Illustration of a man at a computer typing.

What type of exercise is the most popular? Then, when it comes to lifting weights, which type of weight training is the most popular? Is bodybuilding more popular than CrossFit? Is CrossFit more popular than powerlifting?

Another thing I was curious about is whether more people were interested in training at home or at the gym. And for people training at home, are they more interested in using a barbell, dumbbells, resistance bands, or doing calisthenics?

To answer all of these questions, we can look at Google Trends to see what information people are looking for online.

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In this article, let’s look at what fitness terms and goals people are searching for. Are people trying to lose fat or build muscle? When they’re trying to build muscle, are they more interested in gaining size or strength? When they’re trying to gain muscle size, which muscles are they most eager to bulk up?

To answer all of these questions, we can look at Google Trends to see what information people are looking for online.

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Which lifts are more popular? I’d always kind of assumed that with people who are into strength training, squats would be the most popular, but that with people who are more interested in bodybuilding, the bench press would dominate. Is that true? Which is more popular, the bench press or the squat?

Or what about if we compare squats against deadlifts? Both are big strength training lifts that help people gain a profound amount of muscle mass and general strength. And where does the overhead press fit into all of this? It’s one of the best lifts for improving our appearance and upper-body strength.

What about the barbell curl? Hip thrusts? To get to the bottom of this mystery, I looked up Google search trends over the past ten years to compare and contrast the popularity of the various lifts.

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Illustration of a man doing chin-ups.

For at least a few decades, bodybuilders have been known for favouring exercises that load their muscles under stretch. For instance, the pullover was used for stretching out the lats (and triceps), which was thought to stimulate extra muscle growth. The mechanisms weren’t known and the results weren’t proven, but it was popular nonetheless.

Over the past few years, more and more research has been coming out to support the idea of using lifts that challenge our muscles as longer muscle lengths. In fact, a systematic review of 26 studies found that isometric lifts that challenge our muscles at longer muscle lengths stimulate nearly three times as much muscle growth. For instance, holding the bottom position of a dumbbell fly (with our chests stretched) stimulates more muscle growth than holding the top position of a cable crossover (with our chests contracted).

Why is that? How much does it matter? Does this mean that we can build muscle faster by choosing exercises that challenge our muscles more in a stretched position? And if it does, which exercises should we choose?

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Illustration showing a muscular bodybuilder doing a dumbbell fly.

One of the more common questions we get is whether the dumbbell fly is a good lift for building a bigger chest. Some have heard that the dumbbell fly is dangerous, others have heard that it doesn’t challenge our pecs enough at the top of the range of motion. Not surprisingly then, a lot of people think that the cable crossover is the better variation, given that it challenges our pecs throughout the entire range of motion and isn’t as hard on our shoulders.

Is that true? If you’re trying to build a big chest, is the cable crossover really better than the classic dumbbell fly?

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Illustration of a muscular man doing dumbbell lateral raises.

We’ve already written an article about how skinny guys can build broader shoulders over on Bony to Beastly, including a bunch of neat information about genetics, aesthetics, and hypertrophy training in general.

In this article, I want to talk about how a more intermediate lifter can build broader, wider shoulders. Lifters often have a fairly easy time building bigger front delts from bench pressing and overhead pressing, but it’s common for guys to have trouble building bigger side delts, which is what will make their shoulders broader, giving them a greater shoulder-to-waist ratio.

So in this article, let’s talk about the three best lifts for building bigger side delts and how to get the most growth out of them.

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Illustration of a man doing a leaning biceps curl.

Our biceps are the limiting factor in even the humblest barbell and biceps curl variations, and so every variation of curl will reliably provoke at least a little bit of biceps growth. The only problem with most curl variations is that they’re relatively easy at the bottom of the range of motion, when our biceps are stretched. This is a problem because that’s by far the most important part of the range of motion for stimulating muscle growth. To make matters worse, the chin-up has the same problem, and underhand rows are even worse.

That’s where the preacher curl comes in. It allows us to fully extend our arms at the bottom of the lift, and it challenges our biceps quite a lot in that stretched position. This makes it a great curl variation for building bigger biceps. Perhaps the best variation of all. As a result, most bodybuilding gyms have a preacher curl station, and many biceps aficionados even buy one for their home gyms.

Fortunately, you don’t need a preacher curl station. In this article, we’ll show you how you can get the benefits of the preacher curl with just a barbell and some body English.

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Illustration of the anatomy of a biceps curl with internal moment arms.

The best way to build muscle is to challenge our muscles through a large range of motion. Lifting through a large range of motion is a good start, but some parts of it might be easy, giving our muscles little resistance, and thus failing to provoke muscle growth. Other parts will be more difficult, giving our muscles the stimulus they need to grow. We call this the strength curve of the lift.

Conventional wisdom says that if a lift is similarly challenging throughout the entire range of motion, then the entire range of motion will stimulate muscle growth, and we’ll build far more muscle with every rep. And there’s some truth to that.

However, it’s not quite that simple, either. Some parts of the range of motion are more important than others. It’s important to choose lifts that challenge our muscles in a stretched position, but not so important for a lift to be difficult at lockout. It can also really help if a lift is heaviest where our muscles are strongest, allowing us to lift more weight through the entire range of motion.

In this article, we’ll talk about resistance curves, the strength curves of our muscles, the strength curves of various lifts, and how to build more muscle.

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Illustration of a man doing barbell Pendlay rows.

There are two lifts that are generally considered ideal for building our upper backs and upper arms, and both by very different groups. People who are more interested in strength training and powerlifting will often favour the barbell row, whereas people who are more interested in bodybuilding and bodyweight training will often favour the chin-up.

In this article, we’ll compare the range of motion, biomechanics, and muscles worked by both the barbell row and the chin-up, explain the differences, and then go over which one is better for building muscle.

Now, to be clear, we can certainly use both lifts in our workout routines—and we probably should—but it’s interesting to see which back exercise is better for building muscle, and what their different pros and cons are. That way we know which one we should be investing more of our time and energy into.

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Illustration of a woman doing a barbell front squat.

The conventional wisdom is to start each workout with the big compound lifts and, to be sure, there is wisdom in that. Even when programming our compound lifts first, though, there are a few mistakes that a lot of lifters make. The first (and biggest) mistake is that bodybuilders will often stack a bunch of lifts for the same muscle group one after the other. Chest day, leg day, and back day are all examples of poor exercise ordering.

Then, with full-body workouts, choosing which exercise comes first is complicated because we need to choose which of the big compound exercises should come first. Should we squat before we bench press? Conventional wisdom says yes. After all, the squat is the bigger lift. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Next, although it’s generally wise to do our compound lifts first, there are situations where we might want to do isolation lifts first, especially if we have stubborn muscle groups that are lagging behind. There’s some nuance to how to do that, though. We risk making our workouts much worse if we do it incorrectly.

Finally, even after we’ve finished our big compound lifts, there’s still some thinking that should go into how we order our isolation lifts.

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