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


Exercise Lingo

Here are some terms you may come across in workout instructions, or exercise books and magazines:

Recovery: When you perform an exercise, you’ll eventually get to the point where you need a specified number of seconds or minutes to rest or go easy. That is referred to as your “recovery” period, and typically varies from 30 seconds up to several minutes.

Reps: Short for repetitions, reps indicates the the number of times you perform an exercise movement, which typically ranges from 3 up to 30, depending on the type of workout you’re doing.

Set: A set is a group of repetitions, and typically you will perform 2 to 8 or more sets for any given exercise. For example, if you are trying to get a toned butt, you might to 5 sets of 12 reps of a reverse lunge exercise.

Spin: Contrary to popular belief, this is not some type of crochet or indoor craft class, but is actually a form of cycling that is performed on a special bike called a spin bike, and usually occurs in a group training environment. Typically spin bikes have a wheel called a “flywheel” that provides the resistance, so they’re a bit different than a regular stationary bicycle.

Tempo: Many workout books, magazines, or programs now indicate tempo, which simply refers to the speed at which you lift. For example, if you take 3 seconds to lift a weight, hold the weight for 1 second at the top of the movement, then take 2 seconds to lower the weight, the tempo would be a 3:1:2.

Finally, you may hear the following phrases pop up in conversations at the gym.

Common Gym Phrases

Failure: Rather than indicating that you did a bad job at something, the term failure, when used in an exercise environment, simply means that you got to the point of physical exhaustion, which often occurs in sets designed to build muscle.

Max: This term is simply short for the maximum amount of weight that one is able to lift in a specific exercise. It is safe to assume that someone who frequently uses this term may not be telling the entire truth.

Spot:Someone may ask you if they can “get a spot,” and they are not asking for you to help them find their dog. This means that they are asking you to help them do an exercise with a weight they probably can’t lift themselves.

PR or PB: Short for “Personal Record” or “Personal Best” this is used to describe a new personal achievement, such as running 3 miles in 20 minutes, being able to bench press 200 pounds, or sticking to their New Year’s resolution for longer than 10 days.

Work In: If you are asked by someone if they can “work in”, this means they would like to share a piece of equipment at the gym with you, perhaps by alternating sets on an exercise machine or using dumbbells that you’re doing sets with. It may also mean that they’re just hitting on you, so be careful who you let “work in”.

Do you have more gym lingo of your own that you’d like to see mentioned? Head over to the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page and share your phrases!

Gym image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.