Your Guide to Basic (But Often Complicated) Exercise Terminology

Your Guide to Basic (But Often Complicated) Exercise Terminology

Posted on: September 3, 2015

Confused by all the jargon some fitness enthusiasts and specialists use? Here’s a basic primer on the exercise terminology you need to know in order to take your workout beyond the beginner level.

Exercise terms explained - Mercy Health & Fitness, Canton, Ohio

Guest post by Will Cutler, Mercy Health & Fitness Intern

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be hard work. Hearing terminology that may be confusing from exercise specialists doesn’t make it any easier. Phrases like METS, target heart rate and “sets” might sound basic to some, but maybe not to you. Yet, these expressions are an important part of the learning process if you’re just starting an exercise program.

Here are some common words you might hear at place like Mercy Health & Fitness Center. If you’re working with a trainer, an understanding of this basic terminology will ensure there’s no disconnect between the two of you. If you’re trying it on your own, these terms can help guide you in your fitness research and tracking, as well as in determining the success of your workouts.

Body Composition

Percentages of fat, bone, water, and muscle tissues in our bodies. It is a measure of leanness.

  1. There are several different methods and tools to measure body composition including: the Bod Pod, Underwater Weighing, a DEXA Scan, Skinfold Measurements, and Bio-Impedance.
  2. Healthy ranges for males are between 10-18% body fat, while healthy ranges for females are between 20-28% body fat.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

A value derived by dividing the weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters squared). This is not a direct measure of body composition, but rather a predicted measurement of body fat. Physicians use BMI for a quick indicator of a person’s disease risk. A normal BMI, indicating a healthy weight, would fall between 18.5-25 kg/m2.


A lower intensity version of the same or similar exercise a person is about to complete.

  1. The goal of a warm up is to gradually increase your heart rate and body temperature to reduce risk for injury and prepare for more intense exercise. Shoot for 5-10 minutes worth of warm up. 
  2. Common warm-ups include easy walking or biking, and light calisthenics such as arm circles, knee bends, or trunk twists.


Allowing physiological activity to gradually return to normal by engaging in less strenuous activities. Cool downs could include stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and rehydration. The goal is to get the heart rate within 10 beats per minute (bpm) of the pre-exercise reading.

F.I.T.T. Principle

An acronym laying out the basic foundation for any and all exercise routines.

  • Frequency – How often you exercise. (3-5 x week)
  • Intensity – How hard you exercise. (60-85% of Age-Predicted MHR)
  • Time – How long you exercise. (30-60 Minutes)
  • Type – What type of activity you are completing. (Endurance Focus)

Read more about the F.I.T.T. Principal

For Improved Health, You Must Exercise Patience

Be an Exercise Einstein

Exercise Is Medicine: Why Physical Activity Should Be Prescribed [SlideShare]

O2 Saturation

The concentration of oxygen (O2) in the blood. Normal levels are generally between 95-100%. Those with pulmonary disease, COPD, asthma, etc. should watch their O2 levels during exercise and adjust accordingly based on O2 saturation levels. For example, if a COPD patient sees his or her O2 saturation has dropped below 90%, intensity should be decreased.

Heart Rate

The number of heart beats occurring in a specific amount of time.

  • Beats Per Minute (BPM): The amount of times the heart beats in one minute.
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR): The amount of times the heart beats in one minute during rest.
  • Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): The maximum number of times a heart can beat in one minute. The equation for predicted MHR is 220 – Age = Maximal HR.
  • Target Heart Rate (THR): A zone derived from intensity values of the MHR. The goal of aerobic exercise is to get the heart rate in this zone.

How to Find Your Heart Rate: Find your radial pulse by rotating your arm and hands so your palm is facing up. Then place your pointer and middle finger just below the wrist, on the thumb side of the wrist. Apply pressure and you should feel a slight tapping. Count the number of beats in one minute and that’s your Heart Rate!

Be cautious: Beta blockers and pacemakers can limit the heart rate. For this reason, the amount of times your heart beats per minute is not always indicative of how hard you are working. Always double-check your perceived exertion levels during exercise. Listen to your bodies; if you feel like the exercise is challenging, then you are working hard enough!

Related article:

Everything You Need to Know About Measuring Workout Intensity

Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

A way of measuring physical activity intensity levels. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like you are working. Generally the scale goes from 1-10 with 1 being the least amount of exertion and 10 being the hardest. The goal of most exercise is to be within the 4-6 RPE range.

METS (Metabolic Equivalent of Task)

One MET is described as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest and is equal to 3.5 mL of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute. As our workloads increase, so do our MET levels.


The ability of your joints to move freely.

Range of Motion

The full movement potential of a joint; commonly made up by the joint’s range of flexion and extension.


The number of times to perform an exercise.


How many times you will repeat a set number of repetitions. ACSM Strength Training Recommendations:

  • 8-10 Total Exercises
  • 8-12 Repetitions for Strength/Power Focus
  • 10-15 Repetitions for Endurance Focus

Hopefully you were able to learn something through this list. Apply this new knowledge the next time you workout. You just might find that it is easier to reach your goals when you know some of the science behind the exercise! If you have any questions or would like more information about an exercise program, give us a call at (330)-966-8920.

Image Credit

Will Cutler is a student from Ashland University seeking a degree in exercise science. Currently participating on Ashland’s track and cross country team, he has a passion for running and enjoys working with the public and educating others about exercise and wellness. Future goals include working as a director of a medically based fitness facility. Will plans to attain a master’s of business administration (MBA) in the future.

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