Gym acronyms: what HIIT, METCON and AMRAP really mean (and 4 others that need explaining too)

Posted by for Strong Women

Don’t know your DOMS from your AMRAP? The fitness scene loves a good acronym – and Strong Women writer and PT Miranda Larbi is here to explain what they all mean.

Some fitness terms and workouts have long, off-putting names that make them sound a lot more complicated and inaccessible than they really are. To save time, they’ve been condensed into small acronyms that are easy to remember and understand.

We’ve gathered the most common acronyms that are worth learning. It’s not just about nailing the gym lingo, though. Some of these terms refer to ways of training that can transform your workouts and if your usual workout isn’t feeling that challenging anymore, you might find a little inspiration here.

METCON – metabolic conditioning

METCON was made famous by the CrossFit community but it’s a style of training that you can do whatever your gym situation. It’s short bouts of higher-intensity training designed to increase your metabolic capacity. That means that you’re priming your body to use more of its own energy. Because they’re short, sharp and intense, METCON workouts tend to be added on at the end of your regular session as a finisher. You want to keep your rest short and your work hard.

Try an at-home circuit of:

  • squat jumps
  • diamond press-ups (forefingers and thumbs touching to make a diamond shape rather than hands apart)
  • burpees
  • walking planks
  • jumping lunges

Go for 40 seconds each with a five-second rest in between, two rounds.

Strong woman squatting with pony tail

AMRAP – as many reps as possible

Timers at the ready – this is about how many rounds or reps you can do in the allotted time. The good thing about AMRAP workouts in classes is that everyone gets to work at their own pace so you’re only ever competing against yourself. It’s also a great way to measure your progress; you may only complete two rounds on your first session but after a few months, might get through four.

A classic ten-minute AMRAP might be:

1. 10 push-ups

2. 10 squat jumps

3. 10 jumping lunges

4. 10 toe touches (a legs-up crunch to the toes) 

EMOM – every minute on the minute

This is a type of interval workout which involves doing a specific task at the start of every minute for a set amount of time. Let’s say you’re asked to do ten push-ups starting on the minute. It may only take you 30 seconds to finish them, meaning that you’ve got another 30 seconds to recover before the next set. Sounds easy, right? As the rounds go on, however, you might find yourself getting more tired so it gets harder to finish the set quickly in order to get that break. That’s when the real work starts – tapping into those reserves and teaching the body to recover quicker and to take in oxygen more efficiently.

The good thing about EMOM is that it’s an easy means of measuring progress. You might start off struggling to finish your exercise before having to start the next set but before too long, you’ll start to gain more recovery time as you get fitter and you’ll find that you can go for more sets before you get tired.

HIIT – high-intensity training

Given how time-poor and stressed many of us are, it’s no wonder that HIIT has become all the rage in recent years. Typically lasting for under 30 minutes, it’s a short and sharp mode of training that relies on you giving between 70% and 90% of your overall maximum effort with very small breathing breaks. The obvious benefit is that you can get the maximal health benefits in minimal time. But HIIT also preps the body for burning fuel after you’ve finished working out; studies have shown that HIIT can increase your metabolic rate for hours after you’ve left the gym – more so than with jogging and weight training. It can also reduce your blood sugar, reduce blood pressure and improve the way in which your muscles use and access oxygen.

However, HIIT isn’t something everyone should do every day. Because it’s such high intensity, it can put a lot of stress on the system so it’s worth keeping HIIT in your exercise toolkit but not relying on it exclusively.


BMI – body mass index

There once was a time when GPs and gyms relied on BMI to tell whether a person was “healthy” or not. Your BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared. Anything over 25 is deemed “overweight” and anything under 18.5 is “underweight”.

The problem with this measurement is that it operates on a “weight = health” basis, which we know isn’t correct. You could be smashing CrossFit four times a week and packed out with lean muscle yet come up as dramatically “overweight” based on your height-to-weight ratio. Similarly, you might be incredibly unfit and unhealthy but fit into the “normal” weight box. When it comes to health and fitness, weight has very little relevance. You’re much better off looking at specific fitness-related measurements to track your progress, rather than relying on arbitrary aesthetic or weight-related goals.

DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness

Ever wake up a day or two after a brutal workout and find that you can barely move your legs or arms? That’s DOMs for you. The soreness tends to kick in 24-72 hours after exercise and although it might be painful, it tends to be a sign that you did something right.

DOMs kick in when you’ve gone hard in the gym or you’ve tried a new kind of workout that your body isn’t accustomed to yet. When we exercise, we create micro-tears in our muscles so that they grow back stronger and firmer; DOMs happen as a result of temporary inflammation around your overworked muscles trying to heal them.

The best way to treat the ache is to have a soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts. They’re rich in magnesium and that’s the mineral that helps to widen your blood vessels and speeds up recovery. Oh, and magnesium is also great for getting a better night’s sleep so if you’re an evening exerciser, a magnesium bath is the perfect workout finisher.

EPOC – excess post-exercise oxygen consumption

At the end of a long car ride, the engine stays warm for a while – even after the car’s stopped moving. Your body is a bit like that; after exercise, your inner machine (metabolism) continues to burn energy even when you’re resting. That process is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and refers to the amount of oxygen needed to restore your body back to its normal state (called homeostasis). The more oxygen it needs, the more energy the body burns.

EPOC is influenced by the intensity and not the duration of the workout, which is why HIIT is such an effective form of exercise. Even after a session is over, your body will try to use oxygen to replenish spent energy pathways – racking up the total cost of the exercise session.

RPE – rate of perceived exertion

There are various ways to measure how hard you’re working, but the simplest and arguably most effective for the average gym user is RPE. It’s a scale running from one to ten to describe how easy or difficult the activity you’re finding the activity you’re doing. One might be lying in bed doing absolutely nothing, while ten is going completely flat out like your life depends on it. For warm-ups, you want to be working around the three-four mark, steady cardio should be at five-seven while HIIT or interval sessions want to be up at eight-nine for short periods.

PBs – personal best

If you follow any runners on Instagram, you’ll have seen them bang on about their “new PB”. All that means is that they’ve run their fastest time (or personal best) over a particular distance. You can get a PB in lots of different activities, from lifting your heaviest weight at the gym to swimming your fastest length.

(Images: Getty, Instagram)

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