Exercise Terminology, The Need for Standardization of Terms
Exercise science is a field of study. This means that claims need to be backed up with research, and exercise terminology must be really precise so as not to cause confusion or inappropriate assumptions while scientists and medical professionals try to find the answers to how our bodies work. Much of the content and messaging you hear doesn’t come from exercise science, however–it comes from the marketing of the fitness industry. This industry isn’t regulated the way the medical profession is. Buns of Steel, 6 Minute Abs, Beach Body coaches and Tony Horton in the P90X videos aren’t required to give out fitness information that is accurate or scientifically meaningful. (See our posts on “core exercises” and “muscle confusion” for prime examples.) These businesses are developed to generate money at the expense of the ignorance of the general public. It is important to recognize when you’re getting health and fitness information from a lifestyle brand, and when you’re getting it from a qualified source.
One side effect of lifestyle brands pushing fitness information is that they use exercise terminology interchangeably, which gives people the impression that they are exercising when they’re not. For example, people often talk about taking walks and walking the dog as being good exercise, when in fact it is really just transportation or physical activity. Let’s take a look at some common fitness terms that are often misunderstood, and give their scientific definition.
The Scientific Definition of Exercise Terminology
“A specific activity that stimulates a positive physiological adaptation that serves to enhance fitness and health and does not undermine the latter in the process of enhancing the former. (Body by Science, Doug McGuff, M.D. and John Little)
Let’s break this down a bit. Exercise is exercise when it stimulates a positive adaptation that enhances fitness and health, and does not undermine your health. So, taking a walk is activity, but is it exercise? Only if it creates a beneficial adaptation in your body, such as your muscles and/or cardiovascular system to getting stronger. For most people, taking a leisurely walk will not prompt much change or adaptation, because you are capable of walking at the pace and distance so a walk does not offer much challenge or stimulus.
Exercise also does not cause harm, which means that risky or repetitive activities do not fit under this definition of exercise, either. (Remember, exercise should never come with the expectation of getting hurt. Exercise injury isn’t normal, necessary, or acceptable.) For example, the pounding, jolting action of running and the repetitive movements in tennis are both known to commonly cause overuse injuries. High risk sports like CrossFit and rugby are also known to commonly cause injury, and so they also can’t be said to fit under this definition of exercise.
Please leave a response, we would love to start discussion on creating a standardization of exercise terminology.