A lot of jargon is thrown around in weight rooms today. The arcane language used by S&C coaches and experienced lifters is often confusing and intimidating to novice athletes. Here’s a little secret: most people are just mimicking what they heard from someone else. Just because someone uses a term doesn’t necessarily mean they know what they’re talking about, unless they hold a degree or certification.
Talk with confidence next time you go into a workout with Part 1 of my three-part guide to general training terminology.
This is one complete workout period, from the time you start to when you finish training. It may be 10 minutes or four hours, but as long as you’re not doing anything besides training, it’s one session.
Sessions are not limited to one a day. You can do more. For example, you could do a session in the morning, take a break to go to work or school and then do an evening session. However, if you’re just resting between intense sets of exercises, it is part of the same session. If you go back and perform another set, it’s the same session.
For a coach, a session is a group of exercises aimed at achieving certain objectives. A second session can immediately back up the first if there is a different objective.
This is the movement that is being worked on. It could be a Press-Up or a drill, and it could be performed repeatedly or just once. An exercise is a prescribed movement to achieve a specific outcome.
A set is specific number of repetitions of an exercise.
Reps or Repetitions
This is the number of times you perform a single exercise. If you do 10 Press-Ups, that is 10 reps or repetitions. People occasionally use the term to refer to the total number of exercises in one session, but that is inaccurate.
Recovery is the period during which your body regenerates after an exercise session. It can consist of many hours between sessions. Recovery can even span sessions, where one muscle group is recovering while a different one is being worked. After a very high intensity session, recovery can take over 48 hours. (See Understand Overtraining to Avoid Performance Declines.)
This is the period between exercises or between sets. Usually, rest between exercises is short (and sometimes there is no rest between exercises) and rest between sets is a minute or more.
The principle of progression is that exercise should always stress your body (to an appropriate level) in every training session. This means that as you progress, something will change. The weight may get heavier, the distance or time gets longer, repetitions or sets increase or everything gets faster. There are many ways to introduce progression, but without it you won’t develop. (Learn to build a safe progression: 5 Variables to Consider When Developing a Training Program.)
A historical (and possibly slightly mythical) example of progression is the 6th Century wrestler Milo of Croton. He allegedly started lifting in childhood by carrying a newborn calf across a field, repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity, until he was eventually carrying a bull.