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Deciphering Strength Jargon

This is an excerpt from Women’s Muscle & Strength by Betina Gozo Shimonek.

The following is terminology that you hear in the strength training world, along with a brief explanation of how each one relates to the programs in part III of this book.

Personal Record (PR)

You’ll hear a lot of people say, “I hit a PR today!” and that’s a good thing! This means they may have lifted a heavier weight than their last workout for the same amount of reps, or maybe they were able to move the same weight for more reps. If you’re starting from scratch and have never lifted weights before, then everything will be a PR!

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload happens when you gradually increase the weight and repetitions for each exercise as you move through a program, but not necessarily at the same time. This is what you see in the programs in this book. As you build strength, exercises will start to feel easier with the weight you choose and repetitions prescribed. Progressive overload will help you continue to build muscle strength and avoid plateaus. This may be reflected by increasing the weight in your goblet squat from 30 pounds (13.60 kg) for 10 repetitions to 35 pounds (15.87 kg) for only 6 to 8 repetitions. You can also keep the same weight but complete more repetitions. We’ll explore more about increasing weight in the next chapter.

Load, Reps, and Sets

“Load” refers to the amount of weight you use. This could be your body weight, the weight of a dumbbell, or the amount of weight on your barbell. “Reps” is short for repetitions and refers to each individual exercise—for instance, 8 reps of a biceps curl. Sets are the number of times you will do each block of exercises, such as “2 sets of 8 reps.” While the repetitions and sets will be noted in the programs, the load will not be prescribed; that will be up to you to keep track of so that you can implement your progressive overload.


Intervals are the amount of time that you are actively working and then resting, usually with the emphasis on the work period. You may hear someone say “Do 3 sets of 20-second speed squat intervals. You’ll have 40 seconds to rest in between.” You would do 20 seconds of speed squats, rest for 40 seconds, do 20 seconds of speed squats again, rest for 40 again, then finish up with your third set of 20-second speed squats and be done with this exercise. This can also be referenced as “20 seconds on, 40 seconds off.” Intervals are usually used for metabolic conditioning, circuit training, or as a challenge to finish a workout. Metabolic conditioning, also popularly known as metcon, can be an exercise that challenges you by increasing your heart rate for a short period of time to improve the efficiency of your energy systems.


Tempo is the rate of speed at which you move through the eccentric, end-range isometric, and concentric contractions of each movement. In this book, they are written in the order of the movement and in seconds. For example, if you have a goblet squat noted with (3, 1, 1), that means you will lower down into your squat for 3 seconds, hold it at the bottom for 1 second, and then return to your starting position for 1 second. Or if you have a dumbbell bent over row noted with (1, 3, 3), that means you will lift or pull the dumbbells up for 1 second, hold at the top for 3 seconds, and then lower the dumbbells back down for 3 seconds. If you see an “X” in place of a number, it means you won’t spend a lot of time in that contraction, which implies an emphasis on power or speed. If there is no tempo noted, you will be moving at a regular tempo of (1, 1, 1), a tempo is not required (like a walking exercise), or it is a timed exercise that requires a hold. Do your best to stick to the tempos prescribed.


A superset is when you do two exercises back-to-back with a rest before repeating it. Typically, it works different muscle groups or patterns alternately, so it could be a lower-body movement paired with an upper-body one or a pair of upper-body exercises alternating the movement pattern: one push and one pull. When you pair exercises like this, you can maximize your effort without overfatiguing the muscles.


Circuits are a block of three or more exercises done one after the other with short recoveries in between, and you may see them as a mix of strength, cardio, and metabolic conditioning movements. These may be broken down into repetitions or timed intervals. A lot of popular group fitness classes are taught circuit style, with a few different stations that you rotate through.

More Excerpts From Women’s Muscle & Strength