Illustration of a muscular bodybuilder or powerlifter setting a PR in the gym.

What Does PR Mean in the Gym?

In gym lingo, “PR” stands for personal record. Getting PRs means your workout routine is working, that you’re adapting, and that you’re growing gradually bigger, stronger, or fitter. They’re important enough that we’ve named our website after them.

If you’re lifting weights, a PR is when you outlift yourself. Usually, it’s the heaviest weight you’ve ever lifted or the most reps you’ve ever gotten. For example, bench pressing 225 pounds for the first time is a PR. Doing 20 push-ups in a row for the first time is another PR.

PRs are similar when doing cardio. If you’re running, then you can set a new PR whenever you run further or faster (or with a lower heart rate) than ever before. The first time you run a 5k without needing a break, that’s a PR. The first time you run a 10k in less than an hour, that’s another PR. When you can run 10k without your heart rate passing 145 bpm, that’s another PR.

As a beginner, you should be getting a new PR almost every workout. As you get better, you’ll need to fight harder to keep adapting, and the PRs won’t come as easily or as frequently. Mind you, the PRs you do get will be much more impressive.

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Illustration of a weight lifter doing compound exercises to gain muscle and strength.

The 5 Best Compound Exercises for Building Muscle

All the best muscle-building programs are built on the idea of progressively overloading the big compound exercises. If you aren’t able to progressively overload those exercises, then you won’t build muscle. And if you can’t build muscle, then you won’t be able to progressively overload your exercises.

Most bodybuilding programs prioritize effort. They emphasize doing more sets and reps, pushing harder, and focusing on the pump, the pain, the burn, and the strain. After all, pain is the feeling of weakness leaving the body, right? It can be, but your effort is only productive if it adds up to progress. That’s where strength training comes in.

Strength training is rooted in powerlifting, where your strength is determined by how much you can squat, bench press, and deadlift for a single repetition—your total. If you’re getting stronger at the big compound exercises, you’re improving. If you aren’t, the problem is immediately evident, allowing you to fix it right away.

However, strength training has its own problems. Low-bar back squats aren’t the best compound exercise for building muscle. Neither are wide-grip bench presses or wide-stance sumo deadlifts. The emphasis on progression is fantastic, but the exercises aren’t ideal.

We need to combine both approaches, choosing the best compound exercises for our goals, then attacking them with the vigour of a bodybuilder and the focus of a powerlifter. If you can grow gradually stronger at the best muscle-building exercises, you can consistently build muscle.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder doing the drag curl exercise to build bigger biceps.

Drag Curls Aren’t As Good As Regular Biceps Curls (Here’s Why)

A drag curl is a type of biceps curl where you keep the weight close, “dragging” it up your body. The idea is to make the curl easier at the bottom and harder at the top. This makes the biceps curls worse in two ways:

  • You’ll stimulate more muscle growth by challenging your biceps at the bottom of the range of motion, not the top. There’s no benefit to emphasizing the top. The entire purpose of the drag curl is misguided.
  • To keep the weight close, you need to bring your elbows back behind your body. This movement at the shoulder joint prevents the long head of your biceps from engaging properly.

This might make it seem like I hate drag curls. I don’t. You can use them to build bigger biceps. They’re a perfectly fine exercise. However, regular biceps curls are quite a bit better, so it’s hard to think of a situation where you’d want to do drag curls.

If you want to stimulate more muscle growth with your biceps curls, you should do almost the exact opposite of a drag curl. I’ll show you how.

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Illustration of a weight lifter trying to manage his stimulus to fatigue ratio while building muscle.

How to Optimize Your Stimulus-to-Fatigue Ratio (SFR)

The Stimulus-to-Fatigue Ratio (SFR) is a way to compare how much benefit a workout stimulates against how much fatigue it generates. The idea is to increase the stimulus while reducing the fatigue. For example, if you’re trying to build muscle, you could try to stimulate more muscle growth without generating as much fatigue.

At first, this can create the illusion that fatigue is bad and should be minimized, but it’s not quite that simple. Fatigue can also provoke adaptations, helping you grow bigger, stronger, and fitter. You don’t want to min-max away those benefits. Better to stimulate as much muscle growth as you can without generating too much fatigue.

Finally, you can improve your body’s ability to generate energy and recover from training. One of the best ways to reduce fatigue is to become not just bigger and stronger but also fitter.

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Illustration of an intermediate male bodybuilder doing a Push/Pull/Legs hypertrophy workout routine to build muscle.

The Best Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) Routine for Building Muscle

Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) routines divide your muscles into three groups: your pushing muscles, your pulling muscles, and your legs. Each group of muscles gets a dedicated training day, allowing you to work out six days per week while still giving your muscles 3-4 days to recover.

It’s a powerful way to train. You can stimulate a ton of muscle growth this way. These routines are incredibly popular with serious bodybuilders, rivalled only by the mighty Bro Split.

The other great advantage of Push/Pull/Legs routines is they’re relatively easy. Full-body workouts are great for beginners, but as you get stronger, the weight looms heavier, and training every muscle in a single workout can become oppressive. Much easier to divide up the workload.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder doing chin-ups first in his hypertrophy workout.

Exercise Order: Which Exercises Should You Do First?

The conventional wisdom is to start each workout with the big compound lifts, then move to smaller assistance exercises, and then finish with isolation exercises. That’s a perfectly fine way to structure your workout. Ordering your exercises that way will work.

However, the research doesn’t quite support that advice; there’s some nuance to delve into, and you might prefer to put your exercises in a different order.

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Cartoon illustration of a beginner doing a cardio program.

How to Do Cardio—The Complete Beginner Guide

The guidelines for general health are simple: you need at least 150 minutes of cardio per week. If the cardio is twice as hard, you only need half as much. More on that in a moment.

But there’s more to cardio than merely putting in the time. You also need to provoke an adaptation. You need to train in a way that improves your cardiorespiratory fitness. That way, you get the benefits of having increased mitochondrial density, a higher VO2 max, more blood vessels, and a lower resting heart rate.

Marco has over a decade of experience helping people improve their cardio, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes. It doesn’t need to be that complicated. We’ll explain the basics of cardio, give you a beginner routine, and then show you how to progress to more difficult workouts.

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An illustration of Milo Wolf (the lengthened partial researcher) mixed with the Outlift guy.

Lengthened Partials: What They Are & How to Use Them

Lengthened partials are the trendy new bodybuilding technique. The idea is that by challenging your muscles under a deep stretch, you can increase mechanical tension on your muscles, stimulating more muscle growth.

They aren’t as new as they seem. For several decades now, many of the best bodybuilders have built their routines around lengthened partials. So there isn’t just scientific evidence we can reference; there’s also a long bodybuilding tradition we can draw from.

I won’t bury the lead: lengthened partials work. My only gripe is that they don’t always take the principle of stretch-mediated hypertrophy far enough. Oftentimes, there’s an even better way.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder doing dumbbell goblet squats as part of his leg workout.

The Best Dumbbell Leg Exercises & Workout

Dumbbell leg exercises are great for beginners. They’re perfect for gaining your first 30–40 pounds of muscle. Think of exercises like goblet squats, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, and step-ups.

Our main Bony to Beastly Program heavily emphasizes dumbbells. Some of our best transformations come from guys working out at home in simple dumbbell home gyms.

It gets a bit trickier as you get stronger. Dumbbells make it harder to lift as heavy. That isn’t as much of a problem for your arms, chest, or even back, but it can definitely make it harder to train your legs. You’ll need to progress to exercise variations that let you get more muscle growth out of less weight. We’ll show you how to do that.

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