What Are ‘Gains’ in Fitness? (Gym terminology explained)

What are gains in fitness?

Stop me if you’ve heard these before:

“Nice gains, bro!”

“Cardio is killing your gains!”


You can’t step foot in a gym or even look at a set of weights without hearing the word.

But what are gains in fitness and lifting?

Gains is just another way of describing your progress in the gym. Usually, the term refers to muscle growth (muscle gains) or gaining strength (strength gains). Though you could easily use “gains” to describe your improvement in endurance, cardio, or pretty much anything else related to fitness.

Let’s talk a little bit of a closer look at this funky word and how it got so popular.

What Qualifies As “Gains”?

Simply put, almost anything!

The term gains initially started circulating among gym-bros years ago specifically in reference to how much muscle they were adding to their bodies.

In the beginning, muscle gains were the only kind of gains!

But today, gains can mean almost anything where you’ve seen improvement, specifically related to fitness (though it doesn’t have to be).

You can make gains in:

  • Muscle size
  • Strength
  • Definition
  • Fat loss
  • Diet
  • Cardio
  • Endurance
  • Speed
  • Abs
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • (Any body part, really)
  • And so, so much more

If it’s something you can improve in, you can make “mad gainz” in it. (Yeah, at some point people started spelling it with a “z”)

The term has even started to dovetail with mainstream culture. You can make academic gains, financial gains, relationship gains, self-improvement gains, and more!

Just replace the word “gains” with “progress” or “improvement” and you’ll get the idea.

Is It Possible to Lose Your Gains?

Gains are a good thing, and usually, you hear people talking about how awesome their gains are and how proud they are of them.

But the other context you’re likely to hear the word “gains” in is in terms of losing them.

What does it mean to lose your gains?

Basically, it means to go backward or lose progress toward some fitness-related goal.

Specifically, in the context of weightlifting, you could feasibly lose your gains by:

  • Taking a really long break from the gym
  • Blowing your diet or nutrition
  • Injuring yourself
  • Trying a crappy program
  • Drinking too much alcohol and partying too much
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Doing too much cardio
  • And more

You can lose cardio gains quite easily if you don’t keep up with your conditioning. You can lose your diet gains by binge-eating.

Gains aren’t permanent!

However, paranoia over “losing your gains” is a little uncalled for. A small break from working out, a few alcoholic drinks here and there, or going for a run a few times per week won’t “sabotage your gains” or cause you to lose all of your muscle and strength.

Natural gains, earned the right way, are pretty much for life assuming you maintain the same basic lifestyle that got you those gains in the first place.

(Steroid gains, by the way, typically go away pretty quickly after you stop taking the drugs.)

Quick Guide to Making Gains

Gains can refer to almost anything, as we’ve learned, but again, it’s most commonly used to describe improvements in strength and muscle size.

The easiest way to make gains is to get stronger on big compound exercises over time.

In other words, if you can add 50 pounds to your bench press, you’ll see some SERIOUS chest gains.

This concept is known as progressive overload. It simply means that you need to continue to increase the demands and stress you place on your body in order to continue making progress.

You could do 100 push-ups every single day and while it may help improve your chest and triceps at first, progress would stall as your body adapted to the stimulus.

From there, you’d need to increase the number of push-ups you did, add weight to your push-ups to make them more challenging, or decrease your rest periods in between sets or reps.

Otherwise, without a new challenge to overcome, your body really has no reason to change and add new muscle!

The same concept holds true for cardio gains. Running two miles every other day would improve your conditioning, but only to a point. Once your body became adept at handling the workload, it would have no reason to continue strengthening your heart, lungs, and legs.

From there, you’d have to begin running further, faster, or more often to see more progress.

Wrapping Up

So that’s basically it, that’s what gains are!

It’s just kind of a gym bro-y way of saying progress or improvement that likely stemmed from bodybuilding culture and into today’s world of YouTube fitness and Instagram influencers.

If you’re new to the gym, I hope this helped, and good luck with your gains!

(You can also check out my complete guide to more gym slang.)

You might also be interested in my quick, 6-question quiz that will help you decide what gym to join, or click here to check out all the workout programs I’ve tried, reviewed, and compared against each other.