Lawrence Biscontini by Lawrence Biscontini

As health and fitness professionals, the words we use in our communication strategies not only help convey our message of health, fitness and wellness to the public, they also show how current we are as fitness role models. Here are 10 key terms that have changed over the past few years:

1. Aerobics  

Within the United States and Canada, when marketing and advertising group fitness,  “aerobics” and “water aerobics” have given way to “group fitness” and “group wellness.” To be sure, because “aerobics” means “in the presence of oxygen,” we do more than teach people how to stay alive: we engage them in cardiorespiratory, strength and flexibility training. “Fitness,” “movement,” and “conditioning” have all replaced “aerobics.” Whereas health and fitness professionals once referred to themselves as “aerobics instructors,” the terms “fitness movement specialist” and “group fitness instructor” are become increasingly more common.

2. Water Aerobics

For the liquid environment of the sea and pool, the term “aqua” does not convey the professionalism that “water” does. Using English terms (as opposed to Latin ones) for all environments creates consistency (e.g., “land-based,” “water-based” or “pool-based” programming categories).

3. Schedule

When detailing a club’s offerings, many facilities have begun replacing the words “schedule” with “menu” to emphasize a more holistic approach to class selection. Teresa Hall, group exercise manager of Nautilus Family Fitness based in Sherman, Texas, likes this change. “We often refer to the ‘menu of classes’ to encourage our members to make appropriate choices for health and wellness for cardio, strength and flexibility to achieve their goals. As in a restaurant, a menu allows you to choose from the vast array of options. Furthermore, a ‘schedule’ may be best suited for planes and trains. You’ll usually get what you order, but you have to order the right elements for your goals.”

4. The world is not “flat” or “straight.”

While parents may have told their children to “sit up straight” or “stand up with a flat back,” the fitness world now prefers to address the spine as “neutral” because we understand that the spine indeed is not a line but celebrates several, healthy curves. Indeed, many movement modalities now share a common ground in that they help clients learn just what “neutral” means. Other options for “neutral” include “tall,” “long and strong,” “extended,” and “elongated.”

Yury Rockit is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and continuing education specialist of FG2000, based in New York City. “When I hear other trainers cueing ‘flat spine’ to their clients, I wonder if they realize they are asking for the impossible,” he says. “We want to help our clients understand how to master neutral spine when they are with us, celebrating—but not exaggerating—its beautiful, natural curves, so that they can take that same mastery out of the gym into all of their daily movements without us.”

5. “Work your belly.”

Whereas “tummy,” “belly” and “stomach” may have worked in decades past, health and fitness professionals now realize that these words refer to body organs responsible for processing food, none of which figures among the events in most gym environments. “Abdominals,” “core” and “midsection musculature” now convey a much more specific approach to training because we train primarily muscles over organs.

“We want our trainers to be educated and savvy about the industry. So, if they have to learn something for a certification, it must be important,” says Tammy Crowley, owner and manager of New Day Fitness in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. “Therefore, we want them to use that very terminology with our clients. Why not spread the sanity and education instead of having terminology separately used just for fitness professionals when studying for exams?”

6. “Special Populations”

The group fitness world understands that no one size fits all. Consider this: Your class on Monday morning is called “Cardio Kickbox Kettle Bell Killer Conditioning Extreme Level 3,” and a novice who just joined the gym may still—for whatever reason—enter your class. The most seasoned group fitness leaders today realize that this is not an unusual occurrence; some participants will always make their way to a class who may not be 100% appropriate for the particular class level and description. Furthermore, with the plethora of commonplace physical issues today (joints, pregnancy, sciatica, vertigo, to name the most common) everyone fits under some sort of special population umbrella of sorts.

“Every individual is different, and every day is different,” says Jessica Matthews, professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif. “It's the group fitness leader’s responsibility to offer progressions and regressions in every movement-based class to ensure the safety, success and enjoyment of all participants.” This philosophy fuels many of Matthews’ writings for ACE, who says that “all individuals are unique and ‘special’ in some way. Consequently, instead of the attempt to label people, the ACE push for professionals to focus on being inclusive teachers and communicators ultimately ensures a more meaningful connection between the instructor and the students on multiple levels.”

7. “Modify” this.

Instead of the older, vague term “modifications,” which can be both negative and non-specific, ACE encourages health and fitness pros to integrate progressions and regressions with its participants. To be sure, instructors can use other words to convey increases and decreases in difficulty with their own terms, as long as they do not use the same term to signify an increase or a decrease e.g., the non-specific word “modification”). Vipin Chandran, owner of HIM Fitness Academy in New Delhi, India, and recipient of the Asia Fitness Convention Personal Trainer of the Year Award, agrees. “I like my participants to understand that I give regression and progression options. For example, I often substitute Starbucks metaphors. When I teach, I say ‘here’s the decaffeinated version, here’s the Venti, and here’s the triple-shot redeye special.’”

8. “Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced”

In our quest to be inclusive teachers, the terms “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced” often fall short of their intended purpose. These labels describe people instead of abilities, and our goal as movement coaches should be the latter. No length of time in a discipline should be confused with which progressions or regressions an individual chooses. For example, if a front-row, die hard member following your work for several years in a boot-camp class has shoulder issues, he or she may choose to do regressions of some particular shoulder work, at least on one side. However, calling that individual a “beginner” because he or she is regressing impact for her shoulders is a completely incorrect use of language. It’s also labeling her. If, however, as teachers we label difficulty instead of individuals, we serve to engage over alienate.

Rockit concurs and engages different abilities in almost every movement sequence. “To be really successful as a teacher, you have to make participants feel successful, and this means teaching with levels so that everyone can do some version of a movement series.  My clients know that, when I say ‘Level 1,’ these are regressions; ‘level 2’ is mostly where I teach, and ‘level 3’ are progressions for some of the athlete types. I think we should label the difficulty, not the person, which is why I avoid ‘beginner, intermediate, and advanced,’ labels, even to name class types.”

9. “Cool-down”

The first section of a class is the warm-up and has the trifold focus of preparing the body for the workout, rehearsing necessary upcoming movements and increasing core temperature. The second section is referred to as the “main section,” the “class body” or “work.” The third section, traditionally referred to as the “cool-down,” is now best described as the “final phase,” “class end” or “transition” because rarely does the focus become lowering the temperature of the participants to “cool” them. Indeed, the opposite actually proves true because to engage in static stretching, the muscles need to remain warm. Furthermore, because many participants now engage in back-to-back classes, and the ending of one class may actually serve as a warm-up for another.

10. “It” and “That”

When cueing movements to both individual and group participants, communication that engages is useful than general, distancing and non-specific cues. The table below presents some commonly used phrases on the left. While none of those cues is wrong, the cues on the right prove far more engaging and personal because they replace the non-specific word of “it” and “those” with positive nouns and possessive pronouns.

“If you watch almost any fitness workout online from years gone by, you hear common cues using the nonspecific ‘it,’” says Abbie Appel, fitness consultant and educator at AbbieFit, LLC, in Boca Raton, Fla. “Instructors today realize that specifying exactly what the ‘it’ is encourages participants to get more involved, be more present and take responsibility for their movements. When this happens, everyone achieves better results.”

Common Distancing Cue                                         Engaging Reworking           

“Let’s take it back”

“Let’s run toward the back of the room.”

“March it out.”


“Take those weights up to those shoulders.”

“Bring your weights up toward the sides of your shoulders.”

“Lift that left heel up, take it forward, and lunge it down and up.”

“Lift up your left heel and come forward, then lunge toward the floor and back.”

“Turn it down and sit back into those saddles.”

“Turn down your resistance and sit back into your saddle.”

“Don’t let those hips sag down in those planks.”

“Let’s keep our hips up in our planks.”

Updating our terminology shows that, as trainers, we are at the top of our game. Ultimately, you have to choose the words, language, tone and body language that together convey cultural communication in the most successful way possible to engage the greatest number of participants, every time.

Here’s an exercise for you: Try rephrasing the following cues based on the recommendations you just read about:

“Okay, gang, for the cool-down let’s open our arms to stretch it out and get into that chest. If you’re a beginner just modify by opening those arms a little, and if you’re advanced, take it more open. While we stretch, stand up straight and keep your belly tight.”

For additional information regarding these communication techniques, check out this free ACE course

ACE’s Personal Trainer Certification is at the forefront of innovation in our industry. Find out more about this science-based certification.


Become a
Certified Yoga

Shape minds, bodies and your career with the YogaRenew 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training & Certification.

Learn More