Training Terminology

Creating a common language between athlete and coach is essential for greatest understanding and optimal results. Featured below is a list of terms in glossary fashion that I use with all my athletes. This isn’t the most comprehensive list and I often include other nomenclature in my conversations, but it provides a good representation of communication around training for peak performance.

Athletic Capacities: These are the traits, characteristics, or qualities that define human performance (strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance). These are present to varying degrees in every athlete, influenced by genetics, and drivers of training.

Strength: Maximum force…most clearly represented by 1RM, but also extrapolated from multiple repetitions.

Speed: Maximum velocity…in absolute (max sprint speed) and relative (speed at a given distance) terms.

Power: Force x Distance/Time (anaerobic and aerobic). Anaerobic power is the product of speed and strength and often described as the area under the force-velocity curve. An example is a weighted sled push for time. Aerobic power is a representation of VO2max and is characterized by best output possible at 5-7 minutes. Often considered synonymous with stamina.

Agility: Mobility + Stability + Reactivity + Fluidity…the epitome of athletic movement. The ability to own shape and position with the body and to execute movement artistically and effectively.

Endurance: Fatigue Resistance (muscular and cardiorespiratory) and all-day durability. Muscular endurance is the ability to produce high reps prior to failure and aerobic endurance quantifies the ability of the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems to deliver and utilize oxygen.

Training: Exercise performed with a purpose, according to a plan, and with emphasis on a desired outcome.

Resistance Training (RT): Develops strength and muscular hypertrophy using bodyweight, machines, free weights, etc.

Speed Training (ST): Sprinting or maximum velocity work requiring extended rest breaks to maintain true speed quality.

High Intensity Repetition Training (HIRT): Builds power by combining high intensity bouts (repetitions) with rest breaks or intervals.

Dynamic Movement Training (DMT): Targets agility and includes stretching, balance, multi-directional movements, etc.

Low Intensity Steady-state Training (LIST): Develops the aerobic base and cardiovascular health…”low, slow, cardio mojo.”

Warmup: Any activity or series of movements that prepares the athlete for safe and effective participation in the main portion of the training session. This often includes cueing/priming movements, drills, and progressive efforts. Usually advances from general to specific in relation to both sport and athlete.

Repetition (rep): The execution of a singular aspect in training, e.g. lifting a weight up and down one time constitutes on rep, as does running or swimming one lap (or whatever distance was utilized).

Set: A group of reps, i.e. if that weight was lifted up and down eight times and then a break was taken, that was 1 set of 8 reps, written as 1 x 8.

Repetition Maximum (RM): Whatever the number of lifts referenced, this is the maximum amount of weight an athlete can lift. For example, a 1-rep max represents absolute strength, and for training purposes it can be fractionated such as 80% of 1RM. The same principle works with other numbers as in %10RM (If you can lift 100 pounds 10 times, but not 11, your 10RM=100#…then if you are lifting 75% of your 10RM you use 75#).

Basic Workout Shorthand: It is standard practice to write workout recommendations in short form for easy communication and record-keeping. Gym or resistance training is usually expressed as Sets x Reps @ Intensity w/rest periods. A lifter might do 5 x 5 @ 235 lbs. w/ 3-minute rests. In a locomotion-oriented workout, the shorthand is often Reps x Distance or Time @ pace or heart rate with rests in distance or time. A sprinter might do 10 x 30m @ max speed w/ unlimited rests, and a distance runner may perform 4 x 800m @ 90% MHR w/200m jog rests. There can be many more examples.

Straight Sets: When multiple sets of an exercise are used, and all sets of a given exercise are completed before moving on to the next exercise.

Circuits: When a group of exercises are performed, and the athlete does one set of each different exercise to complete the circuit before beginning again.

Cueing: The provision of verbal, visual, or tactile cues to guide a movement practice and enhance skill acquisition.

Priming: Facilitating the execution of an exercise with a specific preparatory movement.

Plyometrics: The use of the stretch-shortening cycle of muscle contraction in explosive movements such as box jumps.

Isometric: Muscle contraction in which there is no movement of the limbs involved.

Concentric: Muscle contraction in which the fibers shorten and the weight (if involved) usually moves upward against gravity. Also termed an overcoming contraction.

Eccentric: Muscle contraction in which the fibers lengthen against load and the weight (optional) lowers with gravity. Additionally labeled as a yielding contraction.

Super-Slow Training (SST): Utilizing a very slow cadence of movement, such as 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down to maximize time under tension (TUT). Can also include isometric holds at different points in range.

Compound Movements: Full-body exercises which activate numerous muscles across multiple joints in a functional movement pattern.

Isolation Exercises: Those which selectively recruit and contract individual joints, muscles or related muscle groups.

Ladders: A progression of sets in which the reps ascend such as 4-6-8-10-12, or descend e.g. 15-10-5.

Pyramids: A progression of sets in which the reps both ascend and descend as in 1-2-3-4-3-2-1.

Supersets: Two exercises paired together with no rest break. Can work same movement or muscle, complementary, or antagonistic components.

Pre-Fatigue: The practice of fatiguing a muscle by performing an isolation movement prior to a compound movement. Also called pre-exhaustion.

Giant Sets: A grouping of exercises, usually 3-5, performed as one set with no rest between individual exercises.

Rest-Pause: The technique of performing one to several repetitions of a lift or exercise, then pausing for few seconds of brief rest, and continuing this cycle multiple times to completion of the set.

Clusters: The use of a controlled pattern of rest-pause in a set to enable additional reps with heavy weight, e.g. doing a set of 8 reps in clusters of two with 15 seconds rest between each group of 2 lifts.

Drop Sets: The practice of performing multiple sets with descending weights. Also called strip sets when using a barbell and stripping plates off the bar between sets. An example would be 5 sets of 8 reps of dumbbell curls with 40-35-30-25-20 pounds.

Movement Economy: Optimal fuel utilization as in miles per gallon. Emphasizes mechanics and the minimization of energy waste, loss, or leakage.

Movement Efficiency: Ideal power output similar to horsepower. Combines metabolic upregulation with structural integrity to enhance performance.

Movement Effectiveness: Combination of economy and efficiency creating best output and artistic, athletic motion.

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): The self-explanatory upper limit in beats per minute of heart muscle contractions. Often used in calculating aerobic training ranges or zones based on percentages of this maximum.

Functional Threshold Power or Pace (FTP): Synonymous (for our purposes) with Lactate Threshold (LT – based on blood lactate levels) or Anaerobic Threshold (AT – utilizing respiratory gas exchange data), this is the highest power output or pace an athlete can sustain for roughly one hour. Approximately 77-86% MHR in most cases.

Aerobic Capacity: Similar to VO2max, this represents the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize per kg of bodyweight per minute. It correlates with all-out efforts over an approximate 5-minute period. Approximately 87-95% MHR for most athletes.

Recovery Aerobic Training (RAT): The use of LIST with the explicit goal of enhancing recovery and circulatory exchange, with a lesser emphasis on making conditioning gains. HR should not exceed 55-70% of max in most cases..

Tempo: Steady-state training that uses Functional Threshold Power (FTP) as an effort level.

Cruise Intervals: The use of work bouts at FTP, broken up with rest breaks, which are usually actively moving in the same exercise mode at a lower intensity.

VO2max Intervals: Training similar to above but with higher effort (at the aerobic capacity) during work bouts. Reps of 3-4 minutes have  been shown to most effective.

Speed Training: Repetitions performed with maximum or near-maximum speed as the focus. Usually conducted with generous rest breaks and HR is not monitored as this is secondary to velocity The reps are usually so brief that HR data is not as meaningful as with other types of intervals.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP): The utilization of increased speed/power output following a priming movement which excites the neuromuscular system. An example would be an athlete doing several explosive jumps before settling into the blocks for a sprint.

Dynamic Stretching: Mobility training that utilizes fluid, rhythmic patterns to enhance suppleness and movement quality.

Static Stretching: Holding a stretch position for a variable period of time to lengthen muscle and connective tissue, primarily at end ranges of motion.

Cooldown: Any practice of gentle movement including LIST, walking, and DMT to allow heart rate, body temperature, and level of arousal/activation to come down toward pre-training levels.

Crushing: The art of getting it (the workout) done, and in smashing fashion. In other words “You’ve been crushing it in your workouts“ is quite a recognition and indicates you are accomplishing the goals of your training.

Savage: The state of having a voracious appetite for training, i.e. being highly motivated and really getting after it. “She is the savage in our group“ identifies the team member who always brings the A-game and elevates everybody else as well.

Stepping Up: Taking one’s turn at a lift or rep, or assuming a leadership role in a session. “He really stepped up in practice“ is a great compliment.

Beast Mode: The use of controlled aggression to execute a lift, a rep, or a session. Can be used sparingly during brief, intense aspects of training, as long as it doesn’t turn into straining, which is counterproductive to optimal movement quality. “Wow, you went beast mode on that last circuit“ is heard in the gym from time to time.

Pain Cave: Although a commonly used term, this is really not a place that you want to find yourself very often. “I really went to the pain cave in that session“ suggests that you may have stayed in beast mode a bit too long. It’s fine to go all out here and there, but that shouldn’t be the major focus of every workout.

Hurt Locker: This is potentially where you will reside if you spend too much time in the pain cave. A workout that causes extensive breakdown in the body leads to an extended recovery time following the session (or even the within the latter part of an overcooked workout) that is filled with soreness, stiffness, and a general feeling of beat-down. “I’ve been in the hurt locker for 3 days“ is not what you want to say very often, if at all.

Shutting it Down: The use of wisdom and instinct to back off or discontinue an exercise or session when something doesn’t feel right, and one is most probably on the verge of illness or injury. When a coach is observing an athlete faltering in a movement with a wonky hamstring, he will quickly shout “shut it down!”

Phoning it In: Also known as sandbagging…this is the practice of bailing, wimping, or wussing out in the presence of challenge, but in the absence of any issue other than a temporary lapse in mental fortitude. “I’m pretty sure I phoned it in on that last rep“ is something we’ve all probably said at least once. We are all human.

I hope you enjoyed this review of common training terminology and can use it to your benefit in your own workouts. Good luck with all your health and athletic endeavors!

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