The Newbie’s Guide to Bizarre Gym Lingo

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If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym, the first day may feel as if you’ve landed on a different planet. Between the yards of spandex and the scary-looking contraptions designed to punish…er, get you in shape, you’re brave if you stay long enough to try to make sense of it all. Then there’s the language. Seasoned gymgoers seem to have their own secret code. To navigate the gym terrain like a pro, here’s a guide to the most common terms.


Maxing Out

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A one-rep max (1RM) refers to the amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition while still using proper technique (i.e., your maximum limit). “It’s good to know as a way to quantify your results and progress,” says Tom Holland, M.S., CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of “Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag.” Strength and conditioning coaches often use 1RM as a parameter for accurately choosing your weight and reps. For example, if your 1RM is 100 pounds on the bench press, your trainer may design a workout with 60 percent of your 1RM to start, says Holland. Finding your 1RM may be done in a couple of different ways: directly testing your strength or estimating it using a multiple-RM testing at lower weights and higher reps. Either way, enlist the help of a spotter and someone versed in this type of training, such as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Related: 11 Body-Rocking BOSU Ball Exercises



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At first listen, “shredded” sounds pretty painful, like maybe you’ve “maxed out” one too many times today, leaving your muscles feeling like pulp. But the adoration in someone’s voice saying, “He’s so shredded!” makes the term a lot clearer. Being shredded refers to a body type with super-defined muscles. “Usually the term ‘shredded’ refers more to a skinny body builder, where you can see major muscle definition, especially the abs,” says Holland. Attaining this low level of body fat takes a lot of self-discipline and dieting and, quite honestly, is an unrealistic goal for the average person to attain.

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Train/Go to Failure

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Ever been on the floor below a weight room and wondered if you’d just heard thunder? That’s the sound of someone “going to failure.” This phrase refers to pushing your body to its limits, says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Going to failure also has a lot to do with the mental strength of the exerciser and the type of exercise and intensity they are performing.” Training to failure simply means you can’t do one more rep with good form. While it’s fine for most experienced lifters, it’s not for very new beginners who may not yet have complete control of the weights. Be sure to use a spotter if you’re going to failure on an overhead move, such as dumbbell chest presses, bench presses, etc.

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Hard Gainer

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This term refers to people (usually men) who have a difficult time gaining muscle, often due to genetics. “It’s hard to gain weight if you have a long and lanky ectomorphic build,” says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys and co-author of “Swim, Bike, Run -- Eat.” If this sounds like you, you’ll have to eat more calories than you need in order to gain. Eat every two hours, says Goodson. Breakfast should be around 800 to 1,000 calories and include whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats like peanut butter or avocado and healthy oils in order to add calories to your day. Changes like snacking on a big baggie of trail mix in addition to what you normally eat in the day or drinking calories in the form of low-fat milk, chocolate milk and protein shakes are great ways to add extra calories between meals.

Related: Top 10 Ways to Gain Weight



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As in, “I bonked at mile 20 in my last marathon.” Whatever it means, it doesn’t sound good, right? Bonking refers to running out of energy stores (carbohydrates), which most often occurs during a long run, says Tom Holland, M.S., CSCS. “You feel as if you can’t go any further. You’re dizzy and lightheaded, and your legs feel ‘dead.’” For marathoners this usually happens at around mile 20. “It’s simply physiology,” says Holland. “Your body can store about 2,000 calories of energy, which is what you’ll burn up by mile 20 if you haven’t taken in enough additional calories along the way.”

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The Godzilla of quadriceps, a “quadzilla” or, similarly, “quadrasaurus” refers to someone (usually a guy) with huge, bulging quadriceps, says Holland. “He’s the guy hogging the squat rack and leg press that’s stacked with ridiculous amounts of weight. He usually has the genetics to grow ginormous legs or he may be on steroids.” Quadzillas usually can’t find jeans that fit their huge thighs and tend to lounge in parachute pants.

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Muscle Confusion

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Made popular by workouts such as P90X, muscle confusion simply refers to adding a good amount of variety to your training, according to Holland. “Switching around exercises prevents your muscles from adapting, which occurs when you do the same thing over and over.” Too much variation can also work against you, however, especially if you’re just starting out. “It takes a couple of weeks for your muscles to adapt neurologically,” says Holland. “You need this time to build a strength foundation.” After that time, it’s fine to swap out exercises or find new ways to do your usual routine. For example, if you run, instead of doing the same route, add hills or do intervals. If you usually do push-ups, try dumbbell chest presses.

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As in, “They’re pumping iron to get their swole on.” Short for “swollen,” swole or swoll is slang used to describe someone who has a large or well-developed physique from weight training. It also refers to the feeling a person gets during their workout as muscles become “pumped up” and feel tight and full (i.e., “swole”). Doing a few heavy sets with little rest in between increases the swole feeling.

Related: 10 Compound Moves for Greater Pump in Less Time


Beasting It Up

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A fairly new expression used in CrossFit, “beasting it up” refers to high-intensity workouts where you do as many reps as possible in the shortest length of time, says Tom Holland, M.S., CSCS. “It may be something like 10 box jumps followed by 10 burpees for as many rounds as you can, until you have nothing left. You push your body to the limit.” Research supports the fat-burning benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which carries over throughout the rest of the day. “It’s great in that it’s a shorter workout,” says Holland. “You can get the benefits in as short as a 10- or 20-minute workout.” If you do back-to-back strength-training exercises, be sure to use proper form. Try three exercises without stopping and then take a 60-second rest, or whatever you need to recover before doing another set.

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Cutting Up

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In the gym, “cutting up” implies getting as lean as possible. For some that means you’ll be “shredded,” and for others that just means really lean. But in either scenario it means clean eating, says Amy Goodson, RD. “Your diet should be full of whole foods like oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice for carbs, lean meats like chicken, fish, beef tenderloin and eggs for protein, healthy fats like nuts, avocado, salmon and healthy oils, tons of veggies and a dabble of fruit for a taste of sweet and a blast of nutrients.” Avoid cheating and splurging — maybe once a week — because if you really want to cut up, you’ll need to cut it out. In addition, eat more carbohydrates in the morning and around your workouts and leave nighttime for protein, veggies and healthy fat. Drink plenty of water, and cut out alcohol, which adds up to lots of extra calories.

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What Do YOU Think?

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Do you hear these same terms or do you have a favorite gym slang of our own or one you hear at your workout facility? If so, let us know in the comments section below.

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Unsolicited Fitness Advice to Ignore... or Not

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If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym, the first day may feel as if you’ve landed on a different planet. Between the yards of spandex and the scary-looking contraptions designed to punish…er, get you in shape, you’re brave if you stay long enough to try to make sense of it all. Then there’s the language. Seasoned gymgoers seem to have their own secret code. To navigate the gym terrain like a pro, here’s a guide to the most common terms.


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