Exercise ABCs – Don’t Let Terminology Put You Off!

Exercise ABCs – Don’t Let Terminology Put You Off

So, you’ve made the decision to include exercise (or more of it) in your daily routine – congratulations! Now, the next step – a determination not be put off by the baffling terminology that can come with a formal exercise plan. From ‘reps’ to ‘recovery,’ and ‘HITs’ to ‘heart rates’ it’s enough to overwhelm anyone. So let’s get you started with some basic definitions, especially as they apply to seniors!

Note: not all exercise programmes use terminology in the same way. Be sure to check with your instructor (or instructions) as to whether the following general terms apply to your training programme. And always check with your medical professional before beginning any exercise plan.


Cardio exercise is any exercise which raises your heart rate. When you carry out cardio exercise, you’ll find yourself breathing harder than usual. Among other benefits, cardio exercise has the potential to strengthen your heart and keep your arteries clearer.


Endurance exercises are designed to increase your heart rate and rate of breathing. They can be either weight-bearing or non weight-bearing, and can include swimming, dancing, brisk walking, and cycling.

Heart rate

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. It varies according to whether you are resting or active. Knowing your resting and active heart rate before beginning an exercise programme can provide a useful reference to help you monitor progress. As a general rule, you can expect your resting heart rate to decrease as you become fitter.


HIT (high intensity training) involves short bursts of vigorous activity that really work the heart for a brief period of seconds or minutes. Each burst is followed by a period of ‘recovery’. For example, a high intensity exercise may involve walking briskly for a minute whereby it is difficult to conduct a conversation with your walking companion, then recovering for a minute before repeating. High intensity exercise can sound scary, but it can be suitable for all ages because ‘high’ is relative to the individual carrying out the activity. While any activity can improve health, high intensity exercise can be especially beneficial for seniors.


‘Recovery’ refers to the ‘rest’ period between one ‘rep’ or ‘set of reps’ and another. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will be resting completely because ‘recovery’ often refers to a change to a less demanding exercise such as a period of ‘slow-walking’ between sets of ‘brisk-walking.’


Reps is exercise-lingo for ‘repeats,’ and it refers to the repetition of one single exercise (such as brisk walking for 1 minute). One brisk walk of a minute is 1 rep. Two brisk walks of a minute is 2 reps. Reps are often interspersed with ‘recovery’.


A set (set of exercises) is a collection of reps (repeats). For example, walking briskly for 1 minute repeated by another 1 minute of brisk walking could comprise a ‘set.’ Your instructions may ask you to repeat this ‘set’ a certain number of times before you take a rest.

Non weight-bearing

Non weight-bearing exercise involves activities that don’t load the bones with your own or added weight, but they can still help increase your cardio fitness. Exercise which doesn’t involve you supporting the entire weight of your body include swimming, cycling, rowing, and chair-based exercises.


Weight-bearing exercise involves your body bearing your own weight (and any weight you add to it). It’s designed to strengthen bones – but it’s not suitable for everyone. Weight-bearing exercise includes dancing, walking, gardening, tai chi, and some forms of yoga.

Exercise terminology has the potential to throw you off course, but don’t let it. Educate yourself about basic terminology so you can follow instructions safely and with confidence.