Updated: May 22
New to fitness and don’t know where to start? Here are some of the most common terms and vocabulary you’ll want to know.
Being a beginner can be scary, and fitness is no exception. Whether you’re afraid everyone will be watching or that a trainer will throw around unfamiliar words, fear can sometimes be the reason we quit (or never start.)
So before you head to the gym for the first time or start at-home workouts, take a moment to acquaint yourself with some common fitness terms for beginners. Doing so will help you feel more confident and increase your likelihood of sticking to it.
As a gentle reminder, everything you need is already inside you.
Basic fitness terms for beginners
Warm-up activities, like stretching, incline walks, arm swings, and squats, get your blood flowing and prepare your body for a workout. You should always start your training with a warm-up to protect your body from injury.
After a workout, a cool down gives your body time to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. This supports muscle recovery and generally helps protect your body from injury. To cool down, try walking on a treadmill or gentle stretching.
Reps, or repetitions, are the number of times you complete an exercise before resting. For example, you might do eight squats and then rest for 1 minute. These would be eight reps.
Sets are the number of times you repeat reps. Using our squats example from above, you might repeat the eight reps of squats with a 1-minute rest three times. This would be three sets of 8 reps.
With supersets, you alternate between two exercises with little to no rest in between. They can focus on one muscle group or be more of a full-body workout.
Form is how your body performs a movement and is incredibly important to maximize the effectiveness of an exercise and protect from injury. Bad form can lead to serious harm, while good form can increase your stamina and strength.
Rest days are the time off from working out. Whether your goal is to tone up, rehabilitate an injury, or lose weight, rest days are imperative to allow your body to heal and come back stronger.
ROM (range of motion)
ROM describes how far you can move, stretch, or extend a certain body part, such as muscles and joints. ROM depends on each body part and varies from person to person.
Especially if you have an existing injury, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your ROM to navigate exercises safely.
Foam rolling is a recovery movement involving a self-massage with a cylinder foam roller. It can help soothe muscles after a hard workout and support blood flow.
Different types of workouts
Strength (or resistance) training
Strength training is a type of workout that builds muscle strength and endurance with weight equipment and body weight.
Cardiovascular or aerobic training is any exercise that increases your heart rate, including walking, running, rowing, swimming, cycling bikes, jumping jacks, and more.
How long and intense a person can perform cardio workouts depends on their body’s ability to use oxygen. Cardio training increases lung capacity, supports healthy sleep, relieves stress, and strengthens the heart. Barre workouts
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts consist of several rounds of high-intensity movements that get your heart rate up, followed by rest or low-intensity movement. These workouts combine cardio and strength training elements and can be done with or without weight equipment.
Barre is a high-intensity, low-impact workout combining cardio and strength training elements to improve muscle strength and endurance. The movements in barre are a fusion of ballet, pilates, and stretching, often using light weights and resistance bands.
Similar to barre, pilates is a low-impact workout that emphasizes core strength. At a Pilates class, you’ll use exercise balls, mats, or a Pilates reformer machine to work on flexibility, posture, endurance, and breathing practices.
AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts are high-intensity training in which you complete, as the name suggests, as many reps of an exercise as you can in one set. The idea is to push yourself to the limit while maintaining proper form.
Terms used in the gym
The weight bench is a gym staple. Here, you can complete several exercises, including Bulgarian squats, hip thrusts, chest presses, dumbbell rows, modified push-ups, tricep dips, and more. Some weight benches are adjustable so you can perform additional exercises.
Free weights are any weighted objects used for strength training not attached to a machine. Common free weights include dumbbells, free barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, and medicine balls.
Weight plates are heavy iron plates added to the end of barbells for weight training exercises. They can also be used on their own for different strength exercises.
The barbell is a long metal bar you can use alone or add weight plates for increased resistance. Common barbell exercises are squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. While barbells have a limited range of motion, they are useful if you want to lift heavier.
A dumbbell is a short bar with permanent weights at both ends that can be used for single and double-sided exercises. One of the main benefits of using dumbbells is the wide range of motion. Common dumbbell exercises include bicep and tricep curls, walking lunges, squats, deadlifts, and press-ups.
A Smith machine is a weight machine with a barbell attached to the side rails that slides up and down. You can add and remove weights from both sides like a regular barbell.
The Smith machine is excellent for upper and lower body exercises requiring only vertical movement, i.e., squats, deadlifts, and chest presses.
The cable machine is weight-training equipment that can train the upper and lower body. By upping the weight on the cables, you increase the resistance for your muscle to work against.
A power rack is similar to a Smith machine in structure, but the barbell is not attached, adding more difficulty to the exercises. These machines are often used for bodybuilding and cross-fit training but are also used by everyday gym-goers.
Progressive overload is a training program that involves the increase of weights and reps over a period of time. The idea is to gradually and continuously push your muscles a step further to support muscle growth.
PB = personal best. Because we all need a pat on the back sometimes.
Short for macronutrients, macros are the primary nutrients that our bodies need every day. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fat. Our energy levels, heart and brain health, and general wellness depend on the macronutrients we consume.
Protein is a macronutrient that helps to build and repair cells, support hormones, and provide energy. Protein sources include red meats, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, nuts, beans, and legumes.
Carbs comprise the largest portion of your daily macronutrients and can be found in fruits, vegetables, starches, and more. They are the body’s main energy source, support the digestive system, and help us sleep better.
Carbs get a bad rap in the diet community, but our bodies couldn’t function without them!
Fats are a macronutrient that are an essential part of a healthy diet. In addition to helping the body absorb vitamins and keeping us feeling full and warm, they also help balance hormones and contribute to healthy hair and skin.
Intuitive eating has risen in popularity in the fitness and wellness spaces, and it describes a type of anti-diet approach to eating. Instead of sticking to a certain number of calories or cutting out foods completely, intuitive eating is all about trusting your body to make balanced food choices free of shame from diet culture.
Personal trainer for beginners
Hey, I’m Luan from Sculpt & Glo Fitness. I teach group fitness classes and provide personal training in Cincinnati, Ohio. My mission is to help busy women and moms gain confidence and find their glo wherever they are on their fitness journeys (including the very beginning!)
I believe fitness is not a chore, it’s a choice! If you’re ready to take the leap, I’d love to help you realize your fitness goals.
If you have more questions about starting your fitness journey, schedule a free consultation call.