The 15 Most Misunderstood Terms in Fitness
The fitness industry is rife with misleading and misunderstood terms. Chat with your local meathead, and you'll witness a prime example. When you hear something used a certain way, you begin to believe it. And worse, a simple misunderstanding may completely change how you work, potentially leading to less-than-ideal results.
STACK polled 15 strength and conditioning experts concerning fitness terms they find are often misunderstood. Here's what they said:
Activation. "The idea that we need to teach our nervous system how to recruit our muscles is nonsense," asserts John Cissik, president of Human Performance Services. "Somehow we're all faulty with that, which isn't the case unless you have a nervous system injury or disease." You can correct movement patterns so muscles are fired when needed, but your nervous system always has the capability to activate a muscle.
Agility. "Agility is not just the ability to change directions; it's how well you can decelerate, change direction and accelerate in response to a specific stimulus," says Alex Rosencutter, owner of Rosencutter Ultra Fitness and Performance. He suggests most athletes should emphasize agility over linear speed (i.e., sprinting), because the movements he mentions are commonly performed in most sports, with the exception of track.
Cardio. Long cardio sessions are the golden ticket to burning fat and getting in shape, right? Well, not so much. High-intensity interval training and circuit training give you the same benefits, while also improving your strength and teaching your body to become a better fat burner. "I only recommend cardio, as most people think of it, after I have seen that my client can get in the gym more than three times per week," says Dalton Oliver, an exercise science professor at the University of Central Florida. "Until that point, I have them doing some version of circuit training, no matter how young or old."
Core. No, your core is not just your abs. "The core is a system of muscles throughout your torso, including your abdominals, obliques, glutes, low-back muscles and even your lats, to name a few," says Pete Holman, creator of the TRX Rip Trainer. Your core does much more than flex your torso (e.g., when you perform a Sit-Up). "The core stabilizes your spine, which increases power, reduces the chance of an injury and improves balance and posture," Holman adds. "It also protects your vital organs."
Dynamic. "Dynamic is often associated with exercises such as plyometrics, sprinting and Olympic lifts," says Michael Skogg, creator of the SKOGG System. "It actually refers to muscle activation through continuous rhythmic activity, which is used during the warm-up process to prepare your muscles for more intense exercise."
Explosive. Exercises like Box Jumps and Hang Cleans are typically described as "explosive." But according to Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training, there's no such thing as an explosive exercise. "I've seen many athletes do Hang Cleans that are anything but explosive," he says. "How you do the exercise determines if it's explosive. You can make a Bicep Curl explosive if you want to."
Fat-Burning Zone. You'll see this setting on cardio equipment. The idea is to work at a moderately slow pace where your body is using fat as a primary source of energy, but it's not very effective in terms of weight loss. "A higher intensity will burn more fat," says Justin Robinson, a registered dietitian and strength coach at EXOS. "Obviously many Americans are not doing enough to burn fat."
Functional Training. This one got our experts fired up. The issue is, there's a belief that the more complicated an exercise is, the more functional it is. In reality, a functional exercise is a movement that achieves a specific goal. "A functional movement should be one that improves function, either in daily life or for a specific sport," explains Alan Stein, owner of Stronger Team Training. So, something like a Squat is functional for athletes because it improves lower-body strength and power, but it may not be functional for someone who suffers from hip pain. "Bicep Curls are functional for a body builder, but not a football player," adds Robinson.
Injury Prevention. "You can't prevent an injury," asserts Stephen Gamma, a strength coach and graduate student at the University of Idaho. "But with a proper strength and conditioning program and a solid foundation, you can reduce the risk of injury."
Metabolic Conditioning. "Metabolic conditioning, or 'MetCons,' describe conditioning circuits set up with no rhyme or reason, but lead to massive amounts of fatigue," says Stan Dutton, owner of Training for Warriors Boston. "The truth is, metabolic conditioning must have a structure and focus on giving the athlete adequate amounts of rest in between sets while addressing all major movements."
Plyometrics. Jumping exercises are sometimes plyometric, but only if they're performed in a way that will increase power. "Many people think that plyometrics are used only for conditioning purposes," says Rob Decillis, co-owner of Training for Warriors Long Island. "Plyometrics are intended to make athletes move." To do this, perform plyos toward the beginning of your workout—after your warm-up, of course—for no more than six reps.
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Power. Increasing your power is only possible by quickly accelerating a mass, which can be your body or a type of weight. But according to Tony Gentilcore, the fact that you actually need to move to develop power is often ignored. "I always chuckle when I see signs or advertisements for Power Yoga," he says. "How can yoga develop power when there's little to no movement?"
Sport-Specific. Despite all the advertisements for sport-specific training, Scarpulla believes that "gym work is never sport-specific." Yes, you can perform exercises that help certain movements common in your sport, but those exercises are simply helping you become a better athlete and are in no way specific to your sport. "If you want sport-specific training, you need to be on the field and not in a gym," he adds.
Toned. "When you talk about toning, enhancing or shaping certain areas of your body, what you're really talking about is muscle, " explains Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss. "Put simply, muscle creates the shape of your body, and therefore more muscle equals more muscle tone. You can't build a perkier, rounder or sexier anything without building muscle."
Training. Going to the gym and ripping out a few exercises or going for a jog to get sweaty is exercise, not training. "Training involves working toward specific goals, such as getting stronger or faster, or jumping higher," explains Ryan Hoover, co-founder of Fit to Fight. It's a calculated process and plan that takes time and commitment, and is not haphazard exercise. According to Corbin Lang, track coach for Phillips Academy (Andover, Mass.), "Training must be purposeful, manageable and adaptable."