17 Gym Terms You Need to Know

Learn 17 common lingo terms so you can understand workout instructions and conversations at the gym.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #38

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In a recent article, “10 Tips For Gym Etiquette,” I taught you how to navigate through your workout without offending others. But fitting in at the gym can go beyond simply being polite--you have to know the lingo if you really want to fit in. So in this article, you’ll learn 17 common gym lingo terms, from gym equipment, to exercise movements, to common gym phrases, and how to understand workout instructions or conversations that you hear or take part in at the gym. If you’re more advanced and already know these phrases, you may want to check out the article “How to Get Better Results From Weight Lifting” where you’ll learn about quarter, stripping, cheating, and more.

Gym Equipment Lingo

Let’s begin with some of the common equipment you’ll find lying around the gym…

Barbell: This is a long bar that typically weights 35-45 pounds, although there are lighter versions at most commercial gyms. You load weight on both ends of a barbell to increase the resistance. Don’t let your ego get in the way when using a barbell--it’s easy to get injured with these.

Cables: A cable exercise apparatus is typically comprised of some type of handle, like a rope or bar, attached to a pulley via a cable, which is then attached to some kind of stack of weights. By using the combination of handle, pulley, and cable, you can manipulate large amounts of weight and move in many different ranges of motion that would be difficult or impossible with a barbell or dumbbell.

Dumbbell: Dumbbells are typically comprised of a handle in between two weights. They can be used individually, or you can use two at the same time. Dumbbells are usually adjustable, meaning you can add resistance by attaching more weight to the dumbbell, or fixed, meaning that you can’t change the weight. Dumbbells are highly versatile and can be used for a wide range of exercises. You’ll typically find them stored on a sturdy shelf called a “rack.” Be careful the dumbbells don’t fall off the rack or your toes could pay a hefty price!

Free Weights: If it’s designed for exercise and not attached to some kind of pulley or machine, you can call it a free weight. This term covers barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells or anything else you can grab and do a variety of exercises with, assuming it’s not a small, defenseless person. Free weights are good to include in your program because they use many stabilizing and balancing muscles.

Plate: Plates are the weights that go on each end of a barbell or adjustable dumbbell. In America, plates typically weight 45, 35, 25, 10, 5 or 2.5 pounds, while most international plates are 25, 20, 17, 10, 5, 2.5, 2, or 1 kilogram.

Smith Machine: This machine, named after a gym owner who invented it, is comprised of a barbell that moves in a stationary track, which ensures that the barbell only moves vertically and in a controlled path. It can be used when you need to press or lift heavy weights with a barbell, but don’t have someone to help you.

Stack: On a weight lifting machine or cable apparatus, the resistance is provided by a stack, which is usually several rectangular shaped plates that are stacked on top of one another. Resistance can then selected by using a pin that can be placed at a chosen place on the stack. Interestingly, a stack can also refer to taking several nutritional supplements at once, and you can learn more about that in the article “Do Muscle Building Supplements Work?”


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.