Weight Training Terms & Concepts

Online Glossary / Quick Reference

Weight training terms at this quick reference include related terms from the sport sciences, including sport psychology and motor control. The Online Reference provides a variety of definitions and uses.


abduction: a joint action where a limb moves away from the midline body.

abdominals: the large muscles of the anterior abdominal wall; part of the core group of muscles that move the trunk in flexion, lateral flexion, and rotation. The “abs” include the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques.

absolute strength: the amount of weight that one can lift.

achilles tendon: the fibrous cord that connects the muscles of the calf to the heel bone.

adduction: joint action where the limb moves toward the body.

adipose tissue: connective tissue composed of fat cells.

aerobic: requiring oxygen; exercise that overloads the cardiovascular system to stimulate increases in cardiac output.

Agility: the ability to change directions quickly under control.

agonist: a contracting muscle that is resisted or balanced by an opposing muscle; also called prime mover.

amino acids: the basic structural unit of proteins.

anabolism: the phase of metabolism where simple substances are synthesized into the complex materials of living tissue; the building of body tissue during recovery.

anaerobic: without oxygen; describes cell metabolism for brief, high intensity activity (e.g. weight lifting, sprinting).

anatomic position: reference point for all joint motions; standing erect with the palm facing forward.

anatomy: the science of the shape and structure of organisms.

antagonist: a muscle that acts in opposition, or counterbalances, the action of another muscle.

anterior: the front of the body (e.g., tibialis anterior is the muscle at the front of the lower leg).


balance: the ability to maintain stability while stationary or moving.

ballistic stretching: a technique where segments are bounced to achieve a terminal range of motion.

barbell: a straight or curved bar typically five to seven feet in length designed to have weights placed on the ends.

bench press: an exercise performed lying supine on a bench; strengthens the muscles of the arms and chest.

bent row: an exercise performed by pulling the weights toward the body in the opposite action of the bench press.

biomechanics: the study of the applications of mechanics to biological systems.

body composition: the relative amount of fat and lean body tissue.

body mass index (BMI): a technique for categorizing people with regard to their degree of body fat.

bumper plate: an Olympic plate with a rubber padding.


calf muscles: muscles of the back of the lower leg (i.e., the gastrocnemius and soleus).

cardio: describes cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise performed on a treadmill, stepper, or bike if in a gym.

cardiovascular: relating to the heart and blood vessels.

cardiorespiratory: relating to the heart and lungs.

catabolism: metabolism involving the release of energy and resulting in the breakdown of complex materials within the body.

catch: the Olympic lifting position where the weight is supported at the shoulders or overhead.

center of gravity: the approximate point at which all parts of the the body are equally distributed.

circuit training: a method of physical conditioning where athletes move from one exercise to another, usually at different stations using different equipment.

clean: weightlifting exercise phase performed in Olympic lifting where the bar is lifted from the floor to the shoulders.

clean and jerk: the complete competitive lift used in Olympic lifting where the weight is brought to the shoulders and then to overhead after a brief pause.

clean pull: a variation of the clean where the weight is lifted from the floor to full body extension.

closed skills: skills that are executed in stable conditions (e.g., shooting a free throw, performing a forward roll).

collars: any sleeve that prevents plates from slipping off the end of the bar.

components of fitness: basic qualities that demonstrate the ability to complete daily tasks with energy, reduce health risks, and participate in a variety of physical activities.

compound exercise: a lift that targets a more than muscle or muscle group over two or more joints; also referred to as a multi-joint exercise (e.g., squat)

concentric contraction: type of isotonic contraction where a muscle shortens as it develops tension against resistance.

continuous skills: tasks with no defined beginning or end (e.g., running, swimming).

conditioning: performing exercises and activities to prepare the body for more intensive exercise or sports.

coordination: the ability to use the senses and body parts to perform tasks smoothly, efficiently, and accurately.

core exercises: a variety of exercises that strengthen the muscles of the trunk. These include abdominal and lower back exercises.

crunches: a modified sit-up having a smaller range of motion that reduces back strain and strengthens the abdominal muscles.

curl: an exercise where the bar is raised and lowered using elbow flexion to strengthen the biceps.

curl up: abdominal exercise similar to a sit up, except trunk flexion stops at about the point when the shoulder blades leave the floor (at approximately 35-45 degrees).

cycling: training in phases, or cycles; periodization involves cycling using planned workouts for sports training.


dead lift: competitive powerlifting exercise where the bar is lifting from the floor to a standing position.

decline press: variation of the bench press where the bench is angled so the body is inverted at approximately 45 degrees.

deltoids: large triangular muscles that cover the shoulder joints.

detraining: the effect of stopping training activities causing training effects to be reversed.

discrete skills: brief tasks with a defined beginning and end (e.g., discus throw, golf swing).

dorsiflexion: ankle action where the toes move toward the shin.

dumbbell: a short bar with fixed or changeable weights mounted on each end.

duration of exercise: the time it takes to perform a primary workout.

dynamic contraction a muscle contraction where the length of the muscle changes; means the same as isotonic.

dynamic stretching: form of stretching resulting from explosive movements of opposing muscles.

dynamic stability: the ability to maintain balance while moving.

dynamometer: an instrument used to measure strength (e.g., hand dynamometer)


eccentric contraction: isotonic contraction where a muscle extends as it applies force; means the same as negative contraction.

endurance: the ability to sustain activity; muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to repeatedly generate submaximal force.

exercise ball: a large ball used for exercise that introduces an element of instability to exercise resulting in increased strength in the back and abdominal muscles; also called a Swiss ball or physio ball.

exercise physiology: a field of sports medicine that involves the study of the body's response to physical stress.

exercise prescription: the dosage of exercise that effectively promotes fitness.

explosive lifting: weight training exercises that involve rapidly accelerating movements.

extension: increasing a joint angle; opposite movement of flexion.


failure: performing repetitions of an exercise until muscles are temporarily unable to complete another repetition.

fast-twitch muscle fibers: a type of muscle cell that uses anaerobic metabolism to create fuel; used in strength and speed activities.

fine motor skills: small muscle movements, such as those of the fingers.

fitness assessment: an initial collection of data to determine a person’s level of fitness prior to a performing a training regimen; used as a baseline measure.

fitness evaluation: follow up measures of fitness after training to determine the effectiveness of a program and make revisions to progress toward goals.

fitness test item: a single test that represents a component of fitness. fitness testing—the process of measuring fitness.

flexibility: the ability to move through a range of motion at a joint.

flexion: increase in a joint angle; associated with bending.

flyes: weight training terms for a variety of shoulder joint exercises performed with dumbbells where the arms are partially flexed at the elbow.

force-velocity curve: a graphical representation that implies that velocity of muscle contraction is inversely proportional to the weight load; the heavier the weight, the slower the speed that it is lifted.

free weights: resistances not guided by mechanical devices (e.g., barbells, dumbbells).

frequency: how often one trains.

front squat: variation of the back squat where the bar is supported in the front of the shoulders.

functional anatomy: the study of body components needed to achieve or perform a human movement or function; provides a basis for analysis of weight training exercises.

functional training: term used in physical therapy to describe therapeutic activities to prepare patients to perform daily activities. Recently has been applied to training for fitness and sports.


gastrocnemius: one of two calf muscles; causes plantar flexion when the knee is straight.

gender differences: distinctions between males and females that require training adjustments and considerations.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): describes the body's short-term and long-term reactions to stress.

gluteal muscles: the three muscles that make up the buttocks; the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

goniometer: an instrument used to measure joint angles.

good mornings: low back strengthening performed by placing the bar on the shoulders and flexing at the hips with the knees slightly bent.

gross motor skills: skills involving the large muscles of the body.


hack squat: exercise where the bar is lifted from the floor behind the legs to a standing position; or performed on a sled as a leg press on approximately a 45 degree angle.

hamstrings: the muscles of the back of the thigh used in knee flexion; they include the biceps femoris (two heads, one on either side of the knee), semitendinosis, and semimembranosis.

hand-eye coordination: the ability to coordinate visual cues with motor skills involving the hands.

hang clean: variation of the clean that involves pulling the bar from above the knees to racking it at the shoulders.

hang snatch: variation of the snatch that involves pulling the bar from above the knees to catching it overhead.

horizontal abduction: moving the upper arms away from the chest in the transvere plane (e.g., bent rowing).

horizontal adduction: moving the upper arms toward the chest in the transverse plane (e.g., bench press).

hyperextension: extending it beyond its neutral anatomic position (e.g., back hyperextensions).

hypertrophy: an increase in the mass or girth of a muscle due to training.


incline bench press: variation of the bench press performed with the body inclined upward at approximately 45 degrees.

individual differences: unique qualities of people based on many factors (e.g., gender, race, intelligence, fiber types) for which training programs can be personalized.

intensity: how hard training is for an individual; for weight training, how heavy the weight load is.

intensive training: a phase of training that is intended to produce greater strength gains using heavier weight loads follow a conditioning period.

interval training: repetitions of high-speed or intensity work followed by periods of rest or low activity (also called HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training).

isokinetic: maintaining constant torque or tension as muscles shorten or lengthen; usually produced by exercising on a specially designed machine.

isolation exercise: an exercise that targets a single muscle or muscle group using one joint action (e.g., curl).

isometric: type of contraction where tension is applied by the length of the muscle remains unchanged.

isotonic: type of contraction where tension is applied and the length of the muscle changes; concentric and eccentric contractions are isotonic.


jerk: the Olympic lifting phases of the clean and jerk where the bar is rapidly driven and caught overhead.

joint: the place at which two bones interact; an articulation.

joint action: movement of a joint through a specific range of motion.

joint laxity: lack of stability in a joint; for women, can be induced by pregnancy.


kettlebells: free weights similar to cannonballs with handles used to improve fitness.

kilocalorie: commonly known as a calorie. The amount of heat required to raise the termperature of a kilogram of water 1 degree C.

kinesiology: the study of human movement.

kinematics: movement analysis technique that examines motion without consideration of force; describes movement.

kinetics: movement analysis technique that examines forces acting on a system (the human body or an object); defines forces causing a movement.

knurled: the roughened sections of a weight lifting bar.

kyphosis: an exaggerated thoracic (upper back) curvature.


lateral flexion: side bending at the trunk.

lateral raises: dumbbell exercises where the arms are raised at the sides of the body in shoulder joint abduction.

lat pulls: exercise performed on a machine where the bar is pulled down from overhead. Works the latissimus dorsi muscle; hence, the term lat pull. Also called pulldowns or lat pulldowns.

lean body mass: total body mass minus fat mass; includes muscle, bone, organs, and water.

leg curls: isolation exercise performed on a machine to strengthen the hamstrings.

leg extensions: isolation exercise performed on a machine to strengthen the quadriceps.

leg press: compound exercise performed on a machine to strengthen the lower body; approximately simulates the squat, but varies according to the seat and foot platform angles.

ligament: a dense band of connective tissue fibers that connect one bone to another.

lordosis: an exaggeration of the lumbar curvature.

lumbar: pertaining to the lower back.

lunges: multi-joint lower body free weight exercise that simulates a stride.


macrocycle: used in periodization training to describe an annual training cycle.

maxing: attempting a maximum lift for an exercise; 1 repetition maximum, or 1 RM.

medial: toward the midline of the body.

mesocycle: used in periodization training that approximates a monthly training phase.

metabolism: the sum of all biochemical processes underway within the human body at a given moment; includes anabolism and catabolism.

microcycle: used in periodization training to describe a weekly training cycle.

military press: an exercise where the weights are lifted from the vicinity of the shoulders to overhead; also called an overhead press.

motor behavior: an area of study that stresses the principles of human skilled movements generated at a behavioral level of analysis.

motor control: an area of study dealing with the understanding of neural, physical, and behavioral aspects of movement.

motor learning: a set of internal processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for motor skill.

motor memory: the memory for movement or motor information.

motor program: an abstract representation that results in a coordinated movement sequence.

motor skills: skills involving movement.

motor unit: all of the muscle cells controlled by a single motor neuron.

movement time (MT): the interval between the beginning and end of a movement.

multi-joint movement: a skill or action involving more than one joint; requires coordination among muscle groups.

muscle: a contractile organ composed of muscle tissue, blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues; skeletal muscle is associated with weight training.

muscle fibers: muscle cells. Two primary types are slow twitch (Type I) and fast twitch (Type II).

muscular strength: the ability of a muscle to generate force.


negatives: lifting using eccentric contractions.

neutralizer muscle: a muscle that cancels out the action of another muscle to permit an action to occur.


obesity: defined as body weight being 30% (for women) above the standard values for body fat accumulation.

olympic plates: weights with large holes (>2 inches) at the center to fit on Olympic bars. See

olympic lifting: a competitive sport; lifts include the clean and jerk, and snatch.

olympic lifting variations: exercises that emphasize different phases and forms of the clean and jerk, and snatch.

open skills: tasks performed in an environment that is generally unpredictable or changing, requiring the athlete to adjust movements according to the demands.

osteoporosis: a condition common in women where bone mass and strength can result in the bone fractures.

overlearning: practicing a skill beyond what is necessary to learn the skill; used to overcome existing undesirable movement patterns or for rehabilitation.

overload: to train with heavier weights than one is accustomed to lifting.

overtraining: failure to get enough rest between training sessions resulting in chronic fatigue or injuries.


passive exercise: movement performed without muscular activity, such as vibrating machines, rollers, or human assistance; does not improve fitness or weight loss.

pectoral muscles: chest muscles; includes the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

pelvis: the bony complex comprised of the coxae, sacrum, and coccyx at the hips.

periodization: sport training strategy characterized by variation in planned phases, or cycles, each with a specific purpose.

phases of training: periods of training intended to accomplish a specific purpose toward improving sport performance.

physiology: the study of function; considers ways living organisms perform vital functions.

plantarflexion: joint action where the foot moves away from the shin, raising the body onto the balls of the feet.

plyometrics: bounding exercises intended to produce powerful, explosive movement for sports.

posterior: the back of the body

power clean: variation of the clean phase of the clean and jerk in competitive Olympic lifting where the weight is caught (or racked) in a partial squat position rather than in a full squat.

powerlifting: a weightlifting sport. Lifts include the squat, dead lift, and bench press.

preacher bench: inclined support used for bicep curls. prime mover—main muscle responsible for a movement.

principle: a generally accepted truth, assumption, or law on which to base actions.

principles of training: generally accepted practices based on supporting evidence that guide the design and execution of exercise programs to improve fitness and sport performance.

progression principle: dictates that overload should be gradual.

power: a combination of strength and speed.

progressive overload: a gradual, planned increase in training intensity.

prone: position of the body when facing downward.

pronation: movement of the radio-ulnar joint (forearm); the hands are in pronation during push ups.

proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): combines stretching with alternating contracting and relaxing muscles to improve flexibility.

pyramiding: progressively increasing the amount of weight lifted for each set while concurrently decreasing the number of repetitions, then doing the reverse. Often performed during an intensive training period.


Q angle: the angle at which the femur (upper leg bone) meets the tibia (lower leg bone). The Q-angle in women (caused by a wider pelvis than in men) is linked to a greater incidence of sports injuries.

quadriceps: four muscles at the front of the upper thigh; include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.


rack: (a) a structure that supports the weight bar. (b) to catch the bar at the front of the shoulders in the clean.

range of motion (ROM): flexibility at a joint; measured in degrees by a goniometer.

recovery period: the time taken between sets or workouts to allow the body to prepare for the next set or session.

relative strength: the amount of weight you can lift compared to your body weight.

repetition: a single complete performance of a movement resistance training—repeatedly performing exercises with weights, machines, or other devices to increase strength.

reversibility: the loss of training effect as a result of not training or taking too much time between training sessions.

R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation): an acronym representing a treatment protocol for exercise-related injuries.

roman chair sit up: abdominal exercise where the trunk hyperextends and flexes not usually through a range of more than 90 degrees.

rotation: twisting movement around a central axis (e.g., trunk rotations)

rotator cuff: term for the group of muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint; include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.


sagittal plane: plane that divides the body into left and right portions.

schema theory: summarizes what is known about varying practice conditions and predicts improvements in skill learning using variations in training, usually within classes of skills.

serial skills: a group of discrete skill performed in a specific sequence.

set: the number of consecutive repetitions of an exercise performed without resting.

set point theory: a theory of weight regulation; asserts that body weight is controlled at a set point by a weight-regulating control center within the brain.

shrugs: an exercise where the shoulder girdle is elevated and depressed to strengthen the upper trapezius muscle.

sit-and-reach test: a test of low back and hamstring flexibility.

sit ups: flexion exercise of the trunk; strengthens the abdominals and hip flexors.

skinfold test: method of estimating the percentage of body composition by measuring the thickness of skinfolds at specific sites on the body.

slow-twitch fibers: muscle cells that contract slowly and are highly resistant to fatigue; red cells.

snatch: a competitive Olympic lifting exercise where the weight is raised from the floor to overhead in one fluid movement.

snatch pull: the phase of the snatch where the bar is raised from the floor to full body extension.

soleus: one of the two calf muscles that is strengthened and stretched when the knee is in flexion.

specificity principle: asserts that muscle development is specific to the muscles and type of stress imposed.

speed: the ability to move quickly; velocity.

speed squats: squats performed with submaximal weight loads and executed explosively on the ascent.

speed-accuracy tradeoff: the tendency to substitute accuracy for speed in sport skills.

sport psychology: a broad field of study that examines factors affecting participation and performance in sports, and applying psychological principles to enhancing athletic performance.

sprain: a joint injury caused by ligaments being overstretched beyond their normal capacity.

spotting: a safety technique whereby a lifter is monitored by another through vigilance, guidance, or assistance to complete an exercise using a heavy weight load.

squat: a primary, free weight training exercise for strengthening the lower body.

stabilizers: muscles that act in one segment so that a specific movement in an adjacent joint can occur.

static stretching: stretching that slowly lengthens a muscle to its end point.

static contraction: an isometric contraction.

straight-leg dead lift: exercise where the bar is lifted from the floor the a standing position with the back and legs straight; strengthens to low back, gluteals, and hamstrings.

strain: damage to a muscle that can range from a minor separation of fibers to a complete tear.

speed squats: squats performed with submaximal weight loads and executed explosively on the ascent.

strength: the ability to apply force.

strength training: the systematic use of resistances to overload muscles in order to gain strength.

stretch reflex: involuntary contraction of a muscle that occurs after rapid stretching.

supination: position of the forearm or foot; when the palms face to the front.

supine: a body position lying down facing up.

Swiss ball: see exercise ball.

starter program: a beginning strength fitness program that prepares one for a more intensive strength program.

synergist: see neutralizer.


tactical skills: skills that give athletes an advantage (e.g., making decisions about technical skills, capitalizing on weaknesses of opponents).

tactical training: training to prepare for perilous situations. The NSCA offers such strength and conditioning for those who work directly with police, fire, and military personnel to develop operational fitness.

technical skills: fundamental movements in sports, including speed of contraction of movements.

ten percent rule: states that the training intensity or duration should not be increased by more than 10% per week. s

tendon: connective tissue that connects a muscle to a bone tendonitis: inflammation of a tendon; a common exercise-related injury.

testosterone: the principal androgen produced by the testes in men that promotes strength gains.

tetanic contraction: sustained contraction of a muscle due to repeated stimulation at a frequency that prevents relaxation.

theory: a systematic arrangement of principles that provide a basis for explaining why things happen or rationale for making training decisions (e.g., schema theory, set point theory).

tonnage: the total amount of weight lifting during a workout.

transfer of learning: the influence of previously learned skills on the learning and performance of other skills with common elements.

transfer of training: used interchangeably with transfer of learning, but applied more frequently to the workplace.

trapezius: a large muscles that spans the back, neck, and shoulders. The upper “traps” are strengthened by shoulder shrugs.

triceps: triceps brachii muscle at the back of the upper arm; strengthened by tricep extensions and the narrow-grip bench press.


uprights: a pair of vertical columns attached to benches with hooks at the top to support barbells.

upright row: exercise where the bar is lifted vertically from an extended position to the shoulders.

use and disuse: biological principle that relates to the reversibility principle in weight training.


variation: the practice of changing exercises, workouts, or training programs within certain ranges to improve performance.

vertical jump: a task used as a test representative of power or explosiveness.

visualization: mental imagery used to reduce stress or improve sport performance.

vitamins: small molecules that play a key role in growth and metabolism.

volume: number of repetitions done in a training regimen


warm up: a brief period of exercise that precedes a workout; intended to elevate muscle temperature, and increase blood flow and range of motion.

weight machine: exercise equipment that guides or restricts the direction and extent of a movement.

weight lifting: the act of lifting weights; competitive sports involving the lifting of weights.

weight lifting belt: belt used to support the back and abdominal cavity.

weight training: employing resistances to improve fitness or sport performance.

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