Back when I started working out, I was clueless. Really clueless.
I had no idea what some of the most basic and important compound exercises were. I didn’t know what a lot of the equipment was and how it should be used. And I certainly had no idea what my deltoids or trapezius was.
If someone had come up to me and started talking about the latissimus dorsi, I probably would of thought he was some sort of ancient greek god.
But was it my fault I was this clueless?
Think about how most people join a gym. You’re given a quick tour of the gym where you’re told how many treadmills they have, what different types of other equipment they have, what the changing facilities are like and when they open and close.
If you like what you see then you sign up to become a member. If you’re lucky, you may be given an induction to make sure you don’t fly off the back of the treadmill because you didn’t know how to slow it down.
So the induction is there to try and make sure you don’t kill yourself. But once you pass the not falling off the back of the treadmill assessment with flying colours, you’re basically on your own.
When I started working out, there wasn’t smart phones that connected to the internet at the blink of an eye. So I either had to ask someone (which I didn’t because I was too embarrassed) or wait until I got home by which time I had forgotten.
Even now, most people don’t want to be googling every 5 minutes when they’re trying to work out.
How to Use this A-Z
I don’t recommend you read through this in one sitting. Instead, download the PDF and refer back to it every time you need it.
This is not designed to be an exhaustive A-Z of fitness. What it will do, is give you an important outline of key strength training terminology and give you the confidence to navigate the gym successfully.
This A-Z covers everything from muscles and equipment, right through to exercises and other common gym terminology. Every term has been distilled down to a couple of easy to understand sentences that you can refer back to time and time again.
Having a simple A-Z like this would of helped me learn so much faster when I started. I hope you find the contents as useful as I would have 10 years ago.
Let’s get started…
The abdominals (often referred to as abs) are the set of muscles that cover your abdomen. The muscles that make up your abdominals are the rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominis and hip flexors. The main role of your abdominal muscles are to help flex the spine, rotate the torso, bend sideways and compress the abdomen.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases the body’s need for oxygen continuously over a 10 minute period or longer. Aerobic activity is typically low-moderate intensity and is fuelled by glycogen reserves, fat reserves or a combination of the two depending on the intensity. Common examples of aerobic exercise includes long distance running or cycling.
Anaerobic exercise is any activity where the demand for oxygen exceeds the supply. Anaerobic activity is short, high intensity bursts of effort and is primarily fuelled by glycogen reserves. Common examples of anaerobic exercise include weightlifting and HIIT variables of running, rowing or cycling.
Ballistic training (also known as power training) is a form of strength training that involves lifting, accelerating and releasing the weight. This differs from typical weight training that requires the weight to be slowly lowered. The most common examples of ballistic exercises that make up ballistic training include jump squats, bench throws and variations of olympic lifts.
A barbell is a long metal bar that can be fitted with plates for weightlifting. A barbell is used to perform many key exercises including squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and barbell row. A standard barbell weighs 20kg so don’t forget to include this in your calculations when lifting.
The barbell row is a key compound exercise that is performed whilst standing. A barbell row is performed with a loaded barbell and involves pulling the bar off the ground up to your chest and then lowering the bar back down to the ground. The barbell row works a variety of muscles including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, biceps, triceps, abdominals, hamstrings and gluteals.
An exercise bench is used for a number of barbell and dumbbell exercises involving the chest, shoulders and arms. Exercise benches may be flat or adjustable, allowing you to determine the level of incline or decline used for the exercise. The most popular exercises performed on a bench include bench press, flys and seated variants of bicep curls, tricep extensions and shoulder presses.
The bench press is a key compound exercise and one the three powerlifting exercises along with the squat and deadlift. A bench press is typically performed lying face up on a flat bench with a loaded barbell and involves lowering the bar down to your chest and then pressing the bar upwards until your arms are locked again. Variants of the bench press are often performed either by changing the angle of the bench or using dumbbells. The bench press works a variety of muscles including the pectorals, deltoids and triceps.
The bicep is a two headed muscle that is located on the front of the upper part of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder. Both muscle heads connect to the scapula before they join together to connect to the forearm. The main function of the biceps is to allow the forearm to turn and the elbow to flex.
A cable machine is a type resistance machine with a large steel frame and a weight stack at each end. The weights are connected to interchangeable handles by a pulley system. The height of the pulley is adjustable allowing you to perform a variety of exercises including tricep pushdowns, cable crossovers and lat pulldowns.
The chin up is a compound exercise that is performed hanging from a pull up bar with your palms facing upwards. A chin up involves pulling yourself from a straight armed hanging position up until your chin passes the bar before lowering back down until your arms are straight. Chin ups work a variety of muscle groups including latissimus dorsi, biceps, forearms and abdominals.
A collar is a clamp that is used to secure plates in place on a barbell or an adjustable dumbbell. Collars are typically made from metal.
A compound exercise is an exercise that engages multiple muscle groups. Compound exercises are able to be performed with heavier weights than isolation exercises and should be the foundation of any strength training routine. Common examples of compound exercises include the squat, deadlift and bench press.
The core is a group of muscles that include abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, obliques and erector spinea.
Curls are a type of isolation exercise which involves a body part going from a straight position to a bent position. Curl exercises are performed either with free weights or on a machine. The most common examples of curl exercises include bicep curls and wrist curls.
The deadlift is a key compound exercise and one of the three powerlifting exercises along with the squat and bench press. A deadlift is performed whilst standing with a loaded barbell and involves picking the barbell from the ground up to hip height and then lowered to the ground again. The deadlift works a variety of muscles including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, abdominals and forearms.
Decline refers to an angle of between 0 and -45 degrees used on a bench. Decline variations of the bench press is occasionally used to target the lower parts of the pectoral. A decline bench can also be used to increase the difficulty of a variety of exercises that target the abs.
The deltoid (often referred to as delts) is the large triangular muscles of the shoulder. The deltoid is made up of three sets of fibres which are the anterior fibres, lateral fibres and posterior fibres. These fibres are often referred to as the front, middle and rear deltoids respectively. The main function of the deltoid is to allow the arm to be raised away from the body.
A dip is a compound exercise that is performed on two dip bars. A dip involves lowering yourself from a straight armed position until your shoulders are below your elbow and then pushing back up until your arms are straight again. Dips work a variety of muscle groups including triceps, pectorals, deltoids, forearms and abdominals.
A drop set refers to doing sets of the same exercise with minimal rest and reducing the weight each time. The purpose of a drop set is to allow the lifter to continue working the desired muscle past fatigue.
A dumbbell is a free weight that is used in weight training. A dumbbell can either be used individually or in pairs, with one in each hand. Dumbbells are used to perform a variety of exercises including bicep curls, tricep extensions, as well as dumbbell variants of bench and overhead presses.
The erector spinae is a group of muscles that is located alongside the vertebral column. The main function of the erector spinae is to straighten the back and allow side to side rotation.
Extensions are a type of isolation exercise which involves a body part going from a bent to a straight position. Extension exercises are typically performed either with free weights or on a machine. The most common examples of extension exercises include tricep extensions and leg extensions.
Flies are a type of upper body isolation exercise which involves moving the hand and arm through an arc whilst keeping the elbow at a constant angle. Flies can be performed either with free dumbbells, cable machines or resistance machines. The most common types of flies include pectoral fly, bent over lateral raise and lateral raise.
Form refers to the range of motion in which an exercise is completed. If an exercise is performed with good form then it has been completed with the correct range of motion. Performing an exercise with bad form however can result in pain and the wrong muscle groups being worked. Reps should only be counted when an exercise is completed with good form.
Free weights include barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Unlike machines, free weights don’t constrain you to a fixed range of motion. As a result you engage a range of muscles to stabilise the weight that mimics the use of those muscles in the outside world.
The gluteal (often referred to as glutes) are a group of three muscles that make up the buttock. The muscles that make up the gluteals are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. The main function of the gluteals are to allow the hip joint to extend, abduct and rotate.
The hamstring is a large group of four muscles located on the rear of the upper part of the leg. The hamstring muscles are connected between the hip and knee joints. The muscles that make up the hamstring are the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris long head and biceps femoris short head. The main function of the hamstring is to allow the knee to flex and the hip extend.
HITT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT is a form of interval training that involves a short bursts of maximal effort (typically between 20 and 45 seconds) before a less intense recovery period. HIIT workouts typically last between 20 and 30 minutes and have been proven to burn calories for hours after the workout has finished.
Incline refers to an angle of between 0 and 90 degrees used on a bench. Incline variations of bench press and fly are often used to target the upper part of the pectorals.
An isolation exercise is an exercise that engages a single muscle group. Isolation exercises are typically used to shape and define a particular muscle group. Isolation exercises can be performed using free weights but are often performed using machines to ensure other muscle groups are not involved in the exercise. Common examples of isolation exercises include bicep curls, tricep extensions and flies.
A kettlebell is a metal weight that is used to perform ballistic exercises. Kettlebells are typically made from either cast-iron or cast-steel and resemble a cannonball with a handle. Typical kettlebell exercises include swings, cleans, snatches and a variety of presses that can be used to build a mixture of strength and endurance.
The latissimus dorsi (often refereed to as lats) is a large muscle located on the lower part of the back. The main function of the latissimus dorsi is to allow the arms to move downward, backward and in internal rotation.
One Rep Max
One rep max (often displayed as 1RM) refers to the maximum amount of weight that can be successfully lifted for one rep.
The overhead press is a key compound exercise typically performed whilst standing. A overhead press is typically performed with a loaded barbell and involves pressing the barbell upwards from your shoulders until your arms are locked overhead and then lowered down to the shoulders. The overhead press works a variety of muscles including the deltoids, triceps, biceps, quadriceps and abdominals.
The pectoralis (often referred to as pectoral or pecs) are a group of muscles that are located on the chest. The main muscle is the pectoralis major which makes up the majority of the chest whilst the pectoralis minor is a thin triangular muscle. The main function of the pectoralis muscles is to allow the shoulder joint to move.
Pins are a piece of equipment that is used with the safety bars in a squat rack. The pins are clipped into a hole at the bottom of the safety bar to stop the bars from coming out during use.
A plate is a flat round weight that can be attached to a barbell. Plates typically range from 1.25kg up to 25kg. Most plates are made from metal and then coated in rubber to allow them to be dropped safely.
Powerlifting is a competitive type of weight lifting compromising of squats, bench press and deadlift exercises. Powerlifting competitors are split into gender and weight classes.
Presses are a type of exercise which involves pushing a weight from a bent position up to a straight position. Presses can be either a isolation or compound exercise depending on whether free weights or a machine is used. The most common examples of presses include bench press, overhead press and leg press.
A pull exercise is an exercise performed either with free weights, your own bodyweight or on a resistance machine that involves pulling the weight towards the body. The muscles that are generally targeted during pull exercises include the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, biceps and front deltoids. Common examples of pull exercises include barbell row, pull up and bicep curl.
The pull up is a compound exercise that is performed hanging from a pull up bar with your palms facing downwards. A pull up involves pulling yourself from a straight armed hanging position up until your chin pass the bar before lowering back down until your arms are straight. Pull ups work a variety of muscle groups including latissimus dorsi, biceps, forearms and abdominals.
A push exercise is an exercise performed either with free weights, your own bodyweight or on a resistance machine that involves pushing the weight away from the body. The muscles that are generally targeted during push exercises include the pectorals, triceps and rear deltoids. Common examples of push exercises include bench press, overhead press and dips.
A push up (also known as a press up) is a compound exercise that is performed by lowering the body from a high planking position to just above the ground and then pushing the body back up using your arms. Push ups work a variety of muscle groups including pectorals, triceps, deltoids and abdominals.
The quadricep (often referred to as quads) are a large group of four muscles located on the front of the upper part of the leg. The quadriceps are connected between the hip and knee joints. The muscles that make up the quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis. The main function of the quadriceps is to allow you to walk, run, jump as well as stabilising the knee.
A repetition (often referred to as a rep) is the number of times a weight is successfully lifted and lowered during an exercise. If the weight was successfully lifted and lowered 5 times, then 5 reps have been completed. A repetition should only be counted should an complete an exercise be completed with good form.
A resistance machine is a piece of weightlifting equipment that allow you to typically perform one exercise through a fixed range of motion. Resistance machines are a common sight in most gyms with a variety of different resistance machines available. They are often favoured by beginners as they allow them to perform exercises safely and are less intimidating than free weights. The downside of a resistance machine is it doesn’t force you to balance and stabilise the weight like you would need to outside of the gym.
The rest period is the amount of time taken to rest between sets of exercise. A rest period will typically range between 2-5 minutes depending on the heaviness of the weight being lifted.
The rhomboid is a rhombus shaped set of muscles located on the upper part of the back. The main function of the rhomboid is to allow the scapula to retract.
Safety bars are a piece of equipment that is used with a squat rack during barbell exercises such as squats and bench press. The height of the safety bars should be determined by the build of the lifter and even on both sides. The safety bars are fixed in place by safety pins to avoid the bars from coming out during use. It is highly recommended that the safety bars are used when squatting or bench pressing alone.
A set is a group of reps that is completed without resting. If the weight is successfully lifted and lowered for 5 reps, before resting for 2 minutes and then completing another 5 reps, then 2 sets of 5 reps has been completed. This is commonly displayed as 2×5.
A sit up is an exercise that is performed by elevating the back up off the floor until everything above the buttock is not touching the ground. Sit ups primarily work the abdominal muscles and hip flexors.
Six pack is a popular term for visible rectus abdominis muscles (often referred to as abs) which is caused by low levels of body fat.
A spotter is someone who closely watches their partner during an exercise. Should the lifter not be able to complete the rep, the spotter will assist lifting the weight back to the starting position. Occasionally if someone is working out alone with free weights, they will ask someone to spot them.
The squat is a key compound exercise and one of the three powerlifting exercises along with the bench press and deadlift. A squat is typically performed with a loaded barbell on the top of your back and involves bending your legs until the hips are lower than the knees and then pushing the weight back up until your legs are locked. The squat works a variety of muscles including quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, triceps and abdominals.
A squat rack (also known as a power rack or power cage) is a piece of weightlifting equipment that is used to perform a number of barbell exercises. A squat rack allows you to safely perform exercises such as a squat and bench press without a spotter. This is done by inserting the safety bars and pins into the rack which allows you to safely release the weight should you not be able to get it back up to the starting position.
A super set refers to moving back and forth between sets of two exercises with minimal rest period in between. A super set will often pair two exercises using different muscle groups to minimise the drop in performance as the muscle fatigues. An example of two exercises that could be paired together in a super set include bench press and pull ups.
The trapezius (often referred to as traps) is a large diamond shape muscle located on the upper part of the back. The trapezius is made up of three sets of fibres which are the superior fibres, middle fibres and interior fibres. These fibres are located on the top, middle and bottom sections of the trapezius respectively. The main function of the trapezius is to allow the scapula to move and the arm to be supported.
The triceps brachii (often referred to as triceps) are a group of three muscles that is located on the rear of the upper part of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder. The three heads that make up the triceps brachii are the long head, lateral head and medial head. The main function of the triceps brachii is to allow the elbow to extend.
The tricep surae (often referred to as calves) are a pair of muscles located on the rear of the lower part of the leg. The triceps surae are connected between the achilles tendon and the base of the femur which is just above the knee. The muscles that make up the tricep surae are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The triceps surae perform a variety of functions including stabilising the body whilst walking or running and jumping.
A workout is the collection of weight training exercises completed in one session.