Training: Glossary of Terms

When you take on any new activity, getting up to speed with knowledge, terms used and shortcuts involved, takes some time. Within this article we’re aiming to get you up to speed with some of the terminology used when you start your new fitness regime (which, incidentally, people refer to as “training” or “working out”) and to achieve your goals.

There are a few key aspects of your training and the exercises within any routine. These can be broken down into a few key areas, which include: repetitions (reps), sets, tempo and rest. This will give you a quick insight into each one and how to manipulate them to obtain the best results possible.

Keep checking back at this page for further glossary updates in the future and feel free to suggest terms you think we need to cover here

Repetitions (reps). This is the number of time you repeat each exercise in a single set. Number of reps can be determined by what it is you’re looking to achieve. For example, for improvements in strength you want to be looking at completing 1 – 5 reps, for hypertrophy (muscle size gains) you want to be doing 6 – 12 reps and for muscular endurance you want to be doing 12+ reps. Now this is a guideline and isn’t set in stone, you will still build muscle with strength training and still get stronger with hypertrophy training.

Just remember, you wouldn’t be using the same weight for 5 reps as you would for 20, so change the weight according to the rep range!

Sets. This is the number of blocks of each exercise you’re doing. Generally speaking a beginner might start with a lower number of sets in the first week(s) of training until they grasp what they’re doing. However, the number of sets varies again depending on what your goals are. If you’re looking at muscular endurance you might do fewer sets, but a whole body session, compared to someone targeting specific muscle groups, they might do more sets but in a more targeted fashion.

Tempo. If you look around your gym you’ll probably see lots of people that don’t use tempo at all. They’ll be throwing weight around (often too much) without a regard for the speed they are doing so. By adapting the tempo you can control the movements better, reduce injury and build more muscle. Tempo is usually written in the format 30X0 and this is how to read it. The first digit is the eccentric phase of the movement (when the muscle is lengthening), the second digit is the pause at the bottom of the rep, the third digit is the concentric phase (when the muscle is shortening) and the fourth digit is the pause at the top.

For example, a bicep curl with a 30X0 tempo would be 3 seconds lowering the bar, a 0 second pause at the bottom, a quick but controlled contraction back to the top (X), and a 0 second pause at the top.

Rest. Rest times are usually given as a range as some people will find they need slightly longer to recover than others, however you want to try to stick within the range so you keep up the intensity of your workout. Generally speaking for heavier lifting (strength training), you would rest for longer than if you’re lifting lighter weights for muscular endurance.

See the table below for a good guide on how you could put some of the exercises on our website into a personalised plan that works for you!

Variable Strength Hypertrophy Muscular Endurance
Reps 1 – 5 6 – 12 12+
Sets per Large Muscle Group* 6 – 12 12 – 15 2 – 5
Sets per Small Muscle Group** 6 – 12 4 – 9 1 – 3
Rest 2 – 5 minutes 1 – 2 minutes 30 – 60 seconds
Type of Routine Split Split Whole Body


Weights. The term defined by the heaviness of your dumbbell, kettlebell or other object you might pick up at the gym. When selecting the correct weight for your exercise, we recommend starting light. The lightest possible is probably a good start (for someone with little to no previous training history). This is because you need to master the technique used in the exercise before you start adding too much external load. Once your technique is perfected, you can progress through the weights reasonably quickly. Leave your ego at the door, start light, get the technique nailed and then start progressing through the weights.

HIIT (high intensity interval training). This is a term being banded around a lot recently, and for good reason, it works! The protocol behind it is to complete periods of high intensity work followed by short periods of rest. For example, you may do 40 seconds of high knees, followed by 20 seconds rest, then straight in to 40 seconds of sprints, followed by 20 seconds rest etc… The entire session shouldn’t take much longer than 20-30mins but you should be completely spent after any HIIT workout.

Want more terms explaining? Seen something you don’t understand? Feel free to add a comment below and we’ll respond and add your query to this glossary.


About Author

Olly is the Short Motivation fitness and training advisor. He is a level-3 PT instructor, specialising in TRX and kettlebell instruction, and manages his own gym in the United Kingdom.