How do exercises get their names?
Updated: Apr 12
When it comes to fitness, there's one thing that most people can agree on: exercises come and go. You can always spot a trend in the fitness world when you see a new exercise popping up at every gym—and then just as quickly disappearing again. I'm sure we've all heard of "the Romanian Deadlift" or "the Pendlay Row" before, but have you ever wondered how these exercises got their names?
A lot of the time, exercises are named after the coaches who designed them (or their athletes), named to reflect their popularity, or where it was created. And sometimes, an exercise has had many different names before landing on the name that stuck.
The Romanian Deadlift is a prime example of this last point. Before it was called the Romanian Deadlift, it was also known as a variation of the Deadlift Reach. And the Deadlift Reach? That was just a variation on Straight Legged Deadlifts. Whew.
The Pendlay Row is just another version of a Bent Row, developed by USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame coach Glenn Pendlay. A Bent Row is any kind of row that's done while pulling an object and bent forward at the waist. Any number of variations on this movement can be done: bent-over barbell rows, bent-over dumbbell rows, or even kettlebell or trap-bar versions.
The history of fitness is littered with stories about how things came to be called what they are called today. Most of these "exercises" have absolutely nothing to do with what we know today as an exercise and are instead related to a person or place.
When people began to lift weights, they were simply trying to get stronger or develop more power. They were inventing exercises and movements as they went, often based on what they saw strong men doing in the field or in town. Before long, these basic movements started to get named after their innovators and/or affected areas: Blackburns (named after the guy who invented it), the Vince Gironda curl (named after Vince Gironda), and Bulgarian Split Squats (a staple exercise done by many). These are just a few examples of how fitness exercises got their names.
So what does this mean for you? Well, for one thing—if you're going to be working with an athlete or coach, it's especially important for you to build language around fitness exercises. These short naming conventions are very beneficial. Want to target the hamstrings more? Then you should substitute or add Romanian Deadlifts. Imagine trying to explain over and over again the proper way to perform a Z-Press, or a Zottman Curl (this is a tough one). So these naming conventions make it easy and efficient to look up a video or substitute quickly.
The faster you and your coach create that lexicon around naming exercises the faster you can get to training.