hands to grip objects



Cadence – number of strides taken (running), or number of pedal revolutions completed (cycling), in a prescribed period of time, usually per minute (therefore, SPM, or RPM)

Calves – group of muscles on the back of the lower leg, comprising the gastrocnemius and soleus, which pull the foot downwards and stabilise the foot when standing, walking or running

Cardiac output – the volume of blood that can be pumped by the heart per minute (it is equal to the stroke volume – the output per beat – multiplied by the number of beats per minute)

Cardiorespiratory – pertaining to the heart and the respiratory system

Cardiovascular system – the heart and its connected system of blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules and veins)

Circuit training – a training method in which a series of exercises are performed sequentially for a short duration



Deltoids – group of muscles located at the top of the arm which are used in large arm movements and lifting actions

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – muscle pain experienced typically in the 24–72 hour period following exercise of a particularly intense, extended, or unaccustomed nature arising from micro tears in individual muscle fibres

Drop set – a resistance training technique in which a set to fatigue is immediately followed by another set to fatigue using 75 % of the previous weight

Duathlon – sporting event involving the combination of two sporting disciplines, running and cycling, over varying distances and usually in a run / cycle / run format



Ectomorph – one of the arbitrarily classified body types (SOMATOTYPES), denoted by lean and moderately muscled composition

Endomorph – one of the arbitrarily classified body types (SOMATOTYPES), denoted by short and broad appearance

Erector spinae – elongated muscles that offer protection to, and permit backward movement of the spine  

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) - short, painful muscle contractions, potentially related to a breakdown in the ability of the nervous system to control muscle contraction and relaxation during or after intense or extended periods of exercise, which can usually be relieved by static stretching.



Fartlek – a method of run training in which speed is continually varied throughout the session (the word itself is derived from the Swedish term for ‘speed play’)

Fast twitch fibres – muscle fibres that contract quickly, usually recruited for short, high intensity efforts such as sprinting, throwing, or lifting, requiring a substantial energy supply to do so (also known as Type II)

Flexibility – the range of motion or movement around a joint

Foot strike – the point of contact between the ground and the foot while running

Free weight – resistance training equipment not incorporated into a fixed structure, usually a dumbbell, barbell, or plate



Glucose – a simple monosaccharide sugar present in the blood as the primary energy source of the body, stored in the liver and muscles in a polymerised form called GLYCOGEN, and derived primarily from dietary carbohydrates, but also fats and proteins if necessary.

Gluteus maximus – the largest muscle in the human body, used to pull the leg back, as in the running or cycling motion.

Glycogen – a polysaccharide formed from many units of glucose, which is stored in the liver and muscles and broken down readily to release glucose into the bloodstream. An adaptation of exercise training is increased capacity for glycogen storage.



Hamstrings – a group of muscles at the back of the thigh that function to bend the leg

Heart rate – the number of contractions made by the heart muscle over time, measured as ‘beats per minute’ (BPM), which can be used to control and monitor exercise intensity



Iliotibial band (ITB) – a long sheath of thick, fibrous connective tissue which helps to straighten the knee joint as well as move the hip laterally. ITB Syndrome is common among runners and is characterised by pain on the outside of the knee joint.

Insulin – a hormone produced by the pancreas which regulates the movement of glucose and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into cells, particularly muscle cells. Lack of insulin, or insensitivity by tissues towards its action, is a symptom of diabetes. Exercise has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in the body.

Intercostal muscles – muscles situated between the ribs that assist with breathing

Interval training – a method of training employed by runners, cyclists, rowers, and swimmers to develop aerobic and anaerobic capacity by interspersing work periods of approximately 30 seconds to several minutes followed by recovery periods of one half to two times the interval length

IRONMAN – legendary sporting event borne out of US Naval commander John Collins issued challenge to combine existing swim (2.4 mile), bike (112 mile), and run (26.2 mile) races on the island of Hawai’i into one competition. In February 1978, Collins and fourteen others gathered on Waikiki to take on the first ever IRONMAN. Today, almost 40 official IRONMAN full-distance events take place each year across the globe, attracting over 100,000 entrants.



Jogging – slow running for an extended time period

Joint – a junction between bones, which may be moveable or immovable. Three kinds exist – fibrous (pelvis, vertebral column), cartilaginous (sternum, ribs), and synovial (shoulder, elbow, hip, knee)



Karvonen formula – a method of calculating individual exercise target heart rates, factoring both resting heart rate and maximum heart rate



Lactic acid – a by-product of muscle contraction fuelled by the breakdown of glucose in the absence of oxygen (a process called glycolysis). When glycolysis becomes significant, the amount of lactic acid produced exceeds what can be removed by the body, resulting in increased blood and muscle concentrations. High lactic acid concentrations inhibit muscle contraction, necessitating a reduction in exercise intensity. By 20 – 40 minutes post-exercise, lactic acid levels will have returned to normal levels.  

Lactic threshold – the point at which lactic acid production exceeds removal

Latissimus dorsi – group of back muscles responsible for lowering the arms towards the body against resistance

Ligament – a bundle of fibrous, elastic protein called collagen, which provides support for the skeleton, joining bone to bone



Marathon – a running race of 42.195 km in distance, so called in honour of the legend of Pheidippides who ran, without stopping, from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of victory over the Persians, following which he collapsed and died

Matrix training – a resistance training technique in which the complete range of motion for a given exercise is divided into sections, e.g. a 20 repetition set of bicep curls may be performed as 10 repetitions from bottom to half way and 10 repetitions from half way to the top of the movement

Maximal heart rate (MHR) – the highest heart rate attainable for a specified mode of exercise, most accurately determined by a graded exercise test where workload is continually increased until heart rate fails to increase in its normal linear fashion. Age-predicted MHR is calculated by deducting age from 220   

Medicine Ball - a ball of various graduations of weight (typically 2 - 10 kg) used for rehabilitation and strength training purposes

Mesomorph – one of the arbitrarily classified body types (SOMATOTYPES), denoted by sizeable musculature and bone structure

Muscle – movement of the body is achieved by muscle contraction, in which a muscle, or group of muscles shorten, thereby exerting a pull, or if circularly arranged, a squeeze. Muscle constitutes, on average, about 40 % of male body weight and 36 % of female body weight.



Negative phase – in resistance training, the phase of a repetition that typically involves lengthening of the target muscle and resistance against the force of gravity, e.g. the downward phase of a hamstring curl

Negative split – recording a shorter time for the second half of a travelled distance than the first half, often applicable to running, track cycling, or swimming competition or training scenarios



Obliques – stomach muscles responsible for diagonal movement of the torso such as side bending

Overload – an exercise principle that dictates that the individual must perform work at a level above that which can be normally carried out comfortably in order to progress



Pectorals – large muscles of the chest used to move the arms across the body and in pushing actions

Perceived rate of exertion scale (PRE) – a subjective method of monitoring exercise intensity based on a scale of 12 gradations ranging from 0 to 10, where 0 corresponds to the sensation of quiet, seated rest, and 10 corresponds to maximal effort

Peripheral heart action (PHA) – a resistance training technique that alternates exercises between upper and lower body, thus challenging the heart to pump adequate blood supplies to the working muscles

Plateaux – circumstance whereby a given training load is thought to be no longer effective in achieving exercise progression

Plyometrics - specific paterns of movement designed to develop explosive muscular power, such as bounding or jumping up and down to a step or bench

Posterior – referring to the rear of the body

Pre-exhaust – resistance training technique in which a muscle group is trained to exhaustion, and then co-opted into additional work by assistance from other muscle groups (e.g. multiple sets of leg extensions to exhaustion, followed by multiple sets of squats to exhaustion)

Pronation – to turn inwards



Quadriceps – muscle group located at the front of the upper leg, used to straighten the leg and involved in actions such as walking, running, cycling, jumping, getting up from a seated position, and so on



Range of motion (ROM) – a specified, or desired, plane of movement for a given action (e.g. high kicks) or exercise (e.g. squats)

Rectus Abdominus – large group of muscles located in the stomach area (from which the famed ‘six pack’ emanates), responsible for forward movement of the spine and the maintenance of posture

Repetition (Rep) – a complete performance of a given exercise, which in resistance training involves moving from start position to finish position

Repetition Maximum (RM) – number of repetitions of a particular exercise required to achieve overload in the target muscle group

Resistance training – a method of training based on the movement of body parts against resistance in the form of one’s body weight, various objects, or hydraulic pressures

Rhomboids – muscle group of the mid back which protect the spine and enable the arms in pulling actions, such as rowing



Set – a group of repetitions

Slow twitch fibres – muscle fibres that contract slowly, mostly recruited for aerobic activities, and capable of working for extended time periods at a low energy cost (also known as Type I fibres)

Stretching – the application of controlled force that facilitates increased range of movement

Super set – resistance training technique involving the performance of two consecutive sets of different exercises for one muscle group (e.g. bench press followed by dumbbell flyes), or opposing muscle groups (e.g. hamstring curl followed by leg extension)

Suppination – to turn outwards



Taper - a reduction in training load to maximise rest and recovery in preparation for a target event

Tempo – a run or cycle of moderate to high intensity over a medium to long duration, at or slightly below anaerobic threshold, designed to increase ability to sustain ‘high-end’ pace

Tendon – a band of collagen fibres that join muscle to bone or cartilage and transmit the force of muscle contraction to cause movement

Tensor fascia latae – a muscle of the upper thigh region which, in combination with the illiotibial band and gluteus maximus, acts to stabilise the hip during extension

Trapezius – diamond-shaped muscle group of the upper back used in the shrugging motion that enables the shoulders to lift towards the ears

Tri set – resistance training technique involving the performance of three consecutive sets of different exercises for one muscle group

Triathlon – sporting event involving the combination of three sporting disciplines, swimming, cycling and running, usually in that order, and over varying distances

Triceps – group of three muscles located on the back of the upper arm, used to straighten the arm against resistance and in pushing actions



Ultra marathon – running event longer than marathon distance, with anything form 50, 80, 100, and 160 km routes, or longer, a possibility



VO2 max – a measure of maximal oxygen consumption, usually expressed in units of millilitres of oxygen (O2) / per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight / per minute (min) (ml / kg / min), and a useful determinant of aerobic fitness and thus endurance capacity

Vital capacity – the volume of air that can be expelled from the lungs by a full effort following a maximal inspiration



Warm-up – an important component of all exercise modes in which the body is subjected to low intensity activities for an appropriate duration, inducing physiological changes that facilitate optimal performance and lessen likelihood of injury

Water – constitutes about 70 % of body weight in lean, and about 50 % of body weight in obese individuals, with the body of an average 70 kg male containing about 40 litres. Water is lost from the body in the urine, in evaporation from the skin, in the expired air, and in the faeces. Losses are reduced automatically if intake is reduced. Restriction adversely effects exercise performance and is potentially dangerous in hot conditions.

Watts (W) – a watt is a unit of power whose measurement has become popular in the sport of cycling where power transfer to the pedals is an important determinant of performance