Athletic Training

| May 30, 2021

Wellness ABCs Part 1

When starting your wellness journey, or even when you’re already far into one, there are many terms in the world of fitness, nutrition, health etc. that you come across.

By Trevor Mah

Read time: 7 min.

When starting your wellness journey, or even when you’re already far into one, there are many terms in the world of fitness, nutrition, health etc. that you come across. While some terms are easy to interpret on their own, there are a lot of other words that may not mean the same thing. In addition, you’ll also come across many acronyms that have different meanings in the context of health and training.

To avoid having this become a physiology definition index page, I will simplify as much as possible to get the main points across and provide some reasoning on why they are important. Many of these terms can easily be looked up, so chances are, I will skip over some extraneous details.

To make things easier, this will be an ongoing series going over some common, uncommon, and perhaps some abstract terms that may come your way. To start off part one, here are a few to start with by explaining what they mean and how it can potentially be important for your wellness goals.

For the master list, please visit here:

In really no particular order at all, let’s begin:

This may seem pretty straightforward in light of recent restrictions from current global circumstances. By simply placing either “low”, “moderate”, or “high” to precede intensity, it can be interpreted as the amount of effort applied.

However, from a training standpoint intensity refers to the load (noted as weight) used in an exercise. This can be noted as the actual weight lifted, but is more commonly expressed as a percentage of your 1 rep max (1RM). Essentially anything from around 85%+ of your maximum can be defined as high intensity, despite the perceived effort of the lifter. There is an obvious correlation with actual effort, but that is generally relative.

This confusion is also represented in another popular training acronym: HIIT (high intensity interval training). Popularized by group fitness and boutique classes, intensity in this sense, is meant to be based on effort in short bursts.

Another term that is related is HIT (high intensity training) which is not to be confused as the same thing as HIIT. In this case, this is where the traditional training definition of intensity relating to load is more correct.

HIT: Dean’s 100% maximum deadlift is 600lbs (his 1RM) which is very intense. He follows it up with a 400lb bench press (with no spotter), after a 3 minute break. This sequence is considered to be high intensity training for his workout.
HIIT: Dean squats 300lbs for 10 reps (~70% of his 1RM), then performs 15 pull-ups, followed by a 200 meter hill sprint. He then repeats this 5 more times until he is utterly exhausted. This short circuit workout is considered high intensity but you can see how the term can make you consider his effort over the amount he lifts (assuming each individual exercise is not overly demanding for him alone).

How can knowing this help you?
If you are a trainer, then the distinction is something you would already know. For most people, this isn’t really important as long as you know which one you are truly referring to in your program. For an advanced lifter with a periodized program, intensity will be an important factor in your strength related goals as it is a measurement of your abilities. Distinguishing that from actual effort (such as RPE or RIR), will give you a more comprehensive overview of your training.

RPE: Rate of Perceived Exertion
In a natural segue from intensity, RPE is a common measure of effort of an exercise. RPE is normally based on a scale, usually 1-10 (with 10 being the highest). Having a general baseline for what you lift and how difficult it is for you provides information about how much you should be lifting in various phases of your training.

Dean has an RPE of 5 with deadlift 500lbs. It doesn’t feel like much so he can likely go up a significant amount to challenge himself.
Dean now records an RPE of 9 with deadlifting 605lbs. Even though that is his PR, he might be able to push it even further since it’s the first time he has ever done it. So who knows by how much more it will take for him to consider it an RPE of 10?

How can knowing this help you?
Tracking your RPE for each exercise in your journal can give you an idea of how much you may be progressing. Perhaps lifting the same weight the next week has a lower RPE than the week before would indicate that you are becoming more adept to the load. If RPE remains the same, then it could signal something else that may need attention to get over the hump. Of course, keep in mind that RPE is only effective if you are truly honest with yourself.

SAID: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand

A concept about how stress applied to muscles, nervous system, connective tissues, etc. through exercise will elicit a change in the body to adapt through increased strength and/or muscle size. This is essentially the basis for progressive overload, where continuous application of stress (exercise) would allow you to see positive changes. Sure this sounds more of a quick scientific definition, and you probably won’t hear it too often (unless you are working with a trainer who loves terminology), but if things are stagnant, consider what you are doing to your body and really ask yourself, “is this leading to the change I want to see?”

How can knowing this help you?
When it comes to goal setting, keeping SAID in mind will help you better understand your programming. SAID governs all changes to the body that occurs with training. Having proper goals will not only provide a path forward, but also define your efforts so you reach your goals efficiently. Because you don’t want to just waste time and wait for them to happen right?

For example, if your goal is to increase lean muscle mass, then the majority of the demand imposed will come from exercises that hit your major muscle groups, an intensity around 75-85% of your 1RM, and high protein intake. If everything is going accordingly, then your body will start to see changes over time as you improve on aspects such as your exercise execution, weight lifted, and general muscle memory.

Tempo and Time Under Tension (TUT)

Both these terms are related to one another. Tempo is essentially your lifting speed per rep of an exercise. Normally, this number is recorded in 4 digits X-X-X-X where each X is the number of seconds during the movement..
First X: # of seconds in the initial movement
Second X: # of seconds held at the end of the initial movement
Third X: # of seconds in the opposite direction of the first movement
Fourth X: # of seconds held after before the next repetition

While this is one explanation of the order of the 4 numbers, traditionally it can also be expressed as:
First X: # of seconds of the eccentric (lowering) of the movement
Second X: # of seconds held at the end of the eccentric movement
Third X: # of seconds of the concentric (lifting) movement
Fourth X: # of seconds held after the lift before the next repetition

For example, a bench press tempo of 2-1-1-0 can be explained as:
2 seconds to lower the bar to the chest
1 second pause at the bottom
1 second to press the weight back up
0 seconds at the top (no rest, straight to the next rep starting with a 2 second lowering)

How can knowing this help you?
Tempo is a training variable that is often ignored but is actually one of the most crucial when it comes to hypertrophy (increase in muscle). There are many different studies out there on effective tempos for certain exercises and programs. The time under tension (TUT) is the total time spent performing your set. In the bench press example above, the math equates to 4 seconds total per rep. If 10 reps are performed, that is a total of 40 seconds of time under tension. For general hypertrophy work, evidence shows around 40-70 seconds TUT as the optimal time.

Having a prescribed lifting speed helps you develop control of the movement. For novice trainees, being accustomed to tempo in your programs can help build a solid habit and form in your lifts. Many people, even long-term lifters, often lift their sets too quickly. Having tempo can slow you down and really get you to feel the exercise. Other applications in tempo prescription include overcoming sticking points in lifts, eccentric focus movements, and ballistic training to name a few. (Note: for explosive lifts, X is a common notation to signify eXplosive movement such as a jump, basically faster than 1 second).

EPOC - Excess Post-Oxygen Consumption
Okay, so perhaps you don’t come across this term often. It’s certainly not printed on any machines, and it likely doesn’t come up in small talk at the gym. However, EPOC is something that is always occurring even if it isn’t explicitly acknowledged. Cutting to the chase, EPOC is the afterburn effect of your body to recover itself back to baseline levels from training. Assuming you trained hard enough that your body will super-compensate by improving your baseline (training appropriately to see results towards your goals), EPOC is your body doing the work to recover.

How can knowing this help you?
Results happen during your recovery phase, not while you are actively training during your workout. That is why you see athlete’s really focus on factors such as proper nutrition and sleep. While at rest, your body is building itself back up. For example, weight loss goals related to EPOC is like the afterburn -- expending a lot of energy (calories) to bring your body back to normal (or higher) so you are ready for the next time. Even with the hardest workouts, you will be burning more calories during a proper rest than you do during the workout. Understanding this will help you gain perspective on making sure you don’t skimp out on well needed rest and subsequently, prevent yourself from overtraining.

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