An Easy Reference List of Weight Training Terms

people doing curls

You’re getting into weight training and you’ve heard you should focus on compound movements, try a circuit, or shorten your rest between sets, but what does all that mean?

We’ve created an easy-to-understand glossary of terms to help you get a handle on the basic language used by strength training enthusiasts… because lifting weights makes total sense!

Bench: A bench refers to the platform you sit or recline on when training. It’s also an action term (“to bench”) that refers to the bench press exercise. See “press.”

Cable: Among the strength training machines in the gym, cable machines are stations that feature pulley systems with handles instead of straight bars and levers.

Circuit: Circuit training involves a group of assorted strength exercises performed one exercise after another, often for a specified time period before moving on to the next. When all the exercises are complete, that is a circuit, which may be repeated.

Compound: Compound exercises are movements that require more than one joint. For instance, in a squat, your ankle, knee and hips joints are involved in the exercise.

Concentric: The concentric phase of an exercise is lifting or push phase—the effort.

Curl: When you pull the weight in toward your body, it’s a curl. For instance, biceps curl bends at the elbow to pull the weight toward the chest.

Decline: When the angle of a bench, platform, or your body is reaching downward from flat/parallel to the floor. For instance, when doing a decline pushup, your hands are lower than your feet.

Definition: Definition refers to the ability to see the outlines of your muscles under the surface of your skin.

Eccentric: The eccentric phase of an exercise is the lowering or negative phase—the return.

(To) Failure: When you cannot physically perform any more reps with proper technique, you’ve taken the exercise to failure. See “reps.”

Free Weights: Unlike weights attached to a machine, free weights are unattached and come in the form of dumbbells and barbells with weight plates (the weights you put on the end of the bar).

Incline: When the angle of a bench, platform, or your body is reaching upward, away from flat/parallel to the floor. For instance, when sitting back on an incline bench, your head is higher than your chest.

Isolation: Isolation exercises are movements that require only one joint to perform the exercise. For example, a biceps curl (see “curl”) involves only the elbow joint.

Mass: Muscle mass refers to the relative size of and weight of muscle.

One rep max or 1RM: See “reps.” When you can only do one rep of a certain exercise using a certain weight, that is your one rep max—it’s the heaviest weight you can lift, once.

Press: A movement that pushes the weight away from the body, against resistance. Example of press exercises are bench press which pushes the weight away from the chest, a seated leg press which pushes the weight away from the hips and torso, or an overhead press which pushes the weight up above the head.

Reps: Repetitions. Reps are the number of times an exercise is repeated within a single exercise set…. See “set.”

Resistance training: See “strength training”

Rest between sets: The amount of time you stop working in between each set of an exercise. It might be a short rest, like 20 seconds, or a few minutes for powerlifting.

Set: This is the basic unit or group of repetitions (see “reps”) you will perform of a single exercise. For example, you might do 1 set of 10 reps or 3 sets of 12 reps.

Spotter: A spotter watches you as you are performing a challenging exercise, and is there to help you lift the weight back into starting position if you have trouble. See “to failure.”

Strength training/weight training: Exercise against resistance (usually weights) that gets progressively heavier as you get stronger is also called strength training, weight training or even weight lifting.

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