Strength Bible founder Ben Hardman is here to talk Gym Language. Ever wondered what a certain phrase means in a gym environment? Ben has you covered…
You’ve heard of talking shop, but we’re on Fitness Brain, so let’s speak gym language.
Stepping into the gym for the first time can be daunting. All of the machines, the free weights area, the people, the noise. What if someone says something to me?
Even for experienced trainers, stepping into a new gym can be daunting – though most won’t admit this. You don’t know where anything is and you don’t want to walk around looking like you’re lost.
One thing that’s common throughout gyms across the UK is the language: gym slang and gym language, to be precise.
The problem is, you’ve got to learn it first.
Although gym talk tends to make sense on most levels, some phrases and words are just plain odd. Like any language, terminology will evolve over time but once you’ve cracked it, you’ve got a universal skill that’s good to go.
Our gym slang glossary will help you understand your NEATS from your natties and DOMS from your EMOMs.
Gym Language Glossary
A bicep curl exercise that involves doing 21 reps in total: 7 half curls in the lower range of motion, 7 half curls in the upper range and 7 full curls. These are all to be performed in one set with no rest. This was an Arnold special.
Stands for ‘As Many Reps As Possible’. A term popularised in the CrossFit community, the aim is to complete as many reps (or rounds) of a given exercise or exercises within a certain timeframe.
For example, you have a circuit of 10 x squats, 10 x press-ups, 10 x sits-ups. A simple AMRAP would be to perform as many rounds of these exercises as possible in 10 minutes.
A long metal weightlifting bar to which weight plates are added. These are a staple in any gym.
You can get different-sized barbells. A full-size Olympic barbell will weigh 20kg, but you can get smaller and lighter versions of 15kg and 10kg.
Performing at your maximum capability and intensity. When you enter beast mode, you’re well and truly in the zone.
This term is most commonly used in a lifting scenario, but is now applied to other sports and even in business.
In its most basic terms, a bench is a regular gym bench usually located in the free weights section. These generally have an adjustable level to raise and lower the bench to different angles.
Bench is also used in short for bench press. In the gym, you might hear someone asking, “Are you on bench today?” or “What do you bench?“
Used as a gym slang greeting for anyone who is in good shape, muscular and lifts heavy weights. It can also be used for someone who’s made really good progress and gained some muscle or lost weight. Use this to make someone feel good!
Short for biceps. You’ll hear many conversations in the changing room and on the gym floor revolving around what someone is training. For example:
“What are you training today?”
“Back and bis.”
A term used to refer to gym advice or theories about exercise and nutrition from guys based purely on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific facts. You’ll hear a lot of broscience from wannabe influencers on social media. Always take broscience with a very large pinch of salt.
A time in the training calendar where people purposely try to gain weight and muscle mass through lifting weights and increasing their calorie intake.
This is because you can’t gain weight or build major muscle without being in a calorie surplus. Bulking requires a lifter to maintain a surplus over a number of weeks or months. A winter bulk is common.
These are weight plates made with a thick layer of high density rubber on the outside. These are safer to drop during weightlifting and limit damage to the floor and the plates themselves. It’s not good practice to drop standard plate weights from any sort of height.
Lifting chalk is used to improve your grip on big pulling exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows and Romanian deadlifts. If you’ve got sweaty palms, chalk is also very useful on other exercises like the bench press and even squats.
Using not-so-strict, improper form or technique to complete a rep or exercise. You can lift heavier weights through cheating but you increase the risk of injury. Cheating can be beneficial sometimes to move through a plateau.
Refers to a scheduled break in your diet. Cheat days can vary in intensity but revolve around consuming more calories from foods not typically in your every day diet. Once a cheat day is out of your system, it’s back to the diet.
A derogatory term for a person who regularly skips leg day to focus on their upper body. This can result in a rather disproportionate physique with skinny legs and less developed leg muscles compared to their upper half.
In the gym, a clean is a weightlifting move where you lift the barbell from the floor to your shoulders in one smooth motion. This is a very technical move. There are different forms of cleans, including power cleans and squat cleans.
The metal or plastic devices used to secure weight plates on a barbell to stop them sliding off or moving around during your set.
A strength training technique where reps are grouped into mini-sets with short, timed rest periods.
For example, on the chest press machine you may perform a cluster set of 8 reps and 5 sets with 20 seconds rest in between. This allows you to lift more volume overall with good intensity.
Refers to compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Compound exercises are generally classified where more than one joint is heavily involved in a movement. Examples include squats, deadlifts, overhead press and bench press.
The opposite of bulking featured above. Cutting is the process of decreasing body fat percentage whilst maintaining as much muscle mass as possible.
It’s a popular phase in the training calendar, especially so before the summer months, a holiday, or more traditionally by bodybuilders in preparation for a competition.
A cycle can refer to a couple of things in the gym. Firstly, it can be in reference to the periodisation of your training. This is about the changing up of sets, reps and loads across the weeks.
Secondly, it can refer to a cycle of steroids.
Used by frequent trainers when you need a break from your normal, intense routine. This can be pre-planned or taken on a whim.
A deload gives the body a chance to recover physically and sometimes mentally too. A deload tends to happen over the timeframe of a week. You might hear the term ‘deload week’ too.
Stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is the muscle discomfort felt a day or two after a workout and lasts for a few days, up to a week. The science is still a little shaky on the specifics of DOMS, but it tends to occur after you’ve tried a new exercise, a new workout, or if you haven’t tried for a little while. Muscle soreness can occur in any muscles.
A technique where you perform an exercise at one weight, then reduce (or drop) the weight and continue for more reps until you reach failure. You may drop the weight just once as a finisher or you can drop the weight a number of times on a given set.
A type of weight used for resistance training. A dumbbell is a small metal bar made up of two equal weights. A single dumbbell is designed to be held in one hand.
A CrossFit acronym standing for ‘Every Minute On the Minute’. You start the chosen exercise at the top of every minute, rest for the remainder of the minute, and then start again when the next minute comes around.
Some people pronounce it ‘easy’ bar, some people say E-Z bar. Either way, it’s the smaller, W-shaped bar usually found near the preacher curl.
The point during a set at which a person can no longer maintain good form or fails to perform the next rep due to muscle fatigue. Training to failure pushes your body hard.
These are repetitions performed with assistance from a spotter. After a lifter has reached the point of failure with a particular weight, they’ll then perform forced reps with help from another person. A good way to get over a plateau.
Doing an exercise with the complete set of weight plates, or stack, on a weights machine.
A slang term for muscle growth, gains can get used in different contexts.
For example, when you’re cooking up a protein-rich meal in the kitchen and someone comments, “It’s all about the gains”. When you’re busting out your last rep and your training partner says, “Think about the gains!”
Slang for well-developed, muscly arms. Specifically refers to the biceps and is usually accompanied by some form of bicep flex or acknowledgement.
The unspoken rules of conduct at the gym. These are important and include re-racking weights, putting equipment back, wiping down excessive sweat on equipment, not hogging kit, not staring at someone, not getting too close, plus many more.
Someone who spends a lot of time at the gym. Although not always said with a positive spin, it’s generally taken as a term of endearment by the person it’s referring to.
Performing an exercise without the full range of motion. Instead the lifter will only go half-way to make the rep or set easier. It helps to lift heavier weights but you’re not working the muscle through its full range. Commonly happens with squats and bench presses.
A person who finds it difficult to gain muscle mass or weight. This is often due to genetics, but it can be overcome with the right approach.
Standing for High Intensity Interval Training. A training technique in which you give close to maximum effort through intense bursts of exercise, followed by short recovery periods.
The aim for most lifters, hypertrophy is the increase in size and mass of muscle cells. There are three ways for hypertrophy to happen: mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress.
A slang term for weights or weightlifting. If you’re into lifting weights and you’ve never watched Pumping Iron, stop everything you’re doing and get it on right now!
An exercise that targets a single muscle group with the movement of one primary joint. Examples include bicep curls or tricep pushdowns.
A term to describe someone who has large and well-defined muscles.
Slang for steroids. If someone is ‘on the juice’, they’re on performance enhancing drugs, such as steroids.
Refers to the big, wing-like muscles of the back. The scientific name is latissimus dorsi.
You also get lat raises, but this refers to a different form of lat. A lat raise is short for a lateral raise, i.e. going up and out to the side.
Someone who doesn’t put their weights back or doesn’t tidy away the equipment they’ve just been using. No excuses!
Refers to a leg or lower half-focused workout. You’ll be working your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves on leg day. It’s one you either love or hate! Either way, it should be in any weightlifting routine worth its salt.
Shorthand for ‘Low-Intensity Steady State’. It’s a type of cardio workout where you maintain the same low-intensity pace for a set period of time. Examples include a long walk or easy bike ride.
Short for macronutrients. These are the nutrients we eat to provide us with calories and energy. The three main types of macros are proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Short for natural. It refers to an athlete or bodybuilder who doesn’t use steroids or other performance-enhancing substances.
You can also get a ‘fake natty’, which is someone who claims to be natural, but is really on steroids.
An acronym for ‘Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’. In simple terms, NEAT refers to the calories you burn throughout the day outside of standard exercise.
This can include activities such as walking to the shop or doing some gardening. If you increase your NEAT, you increase the amount of calories you burn.
Performing an exercise where you focus on the lowering, or eccentric, phase of the lift. This is usually done at a slower tempo to finish working your muscle fibres.
The maximum amount of weight a person can lift for one repetition of a given exercise. In a written training programme, you may see this as 1RM.
In the gym, parallel is often used to judge the quality of a squat. It refers to the point where the thighs are parallel to the floor during the lowering phase.
Stands for Personal Best. In the gym you can strike a PB on any exercise, whether it’s a compound lift or on the rower. Depending on the exercise, a PB is usually measured in weight (kilograms), time or repetitions.
Peeled is used to describe someone with a very low body fat percentage. So low that their muscle definition makes it appear as if their skin has been peeled off. It’s a term used in a similar way to shredded or ripped.
Don’t go looking in your kitchen cupboards, a plate in the gym is a weight plate. A plate is a flat, circular-shaped object ranging in weight from 1.25kg to 25kg.
A stage where training progress or gains start to level off and flatline. It’s a frustrating stage that most lifters will hit at some point where it seems like no improvements can be made. A plateau can be worked through and overcome with a good training plan.
Plyometrics are bodyweight exercises that help build up explosive strength and power. Examples include jumping squats, clap press-ups, box jumps and jumping lunges. They’re effective as they involve intense stretching and contracting of your muscles.
Short for preparation. A prep is often used in the context of preparing for a bodybuilding show. This involves a strict, controlled diet and training programme to lower body fat percentage and maintain maximum muscle mass.
One of the foundations of building muscle and gaining strength. Progressive overload involves the gradual increase of stress on the muscles of the body to get bigger or stronger.
Progressive overload can take place over weeks, months and even years. A training diary/book helps you to keep track of what you’ve lifted in the past and for how many reps, so you can aim to improve this next time.
The feeling of increased blood flow to the working muscles. A good pump results in a visible swelling of muscles too, particularly prominent on the biceps, triceps, quads and chest. A pump can be enhanced by taking supplements including nitric oxide and intra-workout carbs.
A metal frame generally used to perform compound moves with a barbell. A rack makes it more convenient and safer for exercises including squats and military press.
Range Of Motion
Refers to the full potential movement of a joint, from one extreme to the other. To work muscles to their full potential ensuring a higher percentage of fibres are hit, it’s beneficial to perform an exercise across a full range of motion.
This often makes the exercise harder, which is why many people resort to short ranges.
A day off from intense training to allow the body to recover.
Short for repetition. It’s the completion of an exercise movement from start to finish, just once. You will perform a number of reps without any rest until you’ve hit a desired amount. Then you’ll stop. This is one set.
Reps In Reserve
The number of reps left in the tank before reaching technical failure on an exercise. It’s used to measure intensity. The number of reps in reserve (RIR) is usually determined before starting the exercise. For example, ‘I want to complete this set with two reps in reserve.‘
Refers to having a low body fat percentage where muscles are well-defined and visible. Similar to peeled above.
This can refer to a regular sequence of exercises that a person does as part of their workout, or from a wider perspective as to what sort of training programme you’re on.
Stands for ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’. This is used as a personal measure of how hard an exercise is. The RPE scale runs from 0-10 with 10 being very, very hard.
In the gym, RPE is similar to RIR. Something at 10 RPE would be 0 RIR.
Short for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators. These are a type of performance-enhancing compound that are believed to have effects similar to anabolic steroids but with fewer side effects. SARMs are not legal for human consumption in the UK.
One group of consecutive repetitions of an exercise done without rest. E.g. if you perform 10 reps of bench press and then re-rack the weight, that’s one set.
Gym language for having a very low body fat percentage and highly defined muscles. Similar to ‘peeled’ and ‘ripped’ above.
If someone asks for a spot, they want you to assist them in their lift – 99% of the time, someone will be asking for a spot on the bench press. If you don’t feel comfortable, say no. Usually someone will ask a person who looks strong enough to help them though.
You might want to clarify if the person wants a lift of the rack first of all, how many reps they’re aiming for, and if they want any touching of the bar unless absolutely necessary.
A derogatory term for someone who takes steroids for bodybuilding or as a performance enhancer. Sometimes it’s mistakenly used to describe a natural lifter with big muscle mass.
Performing two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. A superset is a good way to increase workout intensity, work opposing muscle groups, and decrease the length of a workout.
An American gym slang term for looking muscular in or outside of the gym.
A form of high-intensity interval training. A tabata workout has a standard format that consists of 8 sets of an exercise over the course of 4 minutes. Each set is made up of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by a brief rest of 10 seconds.
Stands for ‘Time Under Tension’. This refers to how long a muscle is under strain during a set. It’s generally thought that more time under tension results in greater muscular effort, leading to more muscle growth.
Unilateral exercises are those performed with a single arm or single leg. These tend to be with dumbbells, on a machine or just bodyweight. Unilateral is opposed to bilateral exercises that use both limbs at the same time.
Examples of unilateral exercises include one-arm dumbbell rows, single-arm bicep curls, single-arm cable lateral raises and dumbbell step-ups.
Refers to the total amount of weight lifted. It’s usually measured per workout or over the course of a week. It’s calculated as the number of working sets, or if you want to get into more detail it’s the number of sets multiplied by reps multiplied by weight lifted.
A CrossFit word standing for ‘Workout of the Day’. Each day a new workout is released for people to have a go at.
Common Gym Questions
These aren’t gym slang terms exactly, but you’ll hear them a lot if you spend any time on the gym floor.
“Can I jump in?”
Jump in what? The pool? No, in between your sets. If a piece of kit is popular or if someone is in a bit of a rush, they might ask to see if they can jump in. This just means they’ll do a set in between your sets whilst you’re resting.
On a weight stack machine it’s absolutely fine, but it can be problematic on a plate-loaded machine if you’re lifting very different weights. If you’re doing completely different exercises on a barbell, then it’s a no. Usually the person will have (or should have) assessed this before asking.
“Can you help me get these up?”
Usually refers to dumbbells in a bench scenario. The person is asking if you can help them get the dumbbells into the right starting position. Most common when performing incline dumbbell bench press or seated dumbbell shoulder press.
“Can you give me a spot?”
Similar to the above, except someone wants you to carefully watch their reps as they perform their set. This is usually asked when the person is lifting close to their maximum.
It’s a more common question in a barbell scenario (e.g. bench) when the prospect of getting trapped or potentially hurt is high. You don’t need to touch the barbell unless the person is really struggling.
“Do you even lift, bro?”
To be fair, this isn’t often said in seriousness but usually as banter between friends. 99% of people in gyms are very respectful and would never question someone using lower weights.
“Have you got many left?”
The person is asking if you’ve got many sets left to see if it’s worth waiting around. It can also be used as a tactical question to get someone to hurry up.