Strength Training Terms & Glossary

I created a list of 15 key strength training terms below to help you become a smart exerciser. I have tons of strength training workouts I plan on adding to BuiltLean.com that use many of these terms, so this page can serve as a reference for you. If you need further guidance, you can also refer to the National Strength and Conditioning Association textbook.

Repetition
A repetition, or “rep” is a complete motion of a particular exercise. For example, a rep of a pushup starts with your arms straight holding yourself off the floor, lowering your body down, then pushing back up. Repeating 10 pushups means you completed 10 reps.

Set
A set is the specific number of reps you perform before you rest. Two sets of bench press performing 12 reps, means you completed 12 reps of bench press, two separate times.

Weight (aka Resistance)
The weight is the amount of resistance that you are lifting, such as a 30lbs dumbbell. Lower reps generally require that you lift heavier weight and higher reps implies you lift lighter weight.

Rest Between Sets
This is the amount of time that you rest between each set. Many times it can range from 20 seconds to as much as 4 minutes for powerlifters.

Volume
Can be measured in different ways, but is generally determined by how many exercises, sets, and reps you complete. A workout that is comprised of 10 exercises, 3 sets of 12 reps each has much more volume than a workout with 3 exercises, 2 sets of 8 reps each. Volume is one measure of the intensity of a workout.

Compound Exercises
These are multi-joint movements that require more than one joint to perform the exercise. For example, in a bench press, your shoulder joint and elbow joints are involved in the exercise.

Isolation Exercises
These are single joint movements that require only one joint to perform the exercise. For example, a biceps curl only requires the elbow joint.

Supersets
This means completing two exercises back to back with no rest between sets. Supersets can use the (1) same muscle group, such as performing bench press immediately followed by pushups, (2) opposing muscle groups (meaning push muscles vs. pull muscles) like a chest exercise followed immediately by a back exercise, (3) unrelated, such as upper body then lower body.

Positive Phase
This is the lifting phase of the exercise, which for pull muscles means you are lifting the weight towards you and push muscles, means you are lifting the weight away from you. So for bench press, the positive phase of the lift is pushing the weight off your chest and for a pull up, it’s pulling your body up towards the bar. It’s generally the more strenuous portion of the lift and it’s also referred to as the “concentric” phase.

Negative Phase
This is the opposite of the positive phase, so it means lowering the weight, or controlling its descent. Examples include controlling the bench press bar as you bring it closer to your chest, or lowering yourself after pulling your chin above the bar in a pullup. It’s also referred to as the “eccentric phase”.

Sticking Point
This is the point during the positive phase where the weight lifted loses momentum and is at a standstill. For example, trying to pullup yourself up on a pullup, but stalling midway, or when completing the bench press, the point at which the bar stops moving as you are pushing it. A spotter can help you push past the sticking point.

Contraction
This means the muscle is engaged and contracted to apply force to pull, or push a weight. Muscle cells are grouped into motor units, where if one cell in the unit is engaged, the entire group contracts, known as the “all or none” principle.

Tempo
This is how fast each rep is performed, including the positive and negative phase. For example, the most common tempo I use is 1-2 seconds for the positive phase, and 2-3 seconds for the negative phase, which allows for full control of the weight with no momentum.

Body Part Split
This is how you split your body parts to train during the week. For example, some people will train chest/biceps on one day, Back/Triceps on another day, then Shoulders/Legs on the third lift of the week. Some programs are full body lifts each training session and some other programs are based on specific pull, or pushing motions (i.e. vertical, horizontal etc.) instead of body parts.

Spotter
This is someone who watches over you as you are performing a set to failure and is there to help you lift the weight back into starting position if you have trouble. For example, if you are doing a barbell bench press to failure (can’t complete any more reps), you should always have a spotter in case you fail and cannot lift the weight off your chest.

If you think I left off a key term, or need more clarification on any term I listed, let me know by leaving a comment!

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3 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Pat Jun 29, 2010 - 12:09 #

    One of things that you taught me that I think has made a world of difference in my workouts is that the Rest Between Sets should be as active as I can make it.

  2. profile avatar
    jroberts Jul 01, 2010 - 17:24 #

    Sticking point isn’t the transition between the positive and negative phases. The sticking point is the weakest part of your positive phase. It is usually about 1/3 of the way.

    Take bench press for example. You start the positive phase and the bar is moving upwards. The bar keeps slowing down until it finally comes to a stop, but you have not finished the rep. That stopping point is the sticking point. Usually your spotter can help you through the sticking point and you can complete the rest of the rep easily by yourself.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry Jul 01, 2010 - 17:42 #

      @jroberts – I think you are technically correct. The sticking point is not necessarily the exact point in between the positive and negative phases, although for many it’s usually that initial push (which is really what I meant, that 1/3) that is the sticking point. My mistake. I’m going to make that adjustment to the definition. Thanks for pointing that out.

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