When starting a new training plan or attempting a new training technique/style for the first time, it can be a little daunting to try and understand the technical terms used by professionals. It is also difficult to make heads or tails when trying to read up from medical or scientific sources about muscles and training when ‘big words’ are thrown around without any explanation.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced exercise enthusiast, knowing your muscles, the way they work and what they are called can be key to understanding your own workouts and figuring out what will suit your body type the best. The goal of the list below is to explain certain frequently used terms in anatomy and biomechanics to give you a clearer guide when starting a new program or doing your own research.
Frequently used exercise and anatomical terms:
- Muscle contraction: The activation of tension-generating sites within muscle fibers.
- Agonist muscle: These muscles cause a movement to occur through their own activation. The agonist muscle in a movement is the muscle(s) that provides the biggest force to complete a movement. Because of this, agonists are known as the ‘prime movers’.
- Antagonist muscle: A muscle that contracts while another relaxes, e.g. the tricep that relaxes when the bicep is flexed and vice versa.
- Concentric muscle action: Movements that shorten your muscles.
- Eccentric muscle action: Movement that lengthens your muscle while it contracts.
- Isometric muscle action: Contractions that generate force without changing the length of the muscle.
- Rep: The number of times you perform the movement of a specific exercise.
- Set: The number of cycles of reps that you complete.
- HIIT (High intensity interval training): A form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue.
- Cardio (Cardiovascular exercise): Refers to any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically.
- Resistance training: A type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance (or weight) to induce muscular contraction, which builds strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles and bone density.
- Functional Training: A classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life.
- Lateral movements: Any movement that occurs sideways away from or to the body, e.g. raising your arm to the side of your body (towards or away from the side).
- Posterior plane: Refers to the back side of your body when facing forward e.g. your back is on the posterior plane of your body.
- Anterior plane: Refers to the front side of your body when facing forward e.g. your face is on the anterior plane of your body.
- Acceleration: The rate of change in speed. e.g. how fast an athlete can go from starting position to top speed in a sprint.
- Anatomical position: The erect position of the body with the face directed forward, the arms at the side, and the palms of the hands facing forward
- 1RM (1 repetition maximum): The highest load of weight that an individual can lift for 1 repetition before failure.
- Sub-maximal exercise: Less than the maximum exercise force/duration/ capacity of which an individual is capable of doing.
- Maximal exercise: At the maximum exercise force/ duration/ capacity of which the individual is capable of doing.
- VO2 Max: The maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period.
- Static stretching: A slow and constant stretch, with the end position held for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching: Sport-specific or exercise specific movements to prepare the body for the activity going to be done (completing movements that would be used in an activity e.g. swinging a tennis racquet).
- Core: All the muscles found in the midsection including the muscles found in the front, back and sides of the trunk (transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae and the diaphragm).
- ROM (Range of motion): The degree of movement that a joint is capable of performing (or movement capability). This is different in each individual.
It is important to be informed when starting an exercise regime. Knowing different terms and finding out how your body works will ultimately help you understand your body better and help you to train better.
All exercises are not as effective for every person. Muscle fibre type, previous conditioning, dietary history, medical conditions, age, gender and metabolic rate all play a role in how your body reacts to training. It is up to you to try the different combinations and methods until you find one that works for you.