Lesson 4: Resistance Training Terminology and Concepts

Table of Contents


In Lessons 1, 2, and 3 I discussed:

  • the basic physiology of exercise
  • physiologic adaptations and health benefits that occur with regular exercise
  • recommended amounts of exercise to obtain these benefits

This is all useful background information, but the recent exercise guidelines are not very specific regarding how to actually perform exercise. They do give examples of various aerobic (ie, running, bike riding, housework), muscle-strengthening (ie, resistance exercise with bands or weights, carrying things), and bone-strengthening (ie, running, jumping rope) activities. However, they don’t discuss how to put them together in an exercise program.

The rest of this course will teach you how to design and implement a safe and effective exercise program. In this lesson I’ll discuss relevant terminology and concepts related to resistance training.

Note: The American College of Sports Medicine published a guideline covering resistance training program design in 2009. It is still a good general guideline but at this point with over a decade of further research some of it is outdated. For that reason I am not presenting that guideline in detail, but if curious you can click here to access it.

Individual repetitions

I’ll use push-ups as an example, as everybody is likely familiar with basic push-ups. Each push-up is one “repetition” (“rep”). You perform one “set” of pushups when you complete multiple in a row. You can write this with the shorthand “sets x reps”. For example, 3 sets of 5 reps equals 3×5. Some people list reps prior to sets but I will always list sets prior to reps. You can also write rep ranges; for example, 3 sets of 10-12 reps equals 3×10-12. A training program may call for 3×10-12; if you perform 12, 11, and 10 reps in the 3 sets you have successfully followed the program.

Note: I am compiling a list of all of the terms and concepts with brief definitions at the bottom of this lesson. You have the option of skipping the main text, glancing through the list at the end, and then referring to the main text for clarity.

Additionally, I am including references that discuss specific terms or concepts in more detail but none of these will help you better understand the main points of this lesson. I am only including these for additional reading if desired.

Let’s say you start the push-up at the top with your arms extended. First you lower your body to the floor and then push your body back up to the top. Lowering your body to the floor works with gravity; thus, this is easier than pushing your body back to the top against gravity. The portion of the rep that moves with gravity and is easier is called the “eccentric” or “negative” portion.(Hody, 2019) The portion of the rep that moves against gravity and is harder is called the “concentric” or “positive” portion.

When performing push-ups the primary muscles you use are the chest, shoulders, and triceps. These are the “agonist” muscles; they are shortening and generating force during the positive portion of the rep. Some consider the chest as the prime mover while the shoulders and triceps act as synergists; this distinction is not important for this course.(Gentil, 2017) The “antagonist” muscles perform the opposite joint movements; in the case of push-ups the antagonists are the back and biceps since they lengthen during the positive portion of the rep. Additionally, “stabilizer” muscles act isometrically (without shortening or lengthening) to provide support during the rep.

When performing a push-up you can choose to pause your body near the bottom or top and hold that position in place for some length of time. This is an “isometric contraction” where you contract your muscles without their relevant joint angles changing. This is either a partial contraction (ie, holding still in the middle of a pushup) or a maximal contraction (ie, trying to perform a push-up with 1,000 pounds on your back and not moving).

When performing a repetition you can perform different portions at different speeds. In this regard there are potentially 4 phases of a push-up repetition:

  • the initial eccentric portion
  • the transition between the eccentric and concentric portion
  • the concentric portion
  • the transition between the concentric and eccentric portion of the next rep

The “tempo” of a repetition describes the length of time in each of these phases. This is described with 4 numbers, each representing the length of time in seconds for each phase.(Wilk, 2020) As an example, 3/0/2/1 indicates you start with a 3-second eccentric phase, 0 implies you immediately transition to the concentric phase without pausing, you then perform the concentric phase over 2 seconds, and then you wait 1 second at the top prior to beginning the next rep. As another example, 2/1/x/0 implies a 2-second eccentric phase, a 1 second pause at the bottom, “x” means to perform the concentric phase as quickly as possible, and then 0 means you immediately transition into the eccentric phase of the next repetition without any pause.

Note: You can perform many exercises, including push-ups, in a variety of ways to induce different adaptations. For example, if doing a pushup with a 2/1/x/0 tempo you can perform the concentric portion as quickly as possible but still decelerate near the end of the movement so that the hands do not leave the floor. Alternatively, you can continue to accelerate throughout the whole movement such that your hands do leave the floor; this is typically done with clapping pushups and is considered a “ballistic exercise” due to acceleration throughout the full concentric movement.(Suchomel, 2018)

You could instead use a x/0/x/0 tempo where you descend as quickly as possible while under control* and then ascend as quickly as possible without any pause. When following a rapid eccentric phase with a rapid concentric phase you will maximize the “stretch-shortening cycle” or “stretch reflex”, and this can be considered a “plyometric exercise”.(Grgic, 2020) The stretch reflex (also called the “myotatic reflex”) allows the release of energy stored in the connective tissue during the eccentric portion of the rep to assist the concentric portion; this makes the concentric portion easier.

*You should always strive to control the eccentric phase. For example, performing an uncontrolled eccentric phase with push-ups results in crashing into the ground. Keeping the eccentric phase controlled, even when done quickly, allows more consistent form and lowers the risk of injury.

When doing a push-up the weight is constant throughout the movement. However, you can loop a band or chains around their body to increase the resistance when the arms approach full extension. “Variable resistance” describes an exercise where the load varies throughout the lift. Beginners do not need to use variable resistance strategies; however, practically speaking, any exercise utilizing resistance bands by definition incorporates variable resistance to a degree.(Wallace, 2018) Of interest, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis (“SR/MA”) found comparable results between training with resistance bands or elastic tubing compared to using weight machines or free weights in people without significant resistance training experience, and other reviews have found no benefit or detriment to using various variable resistance modalities, so this is a viable option to use if you prefer.(Lopes, 2019; Andersen, 2022; Fuentes-García, 2023)

Another consideration is the “range of motion” (“ROM”).(Newmire, 2020) With push-ups you can descend from full arm extension to the point where the chest is just above the ground and then go back to full extension. Alternatively, you can cut the endpoints short and go between the points where their chest is several inches above the ground at the bottom and the arms are not fully extended at the top. This describes full ROM and partial ROM, respectively. You can even increase the full ROM if you put your hands on blocks of some sort to obtain a deeper stretch of the chest at the bottom of the movement without the floor getting in the way.

Note: Many exercises result in varying resistance for muscle groups throughout the ROM even if the total weight does not change. For example, at the bottom of a pushup when the arms are bent gravity pulls your weight down perpendicular to the triceps; at the top of the motion your weight is more parallel with your triceps. Thus, at the top of the movement more of the weight shifts from the muscles to your bones. Incorporating a band helps negate this due to increasing the resistance as you approach the top of the movement. It is only considered variable resistance when the band is incorporated, but in both cases the resistance experienced by the triceps varies throughout the movement.

Just because you perform an exercise with a full ROM does not mean you work the agonist muscles through their full ROM. For example, with full ROM push-ups you do not work the chest through its full ROM since your upper arm does not come close to midline (this is required to fully contract the chest). This does not mean push-ups are a bad exercise or do not work the chest well, and this does not mean muscles need to be exclusively worked through their full ROM. Rather this illustrates that when considering ROM the concept can be applied to exercises, muscles, and joints separately.

Tip: Any time you perform a repetition you can choose to focus on different things. A couple recent reviews have evaluated various areas of focus, finding that utilizing external focus (focusing on the full body movement, such as pushing the floor away with a push-up) can lead to greater performance than utilizing internal focus (focusing on the actions of specific muscles, such as how the chest contracts when performing a push-up).(Grgic, 2021a; Grgic, 2021b) These benefits are seen with strength increases; the reviews cite only 1 study that evaluates hypertrophy and in that study benefits were seen with internal focus.

When learning a movement it makes more sense to engage in internal focus to ensure you are feeling the movement in the correct areas of the body and are using good form, but once you are able to use good form consistently then shifting to external focus may prove beneficial for greater performance.

Individual sets

The bench press is an exercise that works similar muscles to a push-up. However, you have more control over the exact amount of weight you are using with the bench press as you choose the exact amount of weight to lift. If you determine your “one-rep maximum” (“1RM”) bench press, this equals the maximum weight that you can lift for 1 rep. You can substitute other numbers for “1” (ie, a 3RM is the most amount of weight you can lift for 3 reps). If you lift a specific percentage of this for a set, this “%1RM” is the “intensity” of the set. However, the term “intensity” is ambiguous since some use it to describe the amount of effort given in a single set.(Morton, 2019) For this reason, I will not use the word “intensity” and will simply explicitly state the training “load” or %1RM when needed.

When doing a set of push-ups you can choose to complete a specific number of reps or we can perform as many reps as possible (“AMRAP“) until you cannot complete another rep. The same applies to a set of the bench press or any other resistance exercise. If you take a set to “failure” then you cannot complete another rep.(Nóbrega, 2016)

Note: Some people differentiate “momentary failure” (where you try to complete another rep and fail on that rep) from “volitional failure” (where you complete a final rep of a set and then do not attempt another one under the believe that you will not be able to complete it).(Pelland, 2022; Refalo, 2022) I will use this latter definition unless stated otherwise.

Additionally, some people state if you can perform an additional rep, but this will require you to alter your form to complete the rep, then you have taken the set to the point of “technical failure“. Determining what qualifies as technical failure can be a bit murky for some exercises. For example, with seated rows trying to determine what degree of back extension is appropriate vs considered “cheating” can be very difficult to define rigorously.

Alternatively you can perform as many reps as possible until a set reaches a certain level of difficulty. For example, if you stop 2 reps before you reach failure then you have taken the set to the point of having 2 “reps in reserve” or 2 “RIR”.

Rather than tracking reps in reserve, another method to characterize sets is to perform repetitions until a rep feels a certain difficulty level. For example, if we take a set to a “rating of perceived exertion” or “RPE” of 8 (out of a 10 point scale), perhaps you perform 12 reps. After resting 2 minutes if you perform another set to an RPE of 8 you will now perform fewer reps due to fatigue from the first set. However, the last rep of both sets should feel equally difficult.

The use of both RIR and RPE allow an “autoregulation” approach to resistance training.(Greig, 2020) Some days you may feel stronger or weaker than others due to poor sleep, poor nutrition, life stress, illness, etc. Taking sets to a specific RPE or RIR helps account for other factors that affect performance. This generally becomes more crucial as your training experience increases but is a viable method for beginners as well. You can incorporate other factors into autoregulation if desired, such as grip strength, vertical jump height, and heart rate variability/recovery, among others; checking these before starting a session may give you some indication regarding if your nervous system is fully recovered from a prior session.

Both RIR and RPE are to some degree subjective. A more objective metric incorporates the velocity of each rep. When fatigue throughout a set increases the rep speed decreases; this allows increased force production (recall the force-velocity curve discussed in Lesson 1). Thus, if you perform each rep as fast as possible you can measure the change in rep velocity throughout a set to more objectively track performance. “Velocity-based training” entails taking a set to the point where the velocity of movement slows below a specific threshold.

Note: There are additional ways you can add reps to a set when approaching failure. For example, you can complete a set to failure at a certain %1RM and then immediately do more reps with a lighter weight. This describes a “drop set”.(Schoenfeld, 2018; Ozaki, 2020) You can similarly do this where you take a set to a certain RIR or RPE threshold and then decrease the weight to perform more reps. Beginners do not need to incorporate drop sets but there are a few indications where they can be helpful. For example, when facing time constraints drop sets allow a larger total amount of work in a short period of time.

Another indication is when specifically training movements with descending “strength curves”. A strength curve depicts how your strength varies throughout the concentric portion of a repetition.(Wallace, 2018) This is either:

  • ascending (strength increases throughout the ROM of the rep (ie, a squat))
  • descending (strength decreases throughout the ROM of the rep (ie, a pull-up))
  • bell-shaped (strength increases & then decreases as one progresses through the ROM of the rep (ie, a bicep curl))

For exercises with descending strength curves you can use a heavy weight to better stimulate the beginning portion of the ROM. Then you can use a lighter weight to better stimulate the latter portion of the ROM. As this is a more advanced strategy I will not discuss it further in this course.

Rest periods

When performing multiple sets of push-ups you need to rest some length of time between the sets. We can vary this “inter-set rest period” or “rest period” based on your goals; you can additionally perform various activities during the rest period.(Latella, 2019)

If you want to perform 3 sets of push-ups you can do all 3 in a row, or you can do a different exercise (ie, pull-ups) in between each set of push-ups. This would be a “superset”.(Krzysztofik, 2019) This can save a considerable amount of time.

If you have a series of exercises you want to do (ie, 8 different exercises) and you do 1 set of each of them with little rest in between prior to beginning again with the first exercise, then you have just completed one circuit of the exercises. This describes “circuit training” and can also save a considerable amount of time. Additionally, when you do more sets with short rest periods and keep your heart rate up this will work on your conditioning and your “work capacity”, which is a term describing the ability to perform a larger amount of total training in a specific period of time.

Note: You can incorporate a rest period, or even multiple rest periods, within a single set. For example, you can perform a set to failure, rest for some number of seconds, and then perform a few more reps. Alternatively, you can stop a set just short of failure and then rest several seconds prior to performing additional reps. This general idea falls in line with a “rest-pause” or “myo-rep” strategy. Additionally, you can use a 5RM weight, do 2 reps, rest a few seconds, do 2 more reps, rest a few more seconds, and repeat to be able to do considerably more than 5 total reps. This is called a “cluster set”.

These are more advanced strategies and generally are not needed for beginners. Rest-pause sets are not suitable for beginners. Myo-reps are an effective strategy when short on time and can be used by beginners. Cluster sets are generally considered a more advanced technique but may have specific merit in elderly and clinical populations.(Latella, 2021) I will discuss these in more detail with formal definitions in Lesson 13.

Program structure

When discussing how many times a week one exercise this described their training “frequency”.(Kneffel, 2021) Frequency can describe several different things, for example:

  • doing pushups 3x (here “x” means “times”) a week
  • training the legs 2x a week
  • performing general workouts 4x a week

Training “volume” is a comprehensive term encompassing sets, reps, resistance, and training frequency.(Figueiredo, 2018) There are different ways to calculate training volume.(Nunes, 2021) For example you can include weight*reps*sets*frequency for all sets or for all non-warmup sets, you can simply track the number of hard sets that are done (ie, to a RIR ≤4 or an RPE of ≥7, however one wishes to define it), etc. Given the ambiguity I will use the term volume in a general sense to describe overall workload but I will otherwise not use this term as a method of tracking progress specifically. The following table shows how frequency can influence volume.

When you decide how you want to divide your training volume and frequency throughout a week, you can generally choose to use either a “full body routine” where you train the full body each session, a “split routine” where you split the body up into distinct sessions (ie, upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body on Thursday, lower body on Friday), or some combination of the two.

When you plan a week of training this is commonly termed a “microcycle”. Several microcycles, generally up to 1-3 months of training, combined together are a “mesocycle”. Multiple mesocycles combined together are a “macrocycle”.(Evans, 2019) People use these three terms to describe training plans over extended time periods. This is very relevant for athletes who may have 1 macrocycle per year and different mesocycles for off-season & in-season training to cater to the athlete’s demands. Microcycles are structured to work towards the goals of each mesocycle. For non-athletes a yearly macrocycle is less imperative, but setting up different mesocycles to work towards different goals (ie, endurance training, strength training, gaining weight, losing weight, preparing for a 5 km race, etc) is worthwhile if you have multiple goals that are hard to work towards all at the same time.

Importantly, when you design a workout program you must tailor it to your goals. The “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands” (“SAID”) principle indicates that the body adapts to the stresses of training in order to better handle the stress again in the future. Thus, if your training program is well-designed to reach your goals, you will continually make progress towards them. Therefore, it is important to set appropriate goals and use these goals to guide intelligent program design.

Note: Conceptually there are many options when designing a program beyond simply manipulating training frequency, the number of sets, rep ranges, rep tempo, proximity to failure, etc. For example, different approaches include focusing on:

  • different body parts and choosing exercises designed to work body parts through various ROM, strength curves, and in different anatomic positions (I discuss this to a degree in Lessons 9-12)
  • different movement patterns (ie, a horizontal press) and choosing exercises designed to work on different aspects of this movement pattern (ie, bench press variations, push-up variations, medicine ball throws, etc)
  • specific performance goals (ie, obtaining a high vertical jump) and choosing exercises designed for this (ie, squats to help strengthen the legs, faster reps with lower weight to emphasize power production (recall the force-velocity curve in Lesson 1), plyometrics to improve your ability to utilize the stretch reflex).
  • general health and choosing a mixture of various exercises to improve strength, muscle mass, and bone mineral density while focusing on full ROM to aid mobility.

You can also combine several of the above. One approach is not necessarily better than any other. Certain aspects of each approach may have benefits in specific circumstances, but all can lead to significant progress. It is most important to choose a training style that allows consistency and preferably enjoyment.

Tip: Even if you design your program with specific goals in mind you will likely get some carryover to other fitness attributes. As examples:

  • In the next lesson you will see parallels in training for muscle strength, size, and endurance.
  • Strength training that leads to an elevation in your heart rate will have some carryover to cardiovascular conditioning.
  • Developing greater strength generally leads to greater speed/power, and vice-versa, at least to a point.
  • There is considerable transfer between resistance exercises, such that improving in one exercise will have some carryover to other lifts that use similar muscles.(Mang, 2021)

The main point is that you should not fear that you need to design a perfect program to achieve your goals, rather there are many styles of training and many ways to structure a program that will lead you to obtaining good results in the long run. As long as you pick or create a program that is somewhat reasonable and that will allow consistency, you should be able to have good success. I discuss more aspects of program design and how to make alterations when needed in upcoming lessons.


When people begin a new exercise program they generally experience “delayed onset muscular soreness” (“DOMS”).(Hody, 2019) We do not fully understand why this occurs, but some believe it results from the breakdown of skeletal muscle and connective tissue. Perhaps this primes the tissues to undergo beneficial physiologic adaptations. You can mitigate DOMS if you slowly increase activity over time as opposed to jumping in with a large amount of training volume. Generally people experience their worst DOMS when they first start exercising; after 3 weeks of consistent training DOMS is typically not very bothersome.

Note: Rhabdomyolysis can develop when people significantly increase training volume and intensity too quickly. This medical condition occurs when there is so much damage to the muscles that the muscle fibers break down and can cause problems with the kidneys. This requires a trip to a physician and likely the emergency room; signs include severe muscle pain, brown-appearing urine, and generally feeling bad. Thankfully this is uncommon though there are several articles online you can google to read about various individuals experiencing this. If you start with a reasonable workload, ensure adequate hydration, and increase the total work gradually it is very unlikely you will experience rhabdomyolysis, though very rarely it is still theoretically possible, particularly in individuals with certain genetic mutations.

Once you get beyond the initial DOMS it is easier to put more emphasis on training and the physiologic adaptations discussed in prior lessons will manifest. While the same training stimulus may allow continued adaptations for some period of time, eventually you need to increase the training stimulus to trigger further progress. You can do this by adding more reps, more sets, more resistance, or one of several other methods. If you continue to increase the training stimulus over time you are engaging in “progressive overload”.(Minor, 2020) This is a key foundational concept of resistance training; you must continually impose greater training stimuli over time to trigger your body to continue to undergo new adaptations. At the same time, you cannot force this to happen just by adding more weight to your exercises; appropriate training generates increases in strength that will then allow you to use more weight, and when you are able to do so then you should increase the weight to continue making progress.

However, it is important to remember these adaptations are not instantaneous; they take some period of time and thus after training you must undergo sufficient “recovery” prior to the next training session. Otherwise, excess fatigue accumulates and becomes detrimental. The length of time needed for recovery depends on the total volume and level of effort utilized in a given session; this can vary from a matter of hours (for quick and relatively light sessions) to several days (for high-volume sessions pushing relatively high %1RM close to failure). There are techniques that can assist in recovery(Dupuy, 2018), though some of them may be detrimental for long-term progress.(van Hooren, 2018) If at any point you become weaker while training or seem to lose overall fitness one possible cause is inadequate recovery; this can also increase the risk of developing injuries.

Note: Occasionally people train purposefully beyond their recovery capabilities. “Functional overreaching” describes purposefully accumulating excess fatigue for a brief period of time prior to tapering your workload; this decreases fatigue and unmasks fitness progression from the prior training.(Bell, 2020) I discuss this further in Lesson 6.

In the first several weeks and even months of training consistently progressive overload occurs readily and most individuals are able to continue making progress with “linear progression”. Linear progression generally entails simply adding “more” with each workout, where “more” can mean increased weight, increased reps, increased sets, etc. As explained in Lesson 1, neuromuscular adaptations occur quickly with training. Therefore, strength can improve with every workout for some period of time. Eventually this progression stops and then you must use other techniques.

Autoregulation, as introduced above, is a viable option at this point. For greater training variation and especially if you want to train multiple different attributes, a “periodization” strategy can be used.(Evans, 2019; Suchomel, 2018) Periodization entails varying the training stimulus in different ways in subsequent sessions to continue to give the body new training stimuli. There are 4 different models of periodization typically discussed:

  • “linear periodization”: Over time the training volume and specifically rep ranges decrease as load increases. Eventually you reset to the initial volume and should be able to use more weight due to being stronger.
  • “reverse linear periodization”: The opposite of linear perodization described above.
  • “undulating periodization”: This entails altering the training volume and load on a daily (daily undulating periodization (“DUP”)) or weekly/biweekly (weekly undulating periodization (“WUP”)) basis.
  • “block periodization”: This includes designing short mesocycles to specifically train for different goals while attempting to retain the fitness attributes obtained through prior training. This is distinct from the prior 3 methods as this is designed for longer time scales and is more applicable to individuals training multiple different fitness attributes.
The table below shows an example of linear, reverse linear, and undulating periodization, just to illustrate the differences. You would choose a weight that allows lifting in the desired rep range for each session. You can take the sets to failure or to a specific RIR or RPE (how to choose this is discussed in the next lesson). If you can use more weight with week 5 than in week 1 with linear and reverse linear periodization, or more weight in week 3 than in week 1 with undulating periodization, this indicates that your strength increased.

Some models include a “deload” week after week 4, where you take it a bit easier for a week (generally using less volume) prior to moving on to week 5, but for beginners this is typically not necessary. Even for more intermediate or advanced lifters this may not be necessary if they were to use an autoregulated approach to training. Deload weeks may be useful if you are feeling particularly run down, dealing with minor injuries, or going on vacation, but planning a deload week in advance runs the risk of taking it easy when your body can handle a full effort training week; this may decrease progress in the long run.

Note: There can be a lot of confusion regarding terminology when using “periodization” and “autoregulation”. With an autoregulation approach based on taking sets to a certain RPE or RIR you may end up doing vastly different amounts of reps in each set on a daily basis; some would consider this a form of daily undulating periodization. If you follow a linear periodization scheme you can attempt to pick a resistance load that will yield a specific RPE or RIR for any given set, but this will be an estimate and you may find during the set itself that to hit the specific desired reps you will not achieve the RPE or RIR you were hoping for. You may ignore autoregulation altogether and follow a linear periodization protocol as written, but then you will not account for any variance in performance you may experience on a day-to-day basis.

I will discuss autoregulation and periodization in more detail in Lesson 6.

List of all terms

  • Repetition (“rep”): one completed exercise movement.
  • Set: one series of repeated repetitions. Using shorthand, if you were to do 3 sets of 5 reps this could be written as 3×5. Rep ranges can also be written. For example, 3 sets of 6-8 reps can be written as 3×6-8.
  • Eccentric/negative: the portion of a repetition that moves with gravity and is typically the easier part of the rep.
  • Concentric/positive: the portion of a repetition that moves against gravity and is typically the harder part of the rep.
  • Agonist muscles: the primary muscles being utilized for a movement, they shorten during the concentric portion.
  • Antagonist muscles: the muscles that oppose the primary muscles being utilized for a movement, they lengthen during the concentric portion.
  • Stabilizer muscles: muscles that provide structural support during a movement without significant shortening or lengthening.
  • Isometric contraction: a muscle contraction that does not result in movement of the joint angles of the active muscles.
  • Tempo: the speed at which each portion of a repetition is performed, typically denoted in numbers to represent seconds or the letter “x” to represent as fast as possible, and generally written in 4 phases such as: eccentric/transition from eccentric to concentric/concentric/transition from concentric to eccentric. Example: 2/0/x/1 implies: use a 2 second eccentric phase, do not pause between the eccentric and concentric phases, perform the concentric phase as fast as possible, and pause 1 second prior to the next eccentric phase.
  • Ballistic exercise: any exercise involving acceleration throughout the full concentric movement.
  • Stretch-shortening cycle (“stretch reflex”): the storage and then release of energy from connective tissues when rapidly transitioning from the eccentric to concentric portion, this will increase your strength in a movement. Example: people can jump higher with a running start than when jumping from a standing position due to the stretch reflex.
  • Plyometric exercise: exercises that attempt to maximize the stretch reflex. These are done with no or at most light resistance to help minimize the transition time between the eccentric and concentric movements.
  • Variable resistance: an exercise where the total resistance changes throughout the concentric and eccentric phases. This is typically associated with exercises that use resistance bands or chains.
  • Range of motion (“ROM”): a description that can apply to exercises, muscle lengths or joint angles but essentially describes to what degree the potential full path of movement is traversed. Either a full ROM or a partial ROM can be used.
  • one-rep maximum (“1RM”): the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted for 1 full rep; other numbers can be substituted (ie, a 3RM is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted for 3 reps).
  • %1RM: the percentage of a 1RM used in a set, the 1RM for this determination can be measured or estimated.
  • Intensity: a term that can be used to indicate a specific %1RM or that can imply the amount of effort applied in a set.
  • Load: a generic term that references the amount of resistance being utilized. A heavier load implies greater resistance.
  • AMRAP: “as many reps as possible”, with an AMRAP set you do not aim for a specific number of reps, rather you perform as many as you can.
  • Failure: reaching a point in a set where 1 more rep cannot be completed. This can be called “momentary failure” if you attempt a final rep and are not able to complete it or this can be called “volitional failure” if you complete a final rep and then do not attempt a subsequent rep under the assumption that you will not be able to complete it.
  • Technical failure: reaching a point in a set where 1 more rep cannot be completed without significant form breakdown.
  • Reps in reserve (“RIR”): the number of additional reps that could have been completed in a set if you were to attempt to do as many reps as possible.
  • Rating of perceived exertion (“RPE”): a score typically denoted on a 10 point scale that allows you to attempt to standardize how hard a specific set feels. A higher score indicates the set felt harder.
  • Autoregulation: a method of training that accounts for the variety of factors that influence day-to-day variation in exercise performance. This typically utilizes RIR, RPE, or velocity-based measurements, though other methods (ie, heart rate recovery) can be utilized as well.
  • Velocity-based training: a style of training where you track the velocity of each repetition and use predefined velocity metrics to determine the load to lift and/or when to stop each set.
  • Drop set: a set that begins with some number of reps of a heavier weight prior to immediately performing more reps with a lighter weight.
  • Strength curve: a depiction of your strength throughout the range of motion of an exercise, it is a summation of the contribution of each muscle at their respective joints’ angles at a specific portion of the rep. These will typically be ascending (increasing throughout the rep), descending (decreasing throughout the rep), or bell-shaped (initially increasing and then decreasing throughout the rep).
  • Inter-set rest period (“rest period”): the length of time you rest between successive sets.
  • Superset: performing two distinct exercises in quick succession with little rest in between them.
  • Circuit training: performing 1 set of many different exercises as a full circuit prior to starting the circuit again.
  • Work capacity: a generic term, when this increases it describes your ability to perform a larger amount of total work in a certain period of time.
  • Frequency: a description of how many occasions in any given block of time (typically a week) you do a certain type of training. This can relate to training a specific exercise, movement pattern, body part, or training in general.
  • Volume: the total amount of work you perform over a set period of time. This can be described in different ways. For example, weight * sets * reps * frequency can equal volume. Alternatively, you can simply consider the total number of sets that approach failure and ignore both weight used and reps. There are multiple other ways to track volume as well.
  • Full body routine: a workout program where you train the full body each session. For example, you can train your full body on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • Split routine: a workout program where you train distinct portions of the body in different workouts. For example, you can train your upper body on Monday and Thursday and your lower body on Tuesday and Friday.
  • Microcycle: a short term exercise plan, typically designed over the course of 1 week.
  • Mesocycle: an exercise plan consisting of a series of microcycles that generally build upon each other (ie, heavier weight each microcycle) culminating in greater strength gain throughout the mesocycle.
  • Macrocycle: an exercise plan generally over the course of 1 year that may correspond to 1 off-season and in-season period for athletes. These consist of several mesocycles designed to help develop various fitness attributes at the time of year they are needed.
  • Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (“SAID”) principle: the body will adapt to the specific training stimulus that it encounters. If you have specific goals then you need to train accordingly to reach those goals.
  • Delayed onset muscular soreness (“DOMS”): soreness that typically develops ~18-24 hours after a workout and generally peaks within 24-48 hours after a workout, though it can peak at 48-72 hours if the training stimulus is significant and novel. DOMS becomes less severe with consistent training.
  • Progressive overload: creating a greater training stimulus over time so that the body adapts to this new training stimulus and continues to undergo beneficial adaptations.
  • Recovery: the act of dissipating fatigue and allowing training adaptations to take place between one exercise session and the next.
  • Linear progression: employing progressive overload by simply adding a greater training stimulus every training session. This is an excellent method of progression or beginners but eventually there are diminishing returns.
  • Periodization: a program design that incorporates variability to train different fitness attributes or peak towards a competition. This entails altering training variables (ie, number of reps, number of sets, training frequency, etc) in a systematic fashion that may include daily, weekly, or monthly changes.
  • Linear periodization: a program design where over time the training volume (and specifically rep ranges) decrease as load increases. For example, you may do 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise twice a week for 2 weeks, then move to 3 sets of 8 reps, then 4 sets of 6 reps, and then 5 sets of 4 reps, all while increasing the load accordingly. Then you may reset with 3 sets of 10 reps again but use a greater load due to becoming stronger.
  • Reverse linear periodization: the opposite of linear perodization described above.
  • Undulating periodization: a program design where you alter training volume and load on a daily (daily undulating periodization (DUP)) or weekly/biweekly (weekly undulating periodization (WUP)) basis.
  • Block periodization: a longer-term program design that includes short mesocycles to specifically train for different goals while attempting to retain the fitness attributes obtained through prior training.
  • Deload: a relatively brief period of time where you purposefully use less training volume, lower training intensity, or both, to aid recovery from fatigue induced by prior training.


In this lesson I have discussed several different terms and concepts relevant to resistance training. This covers how to describe individual repetitions, sets, rest periods, program structure, and progression over time. With an understanding of the basic terminology and concepts, in the next two lessons I will present the evidence that can guide you in using these concepts to construct an effect resistance training program.

Click here to proceed to Lesson 5


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