Exercise Nomenclature

As a 7 year old child I used to love books about animals. One of my favorites was the San Diego Zoo guidebook. Each animal’s common name was presented in boldface and immediately following it was another name in italics. I had no idea what that italicized name was and my parents couldn’t explain it to me either. Fortunately for me, my aunt and uncle lived in a duplex that they shared with a retired, widowed school teacher, Mrs. Gough. She too, loved animals and was a member of the Audobon society. Figuring that she might know what the italicized name might mean, I asked her one day.

Rene Gough explained to me that the italicized name was the scientific name, the name by which the animal was known to scientists all over the world. She further explained that the languages used for scientific names were ancient Latin and Greek which no one spoke anymore. This led me to do even more research such that my 8th grade science project became constructing phylogenetic trees of over 4,000 mammalian species. It even led me to taking 2 years of Latin in high school.

Now I understood that because some people called a cougar a cougar, others were calling it a painter, or a panther, or a mountain lion, or a pantera which could eventually lead to confusion. Scientists around the world, however, all knew the animal as Felis concolor. 

For this standardization we have to thank a 17th century Swedish biologist named Karl von Linne. Von Linne realized that with science fast becoming an international enterprise, the names of species would vary from one country to another due to language differences. To solve the problem he chose to use ancient languages, Greek and Latin, that since they were no longer spoken were highly less likely to change in meaning. He was so enamored of Latin that he changed his professional name to Carolus Linnaeus. We can thank Linnaeus for his development of the Binomial System of Nomenclature that remains the international standard for the naming of species.

Non-standardized nomenclature

We are currently at a point in the history of weightlifting where it would serve us well to take a page from Mr. Linnaeus work. We are participants in a sport with nearly 190 member nations. The official languages are English and French with working languages being I believe Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. The number of exercises available for the training of weightlifters is considerable and as such any discussion of training is subject to confusion if there is no standardization, and if the naming of exercise variations is not tied to the function or biomechanics of the movement.

Furthermore we are now in a period where relative newcomers with no sense of history and who live in a bubble are rediscovering exercises and re-naming them for what seem to be narcissistic or marketing flavored motivations.

As an example the Chinese have been observed doing pulls in which they bend their knees and drop the torso downwards at the conclusion of the movement. Because the folks in the bubble had never seen this variation (which had been a part of weightlifting training for decades), they decided to re-name it Panda Pulls because their thought processes have been commandeered

by the marketing industry. The problem is that that the new name is not descriptive in any way of the actual movement, nor how it might vary from the more common variation.

I’ve also seen instances where an old exercise is rediscovered by some bubble denizen and then renamed after himself! This is also not very descriptive of the dynamics of the movement.

Unfortunately due to social media, this naming process can spread misinformation rather rapidly.

A Revelation From the Past

Back in the 1980’s when the women’s portion of lifting was just gaining steam, there was a National +82.5 kg champion named Stephanie Armitage who was so enthusiastic about the sport that she actually spent a few months in Hungary training so that she could improve her lifting and learn as much about it as possible. I spoke with Steph upon her return and she showed me how the Hungarian coaches had lists of exercises numbered in a systematic fashion so as to avoid confusion. All snatches and snatch variations were in the 100’s. Cleans and clean variations were in the 200’s, etc. In this way there was no question about which exercise was being implemented.

It was apparent that the Hungarians (and perhaps the neighboring Romanians as well) had encountered some exercise confusion within their circle of coaches and found that numbering was the best way to avoid such misconceptions. For those of you fortunate enough to have a copy of Weightlifting For All Sports, an IWF publication by Tamas Ajan (Hungary) and Lazar Baroga (Romania), you might have seen those numbers next to the exercises in the sample training programs. Well those are the code numbers that Steph brought back to the U.S. (For the rest of you, that book is out of print and you will have to wait for some elderly lifting enthusiast to die and hope that the spouse puts it up for sale on e-Bay).


What is sorely needed right now is an exercise glossary assembled by a panel of experts (No bubble guys, please!) with codes, exercise descriptions and videos. This will go a long way toward providing some standard practices for the sport and hopefully putting the bubble guys out of their self-indulgence.