When you join a new company, association or team, you might hear people using unfamiliar terminology. It’s no different in the fitness world.

Instead of Google searching, here are explanations for 7 common terms you’ll likely hear at the gym.


People might say they’ve got to do cardio or aerobic exercise. These words are basically interchangeable.

One technically refers to the cardiovascular system in the body, and the other the aerobic-energy system. Both mean you’re working the heart and lungs.  

You have to move big muscles like the arms and legs to get your heart rate up to the aerobic-training zone that benefits heart health.

That zone is reached when your heart rate is raised high enough that you’re breathing heavily and sweating, but can still carry on a conversation. Staying at that rate for 15 to 20 minutes is aerobic training.


Rest and recovery have the same purpose in a training program, but the word ‘rest’ implies you do nothing.

The preferred term is ‘active recovery’ because your body and muscles need to recuperate from the efforts of exercise, but not by sitting or lying around.

Active recovery is actually a lower-intensity exercise that helps your body recuperate from the intense part of a workout or training program.

It can be stretching at the end of a workout with the intention of releasing tight muscles and fascia (connective tissue).  

It can also be a dedicated day between training sessions, when you do a gentle yoga or tai chi class, walk, swim or cycle leisurely to promote circulation and blood flow and release tension.

Building or toning muscle

Some people, particularly women, say they don’t want to build muscle bulk  they just want to tone up.

Toning is building muscle, but it’s building muscle without the emphasis on increasing muscle size. You need to do resistance training (also known as strength training) to build muscle density so that your muscles are firm and strong.

Women are unlikely to develop bulky muscles unless they’re into a hard-core training program, specifically to build size. Genetics and body type also play a role.

Metabolic training

Metabolic training refers to high-intensity exercise that burns the maximum amount of calories during a workout and for a period of time afterwards.

Muscles require fuel or energy to maintain themselves. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn  even at rest. This is described as your metabolic rate. The higher your metabolic rate (or daily caloric rate), the easier it will be to maintain a healthy body weight throughout your life.

Take, for example, jumping jacks. You could do them at a nice, easy pace or fast with hands lifting overhead that will leave you breathless. If you perform them at a high-intensity level for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds and then repeat sets during your workout, that’s part of metabolic training.


This acronym stands for high-intensity interval training, which is an exercise program or formula involving short bursts or intervals of high intensity, followed by shorter periods of active recovery.

This interval is repeated for a set number of times, depending on the length of the training session.

For example, a beginner would perform an exercise as hard as they can for 30 seconds, followed by an easy exercise for 30 seconds, then repeat.

An advanced formula would be 45 seconds of high-intensity exercise, followed by 15 seconds of active recovery, then repeat.

These go hard, go easy formulas for HIIT training are both efficient ways to burn maximum calories and improve your body’s ability to burn fat as fuel.

An example of a HIIT cardio interval is running followed by brisk walking. An example of a HIIT strength interval is jumping lunges followed by squats.

Core training

Mention the word ‘core’ and people usually think it means the stomach or abdominal area. It’s actually much more than that.

Core training works the muscles from your shoulders to your hips, including the muscles of your shoulder girdle, back, abdominals, gluteals (buttocks) and hips.

Training your core is essential to help you stand strong and stable with correct alignment (posture) and to move effectively, which together reduces your risk for injury.

An example of a core exercise is a hip bridge, a great complementary exercise to a traditional abdominal curl.


Mind-body describes a mode of exercise such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi or even walking in nature  any movement where you connect the brain and body by being mindful about an aspect of the activity.

You might hold a yoga pose and focus on your breathing. You could do a bicep curl and concentrate on slowly lowering the weight. A nature walk would key on listening to the birds and the breeze rustling the leaves, not thinking about walking for the sake of walking.

Class dismissed

Learning gym language is about more than gaining knowledge.

Being in the know makes you feel smarter, builds confidence and helps you feel like you belong. That should transfer over to more enjoyable and productive workouts.