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23 Confusing Fitness Terms—Decoded

If you’ve read a fitness article—ever—you’ve probably come across a science-y term or two that sounds cool and all, but doesn’t quite click. It’s not every day people throw around words like hypertrophy and catabolic state, after all. (If those terms are, in fact, part of your everyday conversations, color us impressed.)

Consider this your nearly-complete glossary of buzzy exercise lingo a.k.a. your guide to sounding like you know what you’re talking about. (But for real: Actually understanding these concepts can help you make the most of our workout routines and see better health and fitness gains.)

Aerobic Exercise:

(a.k.a. cardiovascular exercise)

Exercise in which our muscles use oxygen, carbs, and fat for energy. It increases our heart rate and breathing, builds endurance, and supports cardiovascular health (Examples: swimming, running)

Anaerobic Exercise:

Exercise in which the muscle uses just carbs (but not oxygen) for energy and builds muscle and strength. (Examples: pushups, weight-lifting)

Related: The Hard-Gainer’s Guide To Building Muscle

Anabolic State:

Think of this as your body being in ‘building mode,’ when you are able to repair tissue, build muscle, and keep inflammation under control with the help of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.

Catabolic State:

This is the opposite of an anabolic state, when your body is in ‘breakdown mode.’ In a desperate search for energy, your body bumps up production of chemicals like epinephrine and the stress hormone cortisol. Blood pressure and heart rate are often increased.

Concentric Movement:

When a muscle can exert force that’s stronger than the resistance against the muscle, and contracts and shortens in length. (Example: curling a dumbbell)

Eccentric Movement:

When a load forces a muscle to lengthen—often during the reverse movement of many strength-training exercises. (Example: un-curling a dumbbell in a controlled manner)

Pronated Grip:

(a.k.a. overhand grip)

When you grab training equipment, like a barbell, with palms facing down and knuckles facing up.

Supinated Grip:

(a.k.a. underhand grip)

When you grab training equipment, like a barbell, with palms facing up and knuckles facing down.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR):

The calories we burn just to maintain basic body functions (like breathing) when there’s no food in our system and we’re just lying in bed after a night of sleep.

Related: Find a performance supplement to take your training to the next level.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR):

Often used interchangeably with BMR, our RMR is the total energy our bodies need to maintain basic functions at rest throughout the day—not just when we’re in a fasted state after waking up. It’s slightly higher than BMR.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE):

The total amount of energy someone uses throughout the day (i.e. the total number of calories they burn). Includes their resting metabolic rate plus eating plus physical activity, and is affected by factors like muscle mass.

Protein Synthesis:

The process in which our muscles repair and build after being under stress (like exercise). This requires molecules in protein called amino acids, hence why eating protein after a workout is recommended.


A chemical produced in our muscles during exercise. That burning sensation in our muscles we incorrectly describe as “lactic acid buildup” actually occurs when our muscles can’t produce lactate quick enough as hydrogen ions build up during high-intensity resistance training.


The increase in size of muscle fibers (and the whole muscle itself) that occurs when a load, like the weight of a dumbbell, is put on the muscle. (Basically, muscle growth.)


Exercises in which muscles use maximal force in as little time as possible. They require and develop our explosive power. (Examples: box jumps, medicine ball throws)


Exercises or positions in which a muscle is not contracting or lengthening, but holds rigid and still. (Examples: planks, hollow holds)


How you structure and vary your workout routine over a period of time in a way that helps you reach your specific goals. Think of it as ‘the long-term plan.’


When the body burns fat, instead of carbs, for fuel. It takes a few weeks of eating a diet that’s about 75% fat, 15% protein, and just 10% carbs to get there.

Compound Set:

When you perform back-to-back sets of two moves that work the same muscle group (Example: barbell bicep curl and dumbbell hammer curl)


When you perform back-to-back sets of two moves that work opposing muscle groups (Example: barbell bicep curl and tricep pushdown)

Drop Set:

When after finishing a set of a strength-training exercise, you reduce the weight you’re lifting and perform additional reps until fatigue at that lower weight.

Metabolic Conditioning:

(a.k.a. “met-con”)

Technically, any exercise that helps boost your body’s ability to make and use fuel. Most workouts we label as “met-con” consist of intervals of hard work and intervals of rest. Over time, our metabolism becomes more efficient and we become better able to perform high-intensity exercise, burn fat for fuel, and see results.

VO2 Max:

This measures your aerobic fitness, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise. VO2 max is the fastest possible rate that you’re able to deliver oxygen to your muscles. The higher your VO2 max, the better your endurance.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH), Harvard Health Publications, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, UC San Diego, University of New Mexico, American Council on Exercise (ACE); National Institute for Fitness and Sport (NIFS), Tufts University

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