The Confusing Terminology of Gyms and Exercise Studios


You sign up for your first class down at the local gym. You get there early so you have time to change into your workout clothes and get warmed up. Waiting for class to begin proves an interesting exercise as you listen to the conversations around you. Confusing terminology that almost seems like a foreign language fills the air.

The language of the local gym and exercise studio is rife with acronyms and obscure vocabulary. Some of the terms do not even have clear definitions and are ambiguous enough to be open to interpretation. As such, it takes full immersion in the workout world to understand what everyone else is talking about.

As an illustration of the confusing nature of exercise studio lingo, this post presents a number of commonly used terms among exercise gurus. They are compliments of Salt Lake City’s Mcycle, an indoor cycling studio with classes for all levels.


One of the more common acronyms you will find in cycling studios and gyms alike is HIIT. It stands for ‘high intensity interval training’. High intensity refers to the amount of energy you expend. An interval is an amount of time spent at a given level of exertion.

An HIIT cycling routine may have you pedaling as hard as you can for 20-30 seconds at a time. You pedal less intensely for the next half-minute or so, then slow down even more for another brief interval.


Tabata is a form of HIIT exercise with a greater focus on maximum effort for short bursts of time. Where a typical HIIT workout varies intensity levels through several intervals of varying lengths, Tabata is all about pushing yourself to the maximum for 20-30 seconds followed by little to no effort for the next minute or so.


RPE stands for ‘rate of perceived exertion’. It is an ambiguous term that generally refers to intensity, but there are no hard and fast rules clearly defining what intensity actually is. That is why the word ‘perceived’ is so important here.

Measuring your own RPE is simply an acknowledgment of how hard you think you are working. What you perceive as an intensity level of five out of ten might be perceived by your cycling class instructor as a three. Perception is everything.

Intensity Terms

This post will close with a description of four terms used to describe intensity. Again, a lot of this is up to individual perception.

  • Easy – Easy intensity is generally defined as a level of intensity you could maintain all day long. In an indoor cycling scenario, imagine simulating a flat road with little resistance.
  • Moderate – Moderate intensity should require at least a little work and somewhat heavier breathing. You can probably maintain it for a lengthy period of time, if not all day.
  • Hard – A hard intensity level suggests that you are actually working a lot. Your breathing gets heavier and talking, though possible, is uncomfortable. Key to this level of intensity is that you know you couldn’t maintain it all day long.
  • All-Out – If you are going all-out, you are working as hard as you possibly can. You are giving maximum effort while still being able to properly move your body. So if you’re riding a stationary bike, you are still able to pedal with proper technique.

There are a lot more gym and exercise studio terms where these came from. Needless to say that you might not understand the conversations down at your local gym if you don’t know the language. But stick around long enough and you will catch on.

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