By LaReine Chabut

Weight training certainly has its fair share of confusing jargon. You don’t need to be fluent in the language spoken at bodybuilding competitions and physiology conferences, but to design an effective workout, you do need to know the basics to better understand your trainer or training materials.

In the following list, key strength-training terminology and training principles are defined:

  • Endurance: Muscular endurance refers to how many times you can lift a sub-maximal weight over a period of time. Muscular strength and endurance are related, but aren’t the same. Muscular endurance is handy for everyday tasks like carrying a heavy box from your house to the car.

    Don’t confuse muscular endurance with cardiovascular endurance, which is the stamina of your heart and lungs. Muscular endurance affects only the muscle in question and lasts only a minute or two; you improve the staying power of one muscle rather than the stamina of your entire body.

  • Failure: To achieve overload, you need to take your muscles to failure — the level of fatigue where you can’t do one more repetition with good form. For instance, when you can’t complete the full range of motion, it’s time to end your set.

  • Overload: To increase your strength or endurance, you need to train by pushing your muscles to do more than what they’re used to. You can overload your muscles by lifting a challenging weight load, doing a lot of reps and sets, or increasing how many times per week you train.

  • Progression: Overloading your muscles by lifting a weight to muscular failure stimulates your muscles to get stronger. This is the principle of specificity in action. To continue to overload your muscles and keep making progress, you need to find new ways to challenge your muscles.

    This is why you need to change up your program or routine. In general, wait six to eight weeks to see visible results from your training when you’re new to lifting weights. Internal changes start to occur immediately in response to your first training session.

  • Range of motion and movement speed: Perform most of your exercises through the fullest range of motion possible of your working joints to stimulate the muscles most effectively. Movement speed should be slow and controlled.

    Anyone who lifts weight for general fitness should perform four-second repetitions — two seconds to lift the weight, stop the motion, and two seconds to lower it. Stop for a moment at the midpoint of a rep to avoid using momentum, instead of your muscles, to power you through. Don’t pause for more than a split second at the end of a repetition — otherwise, it becomes a rest. Each rep should flow seamlessly into the next.

    Athletes and those who are lifting for extreme strength or bulk may do slower or faster reps depending on their goals.

  • Recovery or rest period: When your muscles reach failure at the end of a set, you need to recover or rest before you can challenge that muscle to work again. This is also referred to as the rest period. Similarly, after you’ve worked a muscle group in your workout, you need to allow it to recover for at least 48 hours before you train it again.

  • Repetitions: This term, often shortened to rep, refers to a single rendition of an exercise. For example, pressing two dumbbells straight above your head and then lowering them back down to your shoulders constitutes one complete repetition of the dumbbell shoulder press.

    [Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne]
    Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne
  • Routine: This term encompasses virtually every aspect of what you do in one weight-lifting session, including the type of equipment you use; the number of exercises, sets, and repetitions you perform; the order in which you do your exercises; and how much rest you take between sets.

    By varying the elements of your routine — say, decreasing the number of reps or adding new exercises — you can significantly change the results you get from weight training because of the principle of specificity. Your routine (also referred to as your program or your workout) can change from one exercise session to the next, or it can stay the same over a period of weeks or months.

  • Sets: A set is a group of consecutive reps that you perform without resting. When you’ve done 12 repetitions of the dumbbell shoulder press and then put the weights down, you’ve completed one set. If you rest for a minute and then perform 12 more repetitions, you’ve done two sets.

  • Specificity: Your muscles develop specifically in response to how you train them. For example, if you want to get stronger hips and legs, you should do squats, not push-ups. Similarly, if you want to become a better runner, ultimately you need to practice running. Weight training can complement your running program, but it can’t replace the hours you need to spend at the track.

  • Strength: Muscular strength is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift one time — also called your one-rep max. For example, if you can squeeze out only one shoulder press with 45 pounds, that’s your one-rep max for that exercise.