Bodybuilding Terminology

Getting into great shape and building tons of muscle is like getting free entry into a secret club. The respect you gain from other bodybuilders, the camaraderie in the gym, and the websites and products that only you can really appreciate… it’s all undoubtedly part of the fun. But then this has a downside to it as well – that being that it makes bodybuilding almost impenetrable for anyone on the outside. It’s cliquey, it’s intimidating and it’s very intense – so how are new people supposed to get started? Particularly when they can hardly even understand half the articles written on the subject?

To make matters a bit easier, I’m going to take you by the hand and lead you through some of the odd terminology and jargon used on bodybuilding sites and in bodybuilding books so that you can at least understand a little bit of what’s going on and what you’re supposed to do. This will be your resource for all the unusual terms and phrases you come across in the land of bodybuilding and muscle building, and you can use it as you might use a French to English dictionary when visiting Paris.

Amino Acids: Amino acids are the carbon compounds that make up protein. In other words they are the reason you eat protein in the first place, and they are crucial for building muscle as well as various other functions around the body.

Amino Acid Profile: The amino acid profile of a food group refers to the precise combination of amino acids it has and how useful these are to the body.

Anabolic: An anabolic state is a state in which the body is building muscle and burning fat while also repairing other tissues. We go into an anabolic state after training. Anabolic hormones are hormones that trigger that state in the body.

Anaerobic: Anaerobic exercise is exercise where you’ve reached the point at which you can no longer deliver the oxygen you need to where it’s needed fast enough.

ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate – this is what our body needs glucose for and is the most fundamental type of energy necessary for all life on earth.

BCAAs: BCAAs are ‘Branch Chained Amino Acids’ and these in turn are little combined amino acids that are in the correct format for your body to get the most use out of.

Bilateral: Bilateral exercises refer to any exercises where you use both arms at once – so curling in each arm at the same time rather than doing one dumbbell at a time.

Bioavailability: Bioavailability refers to how useful a protein or another food item is for your body. If it is highly bioavailable then that means your body can easily extract the nutrients and amino acids it needs. If it’s not then that means a lot of it is going to just pass through your system and be of no use.

Burn: Burn is the feeling you get during a workout like your muscles are on fire. It’s a good sign that your workout is going well.

Catabolic: A catabolic state is the opposite of an anabolic state where your body is burning tissue and energy to allow you to continue your performance. This is useful for losing weight.

Cheats: Bodybuilding is the only sport where cheating is good. Basically this means swinging your body in order to pump out a few more reps, and this is useful if you want to carry on training when the going gets tough.

Calisthenics: Really this is just a posh term for bodyweight exercises.

Casein: An alternative form of protein shake, casein is ‘slow release’ compared to whey protein making it useful for taking just before sleep.

Compound: Compound exercises are those that use lots of muscle groups at once in unison, thereby mimicking the way that we use our muscles in real life and resulting in the production of more growth hormone.

Converging: Converging movements are ones that have you use one side then the other and alternate.

CV: CV is cardiovascular exercise – in other words aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping and burns fat.

Cycling: Not only riding a bike – this also means going on and off a certain supplement in order to manage the levels of it available in your body.

Decline: Decline exercises are the opposite of incline exercises – in other words you are leaning backwards normally using your legs wrapped around some pads to hold you in position and preventing you sliding onto the floor head first.

Drop Sets: Drop sets are sets of exercise where you are going to gradually lower the amount of weight you are lifting. This is useful because it enables you to lift for more repetitions than you otherwise could.

Dynamic Tension: Dynamic tension was invented by Charles Atlas and involves simply moving your arm through a range of motions as though you were lifting a weight while tensing that muscle. Allegedly it can lead to muscle gains similar to those achieved by doing the exercise with weights.

Failure: The point at which you can perform no more reps.

Free Weights: Free weights are weights that aren’t resistance machines, in other words dumbbells and barbells that you can pick up and put down. These work more of the supporting muscle groups as thy force you to stabilize your body.

Forced Reps: Forced reps are repetitions where you are going past failure. Cheats are a form of forced reps, as are drop sets.

Giant Sets: Giant sets are huge sets of exercises that aren’t just ‘sets and reps’ but rather an on-going monster of different exercises with no real rest in between.

Hypertrophy: Hypertrophy is the technical term for muscle growth.

Incline: Incline movements are any movements where you are sitting more upright rather than lying completely flat or back.

Isolation: Isolation exercises are exercises where you isolate a single muscle group and target it on its own. You can achieve this by holding your upper arm still while doing curls for instance. This kind of exercise doesn’t build real world strength, but is brilliant for targeting specific muscles.

Isometric: Isometric exercises are those where you are holding a position rather than moving anywhere – for instance just holding a handstand or plank.

Loading: You load a supplement like creatine by having lots of it when you first start taking it so that the body has a ready supply and the levels are higher in your body. You will then settle into a normal routine of using it.

Microtears: Microtears are the tiny tears in muscle fibers that we cause when we work out. It’s repairing these that causes hypertrophy.

Negatives: Negatives are the part of the exercise where you lower the weight. If you can’t lift a weight you can get a good work out just from lifting it with both hands or with the help of a friend and then lowering it as slowly as you can.

Plyometric: Plyometric exercises are exercises that involve explosive movements like clapping press ups. These work the ‘fast twitch muscle fibers’.

Pump: Pump is the word for the feeling after and during a workout where your muscle is blown up like a balloon from all the blood directed there.

Range of Movement: The range of movement is the whole arc of the motion that you go through when you perform a particular exercise. The greater the range of motion, the more of the muscle you will train.

Resistance: Resistance is whatever you are pushing against – it may be a weight, it may be gravity + your own bodyweight, or it may be a resistance band.

Resistance Machines: Resistance machines are the big machines that guide you through movements and target one muscle group specifically. They are useful for beginners and aren’t as effective as compound moves.

Splits: Split routines are training programs where you break them down into muscle groups and days so that you might train your biceps on the Monday, your triceps on the Tuesday, your lats on the Wednesday etc.

Spotting: Spotting means helping a gym buddy through repetitions and also being on standby in case they should get pinned.

Stack: Your supplement ‘stack’ is the list of different tablets, pills and shakes you are currently using.

Static Contraction: Static contraction means just pushing or pulling against an immovable object – for instance squeezing a ball between your thighs consistently without actually moving, or pushing against a wall like you were trying to push it over.

Super Sets: Super sets are sets where you do two different exercises, then rather than rest between sets you just alternative. Often you will train complimentary muscle groups this way by doing say tricep dips in a super set with bicep curls.

Unilateral: Unilateral exercises are the opposite of bilateral exercises and involve using just one arm at a time then swapping.

Vasoconstriction: Vasoconstriction is when your blood vessels get narrower. This is not what you want because it increases blood pressure and prevents your body from delivering the nutrients you need to the muscles.

Vasodilation: Vasodilation is the dilation of the blood vessels and is good news. Supplements like NO2 (nitric oxide) are designed to help vasodilation.

VO2 Max: Your VO2 max refers to how much oxygen you are able to get out of the air and corresponds to cardiovascular fitness.

Whey: Whey is everyone’s favourite protein source, a bi-product of the cheese making process and the ingredient used in most protein shakes.

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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

Follow Adam on Linkedin: adam-sinicki, twitter: thebioneer, facebook: adam.sinicki and youtube: treehousefrog

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