8 Frequently Confused Fitness Terms Explained | NoobStrength | Santa Monica

Frequently Confused Fitness Terms Explained

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Do you think fitness is confusing? Well, the good news is, you're not alone. There are just so many strange fitness terms out there that it's very difficult to know exactly what they all mean. While it may seem like that the world has made a lot of progress in the realm of fitness in the last little bit, the sudden appearance of all these new fitness terms has only served to confuse people even further.

From P90X to CrossFit to TRX and all those superhero movies with really jacked/ripped actors, you’d think that most people would be reasonably educated when it comes to common fitness terms, especially where I live (the Westside in Los Angeles).

I mean, in West LA there are CrossFit boxes and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools popping up like 2 blocks away from each other!

But unfortunately, that is not the case. Despite the numerous magazine articles or websites that promote celebrity workouts, tips to instantly get abs or other miscellaneous mumbo jumbos, there seems to be a curious level of confusion amongst the general population when it comes to the actual definition of certain fitness terms.

Fortunately for all you confused people out there, I am here to fix that.

(On a side note, this article is available in video format so you can watch it here on my YouTube channel!)

1) Toning vs. 2) Fat Loss

Ahh yes. Toning. When people list their fitness goals, toning is usually one of them alongside building muscle, losing fat, increasing strength and what not. The funny thing is, “toning” and losing fat is exactly the same thing.

When people think of toning, they usually mean that they want to see more definition in their muscles.

Basically, they want to see more of the lines and separations. But what is something that could be preventing those lines from being visible?

That’s right you guessed it: fat. Specifically subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that is underneath your skin.

The only way to reduce the amount of subcutaneous fat and see the lines and separations in your muscles is to..well..lose fat overall!

So you see, toning and losing fat are actually the same goal. And because they are the same goal, there is absolutely no difference in how you should train to tone versus to lose fat.

Now you know.

3) Strength vs. 4) Power

Ah yes. Strength & Power. These fitness terms are often used together and generally confused by the general public. In fact, I've had friends who are otherwise pretty active mix up these fitness terms.

Captain America’s helicopter scene is an example of strength

Captain America’s helicopter scene is an example of strength

Strength is defined as the ability to exert force against an external load.

The more force you can exert, the stronger you are.

You can also think of strength as the ability to move heavy shit.

Let's say you are doing a 70lb dumbbell row. The dumbbell is the external load. You are exerting force when you try to pull the dumbbell towards your chest. If you can exert enough force to move the dumbbell, then you have sufficient strength to move that particular dumbbell. If you can’t then you have insufficient strength to move it because you don’t have the ability to exert enough force against that particular external load.

Thor’s hammer throw is an example of power

Thor’s hammer throw is an example of power

Strength movements are generally slow and steady and have the lifter maintain a strong connection throughout the exercise. Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and other various lifts are examples of strength exercises.

When you do any of those lifts (assuming your form is correct), you maintain a high level of tension throughout the entire exercise. There is no explosiveness involved. If there is explosiveness involved, then it is power and not strength. Interestingly enough, strength is frequently confused with power.

I once met someone who described boxing as something he did to increase strength. But as we know, throwing a punch involves being explosive. You have to explode your first into the target. And as you know now, there is no explosiveness when it comes to strength.

Essentially, Strength + Explosiveness = Power.

Power is defined as the ability to express strength quickly. Examples include jumping, kettlebell swings, punches, kicks, and the Olympic lifts. In exercises that build power, the lifter very briefly loses connection with the weight (or external load) before moving back into a position of high stability.

Let’s break it down.

Think of the kettlebell swing (tutorial here) and the deadlift (tutorial here).

The kettlebell swing is a power exercise and the deadlift is a strength exercise. They both start in the same position (the hip hinge). However, in order for the lifter to a do kettlebell swing, they must explosively engage their hip musculature, generating power. As the lifter thrusts their hips, they briefly disconnect with the weight. The power generated is what swings the kettlebell up. The lifter must then connect with the weight again in order to bring it down safely. If the lifter is capable of generating more power, the kettlebell will likely swing higher. The opposite is true if they can’t generate as much power.

5) Bodybuilding vs. 6) Weightlifting vs. 7) Powerlifting

Example of Bodybuilder

Example of Bodybuilder

These fitness terms are actually entirely different sports altogether. Confusing them would be like saying baseball, rounders, and cricket are the same things. On the surface, they appear very similar, but in reality, they are quite different. Baseball, rounders, and cricket all involve hitting a ball with some kind of bat or stick. Bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting all involve the actual moving of weights.

Bodybuilding refers to the sport of building an aesthetic body and then going on stage to pose in front of judges and audiences.

It is exactly what it sounds like: building your body.

Bodybuilding focuses entirely on how the muscles look. It doesn’t matter how strong or powerful the individual actually is.

Now typically, a bodybuilder does incorporate strength & power exercises into their routines to achieve their look. However, the judges don’t grade them on how much they can lift. They only care how the bodybuilders look.

Example of Powerlifter

Example of Powerlifter

Powerlifting is a sport that basically involves people competing to see who can back squat, bench press and deadlift the most weight for a single repetition. As a result of this, the back squat, bench press, and deadlift are commonly referred to as the powerlifts.

Here is where the confusing part comes in. As you know, strength and power is not the same thing and the powerlifts are clearly strength exercises. It’s just really strange that the sport is named “powerlifting” and not “strengthlifting”, which would have been more appropriate. Maybe whoever came up with the name was totally stoned at the time. Who knows?

Weightlifting, in the fitness world, is just another name for the sport of Olympic Lifting aka Olympic Weightlifting aka Oly Lifting.

Yes, it’s the weightlifting you see in the Olympics.

Olympic Weightlifting consists of two moves: the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. Those moves are both power exercises because they require the weight to be moved explosively.

So why didn’t they just call it “powerlifting”? Well, maybe because powerlifting was already taken. But honestly, who knows.

Example of Weightlifter

Example of Weightlifter

The confusing part is if a non-fitness person were to talk to a fitness person about weightlifting. Weightlifting sounds like the literal moving of weights, which is how a normal person would interpret that term. A fitness person, on the other hand, would likely associate it with Olympic lifting, resulting in confused looks all around.

Thankfully because you read this article, you are now part of the newly enlightened general population.

8) “Functional Training”

Now, this is a really funny one.

Functional training, theoretically, is defined as training that allows you to perform your daily activities more easily and effectively.

The interesting thing is that different people don’t exactly have the same daily activities. What is functional for one person may not be functional for another. Of course, there are the basic things such as pushing, pulling, and squatting that everyone needs to know how to do, but there are some things that are not as needed yet are marketed as “functional”.

“Functional Training”

“Functional Training”

Sadly because of this, “functional” has devolved into a hot new marketing term that fitness companies slap on to their product in a desperate attempt to get more sales. Everything is “functional” these days! And if moving your hands in a vigorous up and down motion is a daily occurrence for you, then the shake weight is indeed functional for you! You must be very pleased with the results.

For the rest of you, you can just ignore the word “functional”. This particular fitness term is so widespread and bastardized that it doesn’t really mean anything. You will have to decide for yourself if an exercise or workout style will help you improve your life.

And there you have it! You now have the necessary knowledge to properly navigate the world of fitness and strength. If you come across someone who has not yet been familiarized with this terminology, share this article with them! I dream of a world where everyone has the bare minimum fitness know-how to get themselves in shape. Obesity probably doesn’t exist in that world. Help me make this a reality. Share this with a friend!

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I’m a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer and StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor based in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. I offer 1-on-1 personal training, group/couples training, and online fitness coaching!

If you’re interested in working with me or have any questions, feel free to reach out!