Brothers lift dumbbells in the gymPhoto: Syda Productions (Shutterstock)

Every hobby has its slang, and lifting is no exception. We have compiled a list of the words that are most likely to confuse beginners. So read on to see what you might be missing.


We don’t usually lift a weight just once; we pick it up and put it down several times. Each of these individual lifts is a repetition or “repetition” for short. You can do eight repetitions at a time, or twelve or five. Even if you only do one, you can still call it a rep because after you’ve been in the gym for an hour, your brain starts to melt a little. “That was a good representative,” you could say after a difficult single. We all know what you mean.


One set of reps is a lot. For example, you can do five sets of three repetitions each. This is usually written as 5×3 (puts x reps), although some people out there will flip the numbers. If you are not sure, ask.

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If you are doing a small lift, such as For example, a curl of biceps, often do it “to failure” – until another time you are unable to physically lift the weight.

In larger lifts like a squat, it is not always safe or even desirable to go to the point of actual physical failure. So you can go to the point of technical failure – in other words, doing as many reps as possible while maintaining good shape.


Submaximal training is work that does not lead to failure. Your program may ask you to lift a certain weight until you feel like you have two reps “in the tank”. That means you would pick a weight that you could lift ten times if you had to, but to follow the directions, you would only lift it eight times. Submaximal exercise can be less tiring than causing your elevators to fail.


As many repetitions as possible. Doing a multi-lift workout may mean doing as many laps (of the entire route) as possible. Sometimes both can be written AMAP (as many as possible).


Every minute, to the minute. For a 10-minute EMOM, start your stopwatch, do the exercise (say 10 kettlebell turns), then rest for the remainder of the minute. The faster you do the elevators, the more time you need to rest.

1 rpm, 3 rpm, 5 rpm

These are a maximum of one repetition, a maximum of three repetitions and a maximum of five repetitions. (You can substitute any number. Want to find 6RM?

In other words, a 1RM is the maximum weight you can lift for one rep. When someone asks, “How much do you have in the bank?” You ask about your 1RM. This weight can also be referred to as your “maximum” or “best”, as in “My best bench press is 150 pounds”.

The others are “rep maxes”. You may know you can deadlift 225 pounds for five reps, but that’s it, you know you couldn’t get a sixth at that weight. (Maybe you tried the sixth time and failed.) That’s a 5RM.


Perceived Exertion Rate. When lifting, a 10 means an all-out lift that you couldn’t have done anymore. Nine means you could have done one more rep, but you stopped there. Eight means you could have done two more reps, and so on. For compound lifts like squats, sets are often done with seven or eight RPE. Nobody minds tracking RPE under six or so.


Sometimes lifting programs will ask you to do a rate such as 80% of your max.This instruction assumes that you know what your max is. So, once you can bench press 100 pounds, you may be asked to do five reps at 80%, which equates to 80 pounds.


You can replace two exercises by doing one set each before resting. This can save time in the gym. In most cases, a superset involves two exercises with opposite or unrelated muscles: you can superimpose a bench press with a barbell row, or even a squat with an overhead press. Usually, you rest a little after you’ve done both, and then repeat again.


A circuit, sometimes referred to as a giant set, is a superset with more components. Maybe you do four or five exercises in one cycle. While this can save time, often the goal of circuit training is to keep your heart rate high so you can get some cardio, although the main focus is on weight training.


To discover someone in an elevator is ready to stand, ready to help when they fail. When bench press, you can tell by standing at the head of the person’s bench. You keep your hands close by (but not on the bar). If they can’t complete a rep, grab the bar and help them put it back safely on the rack.

Some elevators, such as the bench and squats, are spotted frequently. Others, like deadlifts and Olympic lifts, cannot be. Detection is mainly used for safety, but can also be used for forced repetitions (more on this below).

Free weights

Free weights are the dumbbells and dumbbells in a gym as opposed to the machines. They are “free” weights because they are not tied to anything; You can pick them up and do whatever you want.


The opposite of free weight would be a machine. There are cable machines where you hold a handle that is connected to a stack of weights by a cable and pulley. There are other types of select machines where you stick a needle into a stack of weights and then do the exercise in the manner indicated in the instructions (e.g., you can push or pull a set of handles, or move a pad with your Legs). And there are disk-loaded machines where you take a plate from a rack somewhere in the gym and place it on the machine yourself.


Weight plates are the heavy, round discs that are usually loaded onto the ends of a barbell. In American gyms, the largest are usually 45 pounds.

You can brag about your elevators by indicating how many full size plates are on each end of the bar. One hundred and thirty-five pounds (45 pounds per side, on a 45 pound bar) is a “one-platen” lift. Two hundred twenty-five is “two plates”. Three hundred and fifteen is “three plates” and so on.


A barbell is the bar on which you load the plates, either empty (the “empty bar”) or loaded (for example, “a 225 pound barbell”).

A standard Olympic size barbell weighs 20 kilograms, or 45 pounds in many American gyms. (20 kg is 44 pounds, so it doesn’t matter which one is.) There are a variety of other dumbbells available, including women’s Olympic bars weighing 15 kg, EZ curl bars with an ergonomic curve, and more. We have a guide to all of these here.


Dumbbells are the smaller hand weights in the gym. They usually come in pairs and cannot be taken apart. (You can, however, purchase adjustable home gym weights that have their own tiny little plates on each end.) They are so named because of some of the weights historical Bells were used for strength training (think a kettlebell, but more … bell-shaped), and since they made no noise, they were silent or “stupid”.

Clips or collars

When loading weights on a barbell (or adjustable dumbbell) it is handy to have something to hold the weights in place so they don’t slide around. This could be a spring clip that looks like a clothespin or a round collar with a latch.


One negative rep of an exercise is doing only the lowered or eccentric part while using the support (often a spotter) to roll back to the top of the repetition. Negative pull-ups (jumping to the top of the bar, then lowering) are a great way to build strength so you can do more pull-ups.

Drop sets

If you do a series of reps to failure, your muscles haven’t completely slacked off. You just can’t lift that particular weight anymore. As a result, bodybuilders sometimes use drop sets, which “drop” some of the weight, in order to do the exercise again with something lighter. You could use 25 pound dumbbells, then put them back and do a few more repetitions with 20 pound dumbbells, then take the 15 pound dumbbells, and so on.

Forced repetitions

This is another strategy for fixing past failures. Ask a spotter to help you lift the final reps of your set instead of taking a different weight. For example, suppose you are doing as many bench press reps as you can manage. Then your spotter puts his hands on the bar and helps you get a few more reps out with them. The last few are “forced” reps.