Glossary Of Health And Fitness Terms A-Z

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A

Abdominals (abs)
General term given to the stomach muscles.
Abduction
Movement of a limb away from the midline of the body. The midline is an imaginary line effectively cutting the body in half vertically.
Achilles tendon
An important running term, the achilles tendon is a large tendon at the back of the ankle which connects the calf muscle to the heel bone.
Adduction
Movement of a limb towards the midline of the body. The midline is an imaginary line effectively cutting the body in half vertically.
Aerobic
Specifically means ‘with oxygen’ and refers to exercise that requires you to take in and utilise oxygen. This applies to the majority of cardiovascular (using the heart and lungs) exercise. Examples include walking, jogging, rowing and swimming.
Aerobics class
Group aerobic exercises carried out in a sports hall or studio, often in time to music and led by an instructor.
Aerobic threshold (AeT)
The point during exercise where lactic acid starts to build up in the bloodstream.
Amino Acids
There are 20 different types of amino acid, eight of which are 'essential' - that is, the body cannot make these, so they must be found in the diet.
Anaerobic
Specifically means ‘without oxygen’ and refers to exercise that takes place without utilising oxygen. Anaerobic exercise is very intense and limited to very short efforts such as a very short sprint.
Anaerobic threshold (AT)
The level of activity at which the aerobic energy system can no longer supply most of the demands of the body.
Antioxidants
These are the good guys, protecting against free radical damage by giving up one of their own electrons, stabilising the free radical and making it less reactive.
Aquacise
A low-intensity form of group aerobic exercise carried out in a swimming pool, comprising all-over body movements similar to an aerobics class.
Arches
Curved structures, arch like in profile that span the foot.
Assessment
Some form of personal health and fitness evaluation, which could consist of a questionnaire; a strength, aerobic or flexibility test; a blood pressure reading; a resting heart rate measurement; or another kind of medical test. Usually carried out as part of an induction at a gym.

B

Ballistic stretching
A bouncing, dynamic and jerky movement, which is generally not considered to be useful and can lead to injury.
Barbell (BB)
A steel bar, typically six or seven feet long, onto which steel disks are fixed to either end. A primary piece of equipment for resistance training.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
The rate at which the body burns calories when at rest.
Bench
A narrow, padded platform – usually with an adjustable backrest – used to perform a variety of resistance training exercises.
Biomechanics
This running term sounds complex but simply refers to the application of physics and mechanics to the study of movement.
Biceps
General term given to the muscles at the front of the upper arms.
Bleep test
A test of aerobic fitness, where you complete shuttle runs (i.e. run backwards and forwards) over a 20m course in order to provide an estimate of your VO2 max. Also known as a 'multi-stage fitness test'.
Blood pressure (BP)
The pressure exerted by the heart on the walls of the blood vessels. It is expressed as a ratio — for example 120/80. The first number (120) is the ‘systolic pressure’, or the heart’s pressure when it pushes blood out into the arteries, and the second number (80) is the ‘diastolic pressure’, or the heart’s pressure when it’s at rest.
Blood vessels
The tubes that carry blood to and from all parts of the body. The three main types of blood vessels are arteries, veins and capillaries.
Body fat analyser
A machine that determines the percentages of body fat, lean tissue and water in the body by sending a small current through the feet and often also the hands.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
A mathematical calculation used to determine whether or not a person's bodyweight is suitably healthy for their height. BMI = weight in kg/height in m2. A healthy BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 25. However, BMI can be unreliable because it measures only weight, not fat. Weight in itself is not always a good indicator of a person's health, for example muscle weighs more than fat, so most athletes are deemed as overweight using the BMI; this does not however mean that they are unhealthy.
Boot camp
A high-intensity group-based circuit-training session, which is performed outdoors in parks or green areas whatever the time of year or weather conditions. Usually run in a similar way to a military physical training session.
Breathing
Taking in oxygen by inhaling air and releasing carbon dioxide by exhaling air. It’s important to maintain relaxed breathing during resistance training exercises to prevent an increase in blood pressure.

C

Calf
General term given to the muscle at the back of the lower leg.
Calorie
A measurement of energy. It refers to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celsius. Food calories are measured by combustion, that is, how much heat is released when a foodstuff burns.
Carbohydrate
Compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. In dietary terms, there are two kinds - complex carbohydrates and sugar. Carbohydrates contain around 4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrate loading (carbo-loading)
The process of eating large quantities of carbohydrate — such as bread, pasta, rice or potatoes — to increase carbohydrate reserves in the muscles. Endurance athletes such as marathon runners will carbo-load prior to an event in order to maximise their fuel stores.
Cardiovascular system (CV)
The body’s unified system of heart and blood vessels. The CV system delivers nutrients (oxygen and energy) to and removes waste products from the tissues, and also helps to regulate body temperature by routing blood flow to and from the skin.
Cholesterol
An essential fat that the body uses for many biological processes. However, in excess, it can be harmful. It is made mostly in the liver from saturated fat, and circulates in the bloodstream. There is more than one kind of cholesterol.
Circuit training
A high-intensity group-based exercise session, combining resistance training exercises with cardiovascular training.
Complex carbohydrate
A term used to describe larger packages (or molecules) of carbohydrate. There are two kinds - starch and fibre. Starch is found in pasta, rice, potatoes and bread and fibre is is found in fruits, vegetables, oats and pulses and helps lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar.
Concentric contraction
The shortening of a muscle when it is under tension, for example when lifting a dumbbell under control during a bicep curl.
Cool-down
The time at the end of a workout where the body is returned to near resting levels. A cool-down session should include light, active, aerobic movements, followed by stretching exercises.
Core
The deep postural muscles that are responsible for maintaining good posture.
Cramp
A very unpleasant sensation caused by a muscle involuntarily contracting. Often caused by cold temperature, dehydration, fatigue or overexertion, it can also come on unexpectedly when at rest. Alleviated by gently stretching the affected muscle until the cramp subsides.
Cross-trainer
A cardiovascular machine used in the gym that lessens the impact on the joints due to its rhythmical motion – which is a cross between cycling and running.
Cross-training
Mixing different activities into your regular workout so as to avoid injuries caused by overuse and to prevent boredom. Cycling, running and swimming are three common activities used to cross-train the different muscle groups, but cross-training can alternatively involve a combination of cardiovascular and resistance-training exercises.

D

Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS)
Refers to discomfort often felt 24 to 72 hours after exercising, which usually subsides within two to three days. The discomfort is caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibres and/or by training at a higher intensity or volume than usual.
Deltoid
General term for a shoulder muscle.
Diastolic
The term given to the pressure exerted on the walls of the blood vessels when the heart is at rest between beats. Expressed as a number in combination with the systolic blood pressure.
Diet
Has a variety of definitions, including a prescribed selection of foods; the usual menu of food and drink consumed daily; or a restriction of your food intake.
Dumbbells
Pieces of resistance training equipment, each comprising a short (typically up to 30cm) steel bar with metal disks at each end. Usually provided and used in pairs.
Dynamometer
A device — usually handheld with a dial or digital display — used for measuring muscular strength.
Dynoband
A long strip of elastic rubber used to perform a variety of resistance training exercises. Dynobands are made in different thicknesses — which correspond to different resistance levels — and are frequently used for rehabilitation purposes after injury.

E

Eccentric contraction
The lengthening of a muscle while under tension, for example when lowering a dumbbell under control during a bicep curl.
Essential fatty acids
Fatty acids that the body is incapable of making on its own, and so must take from the diet. There are two - alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6) and they are both polyunsaturated.
Even splits
Running the whole length of a race at the same pace.

F

Fartlek
Swedish for ‘speed play’, Fartlek refers to an unstructured speed training session — usually for runners and cyclists — where the athlete varies his or her speed over a course of several miles, alternating between slow, moderate and faster efforts for varying time periods. Using the Fartlek technique can relieve the monotony of repetitive track training.
Fats
Fats are made up of fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone. If there are double bonds between any carbon atoms in a fatty acid, it is said to be unsaturated. Fats and oils are the same, except that oils are liquid at room temperature. Examples include butter, cooking oil and lard. Many fats are hidden, for example, in cream and pastry. Fats are required for padding, insulation, nerve function, production of hormones and transport of vitamins. Fat contains 9 calories per gram.
Fibre
There are two kinds of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, oats and pulses and helps lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar. Insoluble fibre is 'roughage' - also found in the above and in bran and other wholegrains. Insoluble fibre aids digestion and can help prevent bowel problems including cancer.
Free weights
General term for dumbbell and barbell resistance training equipment.
Flexibility exercises
Exercises that maintain or increase the length of muscles and tendons by gently stretching them. Flexibility exercises are important to maintain full range of movement, and should always be carried out when the body is thoroughly warmed up.
Free radicals
Extremely reactive atoms or molecules that carry an uncharged electron. They are necessary for a number of biological reactions, but are so reactive they can also cause cell damage. They are implicated in the development of cancer, heart disease and some chronic diseases. Exposure to certain things such as cigarette smoke, UV light, pollution or radiation can create free radicals.

G

Gait
The running cycle between when your foot first hits the ground through to the next time the same foot hits the ground again.
Gait analysis
A service offered by some training shoe retailers for assessing your running or walking style using a treadmill, video playback and a foot sensitive pressure plate. From the information obtained, the most suitable type of training shoe and/or corrective insoles can be prescribed.
Global positioning system (GPS)
A satellite tracking device that can track and pinpoint your position with extreme accuracy. A common feature of sports watches it can help to calculate speed and current pace for runners. Can be unreliable in wooded areas due to canopy cover and if training around high buildings, where the signal may be lost.

H

Half marathon
Race distance of 13.1 miles (21.1 km).
Hamstring
General name given to the group of muscles at the back of the thigh.
HDL cholesterol
High density lipoprotein cholesterol. This is carried by proteins called high density lipoproteins and is the 'good' cholesterol. HDLs remove cholesterol from the bloodstream and take it back to the liver.
Heart rate (HR)
The number of times the heart contracts (or beats) in one minute. The average adult value is 72 beats per minute when at rest. Aerobic exercise can train and improve the heart (and the associated cardiovascular system), resulting in a lower HR.
Heart rate monitor (HRM)
A device that allows the user to monitor their heart rate while exercising. Some consist of a chest strap and a wrist receiver, although some sports watches have the heart rate monitor built into the watch, reducing the need for a separate chest strap.
Hill training
One of the best ways to increase exercise intensity for running, a 10 degree incline can almost double the energy demands of a run.
Hypertrophy
Muscular enlargement that comes as a result of resistance training.

I

Intervals or interval training
A cardiovascular training session that involves repeated bouts of exercise, separated by rest intervals. Depending on the length of exercise and rest periods, interval training may be anaerobic or aerobic. An example session might involve running three separate runs of one mile each, with each mile being followed by a recovery period of three minutes — where you might walk, jog or completely rest. Used for improving cardiovascular fitness and speed.

J

Jogger's nipple
Soreness of the nipple due to chafing, commonly experienced by long-distance runners. Jogger’s nipple can be avoided by the application of petroleum jelly (or a similar product) to the nipples before running.

K

Kinesiology
The scientific study of human movement.
Kyphosis
Excessive curvature of the thoracic (middle to upper) region of the spine. Resolved through postural and flexibility training exercises.

L

Lactic acid
A substance which forms in the muscles as a result of the incomplete breakdown of glucose. It is a by-product of exercise. Lactic acid has a negative effect on muscle function if it builds up faster than the body can eliminate it.
Latissimus dorsi (Lats)
Two wide, flat, triangular-shaped muscles which run from the spine to the back of the upper arm and out towards the sides of the body.
LDL cholesterol
Low density lipoprotein cholesterol. This is carried by proteins called low density lipoproteins and is the 'bad' cholesterol. LDLs carry cholesterol around the body and deposit it on artery walls. Too much LDL cholesterol can lead to the development of fatty 'plaques' which in turn are a risk factor for heart disease. A high intake of saturated fat can lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol.
Ligament
Connective tissue that attaches bone to bone or cartilage to bone.
Loading
Part of the running gait; when your heel touches the running surface to the time your forefoot touches the running surface.
Local muscular endurance
The ability of a particular muscle or muscle group to perform repeated contractions against a resistance that is less than maximum. For example, performing as many repetitions as possible for exercises such as press-ups, which require good local muscular endurance from the chest and triceps muscles.
Long, slow, distance (LSD)
Cardiovascular training that involves covering a long distance at a slower than race pace. Used to build endurance, it also helps prepare the mind for the demands and concentration required in long distance races. Runners will often refer to this session as their 'long run'.
Lordosis
Excessive curvature of the lower spine. Resolved through postural and flexibility training exercises.

M

Marathon
Running event 26.2 miles (42.2 km) in length.
Massage
Manipulation of the body’s tissues by rubbing, pinching, kneading and tapping, in order to flush out waste products and realign damaged muscle fibres.
Maximum heart rate (MaxHR or MHR)
The greatest number of times the heart can contract (or beat) in one minute. A very approximate figure can be obtained for adults by using the following formula: 220 – current age = MHR.
Medicine ball
A heavy ball — typically the size of a basketball — used for strength and resistance training exercises.
Microtrauma
Microscopic damage that occurs to muscles during exercise.
Mid-stance
Part of the running gait; when the heel starts to lift and the forefoot flexes.
Minerals
Inorganic substances, not all of which are essential to life. Examples of minerals are calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and sodium.
Mobility
Refers to the general range of movement of a limb and is a direct function of flexibility. Imperative for injury-free exercise that good mobility is maintained.
Monounsaturated fat
An unsaturated fat with one double bond. Olive oil and some nut and seed oils are monounsaturated.
Muscular endurance
A combination of strength and endurance. Refers to the ability to perform many repetitions against a given resistance for a prolonged period.

N

Negative-resistance training
Resistance training in which the muscles lengthen while still under tension. Lowering a barbell, bending down, and running downhill are all examples of negative-resistance training. This type of training can increase muscle size more quickly than other types of training.
Negative splits
Running the second half of a race faster than the first half.

O

Obese
Is considered a BMI over 30.
Obliques
General term for the muscles on both sides of the abdomen that rotate and flex the trunk.
Omega
This is a naming system. It relates to which of the carbon atoms the first double bond occurs, e.g. omega-3, -6 or -9. Omega-3 oils have attracted a lot of attention of late for their protective properties.
Orthotic
A specially shaped insert — often custom-made — which is fitted into a training shoe to correct an abnormality in foot motion.
Overpronation
A confusing running term this simply means the excessive inward roll of the foot before toe-off.
Oversupination
The foot remains on its outside edge after heel strike instead of pronating.
Overtraining
Excessive volume, intensity, or both volume and intensity of training, resulting in fatigue, illness, injury and/or impaired performance. This can be alleviated by a reducing the amount of training that you do, training at a less intense level, and/or getting some rest.
Overweight
Considered to be a BMI over 25.

P

Peak flow
The maximum speed that air is exhaled from the lungs. This can be monitored with a peak flow meter, which is used to help monitor changes in lung function for asthmatics and athletes.
Pectorals (pecs)
General term for the muscles of the chest.
Polyunsaturated fat
An unsaturated fat with multiple double bonds. Corn oil, some seed oils and fish oils are polyunsaturated.
Pronation
Pronation begins immediately after the heel contacts the ground. It is a normal and necessary motion for walking or running. Pronation is the distinctive, inward roll of the foot as the arch collapses.
Protein
Proteins are made up of amino acids and are required for growth and repair. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, pulses and cereals contain protein. Protein contains 4 calories per gram.
PB/PR
Personal best/Personal record.

Q

Quadriceps (quads)
General term used to describe the groups of muscles at the front of the thighs.

R

Range of motion (ROM)
The degree of movement that occurs at a one of the body’s joints.
Repetition max
The maximum load that a muscle or muscle group can lift in a given number of repetitions before fatiguing. For example an 8RM load is the maximum load that can be lifted eight times.
Repetitions (reps)
For resistance training a repetition is one complete movement of an exercise from start to finish. For example lowering the bar on a bench press from full extension to the chest, and then raising it back up to full extension. For cardiovascular training a repetition is the duration of each effort. For example there are six repetitions in a session comprising 6 x ‘800 metres with 60 second recoveries’.
Resistance training
A general term used to describe training with any type of weights — including gym machines, barbells and dumbbells — or training that involves bodyweight exercises. Resistance training is employed to tone and strengthen muscles and realign posture.
Rest
The period when not exercising and the most important component of any exercise program. It is only during rest periods that the body adapts to previous training loads and rebuilds itself to be stronger, thereby facilitating improvement. Rest is therefore vitally important for progression.
Resting heart rate (RHR)
The number of heartbeats per minute when at rest. The average RHR for an adult is 72 beats per minute.

S

Saturated fat
Tend to be from animal sources and raise the levels of bad cholesterol.
Sciatica
A common problem which manifests in leg pain, often in the buttocks and hamstrings. Usually the source of the pain is in the lower back due to pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and down the legs. Massage and flexibility exercises can frequently bring relief.
Set
A given number of repetitions of a particular exercise. For example, a training prescription of 3 x (5 x 200m) would constitute three sets of five repetitions of 200m runs.
Shin splints
Pain at the front of the lower leg caused by insufficient cushioning in training shoes, excessive overpronation, continual training on hard surfaces such as concrete, or a significant increase in training. Alleviated by wearing correct footwear, maintaining a careful training build-up, and/or rest.
Sit and reach test
A protocol for evaluating flexibility, where the subject sits with his or her feet against a baseboard and reaches forward as far as possible along a graduated scale. Largely outdated now in favour of more effective testing methods.
Speed, agility and quickness (SAQ)
A training technique comprising specific exercise drills which are designed to improve speed, agility and quickness for a variety of sports.
Spinning
A cardiovascular group exercise class on stationary bicycles with background music. Spinning classes are usually very challenging.
Sports bra
A reinforced garment specially designed to support the bust during the more active movements when exercising.
Stability ball
A large 55 to 65cm diameter ball often available in gymnasiums and used to perform exercises on that develop the core muscles. Also referred to as a Swiss ball.
Stability disk
A partially inflated 30cm diameter disk used for core and leg exercises.
Stance
Part of the running gait; when the foot first strikes the running surface.
Step
A height-adjustable piece of cardiovascular training equipment that is frequently used in group exercise classes.
Stepper
A gym machine that replicates repeatedly climbing steps. Good for cardiovascular exercise.
Strides
Short, fast but controlled runs of 50m to 150m, which are used both in training and to warm-up before a race.
Studio
A dedicated room, usually within a gym, which is set aside for exercise classes.
Sugar
This is a term commonly used to describe 'simple' carbohydrates, or those in smaller packages. There are two kinds - intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic sugars are the ones that are incorporated into the cell walls of plants, for example those found in whole fruits and vegetables. Extrinsic sugars are those which are not, for example those in milk, beet sugar and honey. Non-milk extrinsic sugar is what is more commonly known as refined or added sugar.
Supination
The opposite of pronation. Supination refers to the action of the foot during running, and describes an outward-rolling action between the heel striking the floor and the toe leaving the ground. Much less common than pronation, excessive supination can result in injury but can be helped by an appropriate choice of training shoes and/or corrective insoles
Swing
Swing is part of the running gait; the foot leaves the ground and touches again.
Systolic
The blood pressure when the heart is contracting. Expressed as a number in combination with the diastolic blood pressure.

T

Taper
A period of time within a training program where the athlete reduces the volume and intensity of his or her training in readiness for a targeted event. This method allows the body and mind to recover from training so that a maximal performance can be achieved during competition.
Tendon
Connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones.
Toe off
Part of the running gait; the foot leaves the running surface.
Training diary
A day-by-day, week-by-week record of training, used as a training evaluation tool to identify whether systems and sessions are effective or not.
Trans fat
These are man-made polyunsaturates with an altered structure, and have been linked with ill health, including raised cholesterol.
Treadmill
Gym running machine with variable speed and incline options. Treadmills often also have pre-set running programmes such as hill sessions.
Triceps
General name given to the muscles at the back of the upper arms.

U

Ultra-marathon (ultra)
Any running event longer than the usual marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.2 km).
Ultrasound
Non-invasive therapeutic treatment for soft tissue injuries.
Unsaturated fats
Tend to be from plant sources. These types of fats reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and can raise levels of good cholesterol.

V

Versaclimber
A gym cardiovascular machine that replicates repeatedly climbing a vertical ladder.
Vertebrae
The individual bones that make up the spinal column.
Vitamins
Organic (carbon based) substances that our bodies can break down and alter. Vitamins are needed in very small amounts, but are essential to life. There are two kinds: fat soluble (A, D, E and K) and water soluble (the B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat soluble vitamins circulate in the blood and are stored in fatty tissue, so do not need to be eaten every day. Water soluble vitamins circulate freely but are not stored, so you need to eat them more frequently.
VO2Max
The highest volume of oxygen a person can take in during exercise. Often used as a predictor of potential in endurance sports such as running.

W

Warm-up
Gentle, slow exercise at the beginning of a workout. A warm-up prepares a person’s muscles and improves their heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature before an exercise session.
Warm-down
Effectively the same as a cool-down. This is the time at the end of a workout where the body is gradually returned to near resting levels. A cool-down session should include light, active, aerobic movements, followed by stretching exercises.
Wet-vest
A buoyancy garment that enables a runner to train in a swimming pool by mimicking a running action while in the water. Usually employed when injured or rehabilitating from injury.
Wicking
A process by which moisture is transported away from the body in a fabric. Typically, this means that a layer next to the skin attracts sweat and passes that moisture through the membrane or fabric of the garment to the exterior, where it can be evaporated.
Wobble board
A circular wooden disk — approximately 45cm in diameter — with a hemisphere on one side. It is used for stability training, core exercises and strengthening the ankle and/or rehabilitation from ankle injuries.

Y

Yoga
An exercise system that integrates the mind and body by focusing on controlled breathing, flexibility and posture.

X

X-training
An abbreviated term for cross training.

Z

Zatopek phenomenon
A term for the beneficial effects associated with tapering, named after middle distance Olympic champion Emil Zatopek.