Exercise and fitness vocabulary

Autumn is here, and for some of us that means getting back to the gym and developing a fitness routine. But what language do you need to know if you’re talking about fitness and exercise? Let’s look at useful exercise and fitness vocabulary you can use to talk about your autumn exercise routine and the different stages of it. 


Setting goals 

Why are you heading to the gym? What do you want to achieve? 

Your motivation might be one of the following:

  • to get fit or stay fit. This means to maintain your current level of fitness or to improve it so that you feel healthier and fitter. 
  • to tone up or bulk up. To tone up means to make your muscles more defined so that you can see them more. To bulk up means to increase muscle mass, or to get bigger.
  • to shed some weight/pounds/kilos. If your fitness routine is about losing weight, you can say you want to shed some (weight/pounds/kilos) or lose some (weight/pounds/kilos).
  • to build stamina. Stamina is the strength and energy that allows you to sustain physical or mental effort for long periods of time. If you build or increase your stamina, you are aiming to reduce the amount of stress on your body and mind during an activity. 

Describing your gym routine

If you’re discussing exercise and fitness in English, you might hear the following exercise vocabulary words and phrases:

  • (light) cardio. Cardio exercises are activities like jogging, cycling or skipping, or anything that gets your heart rate up. You might do light cardio exercises which increase your heart rate slightly, to heavy cardio which gets your heart beating very fast. 
  • do weights. This involves lifting weights – which are heavy objects you see in the gym. When you do weights, you’ll often hear about reps (short for repetitions) and sets. For example, 10 reps means you’re lifting the weight ten times, and 3 sets indicates you’re repeating the exercise three times.
  • work on legs/arms. This means focusing on exercises specifically for your leg or arm muscles.
  • rest day. An essential part of any fitness routine is a rest day. It’s the day you take off to let your muscles and body recover.


Injuries and changes

As with any physical activity, there are times you might face injuries or need to make changes to your routine. Here’s some useful vocabulary related to health and language to talk about adjustments. 

  • Muscle aches. After a workout, you might feel some pain or discomfort in your muscles. To minimise this, always warm up (prepare your body with some light exercises) before starting and cool down (gradual slowing of exercise intensity) after you finish your exercise. 
  • Pull a muscle. This is an injury where a muscle is overstretched or torn. If you hear someone say they’ve pulled a muscle, it means they’ve injured themselves and need to rest that particular muscle.
  • Add on time/weight. As you progress on your physical exercise journey, you might want to increase the duration of your workout to build stamina or add on weight to the weights you’re lifting.
  • Follow a strict diet. Alongside exercise, nutrition plays a crucial role. If you’re following a strict diet, it means you’re being very particular about what you eat.
  • Stretching. After a workout, stretching is important, to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension.

Using this useful exercise and fitness vocabulary is helpful for talking about your physical activity and exercise routine. Not only will you find it easier to understand and explain your routines with these exercise vocabulary words, but you’ll also be able to engage in fun fitness conversations with friends or trainers. Here’s to a fit and fabulous season ahead!

Check out more language for fitness and wellbeing here. 

Do you know any other language for talking about your exercise routine? Share below! 



Match the language to the correct definition. 

  1. Build stamina 
  2. Pull a muscle. 
  3. Work on legs/arms. 
  4. Rest day. 
  5. Cardio.
  6. Tone up. 
  7. Stay fit. 
  8. Shed some kilos. 
  9. Stretching. 
  10. Bulk up. 


    1. Activities that increase your heart rate. 
    2. To increase your physical and mental ability to exercise for long periods. 
    3. To lose weight. 
    4. When you focus on one particular part of the body during exercise. 
    5. When your muscle is overstretched or torn. 
    6. To make your muscles more visible and defined. 
    7. When you relax and do not exercise on that particular day. 
    8. Maintain your current level of fitness. 
    9. Something you do after exercise to try to avoid muscle tension. 
    10. To get bigger. 



  1. B
  2. E
  3. D
  4. G
  5. A
  6. H
  7. C
  8. I
  9. J


Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

One thought

  1. I consider that this kind of vocabulary is very useful not only for teaching English, but also, to teach students meaningful words or phrases for their real life. It is something that they may use if they travel abroad or for a outdoor class here in the institution.
    Thanks for this material.

    Teacher Hugo Timaran.

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