Curious to know what the most popular workout exercises of the year are?
According to new research from the experts at Bulk, the below are the most regularly searched on Google - that is, the workout exercises that people are actually incorporating into their workouts day in, day out across the UK.
They might surprise you because they're all weight training moves stereotypically carried out in a gym (no ab exercises or resistance band exercises in sight). While the latter are great for those of you who are time-poor and prefer to get a sweat on from home, the stats seem to indicate a preference for the likes of dumbbell exercises and kettlebell exercises - weighted moves that are normally practised in a gym with barbells, kettlebells and so on.
While you'll know that finding out what workout you enjoy is absolutely key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, weight training has long been heralded as one of the best workouts you can do. Promising to boost muscle tone, strength, and overall health, the NHS website actually recommends we all tick off at least two 30-minute sessions of strength training a week. For some, that might look like wheeling the buggy to school or home DIY, others prefer the headspace and me time heading to the gym can provide.
Keen to add some of the most popular moves to your workout arsenal? We've got you. Keep scrolling for the most popular workout exercises this year. New to strength training? Don't miss our guides to how much weight should you start lifting, how long it takes for women to build muscle, and strength training for beginners, while you're here.
10 most popular workout exercises of 2023
A bit of background on the data, first. Researchers at Bulk analysed the Google search data of over 100 exercises to determine which are the most popular amongst gym-goers in the UK, looking at search volume from the past twelve months for each exercise using specific terms, such as “exercise technique”, “how to do exercise”, and “exercise form”.
Coming out on top as the most popular workout exercise was the humble deadlift with an average of 24,773 monthly searches.
What? "The deadlift is a compound movement in which you pick up a weight (typically a barbell) from the floor," explains personal trainer Harry Wilkinson. "Deadlifts are strength-building exercises using weights to gain lower body strength, especially in the quads, glutes, abs, and core. The deadlift stimulates pretty much every muscle in the body, so it’s incredible at providing a foundation for other lifts."
Do note, though: as with most of the weight training moves in this roundup, it's important to practice a deadlift with correct form, so do reach out to a PT at your gym for a tutorial if you're not 100% sure you're doing it correctly.
How to? a. Start with a comfortable weight and position your feet shoulder-width apart. Engage your core, squat, bend, and grasp the bar outside the knee line.
b. Lift the bar by pushing it upwards through the knees, making sure to breathe out on exertion. The bar should align with the thighs or shins when at full height.
c. Do not bend your back or raise your hips before the bar reaches full height, and make sure to keep the shoulders as far back as possible without leaning back.
How long? First, make sure you are comfortable with the weight and not over-exerting yourself. As a beginner, perform three to four sets of two to six reps, gradually increasing the weights as your strength builds.
2. Lateral raise
What? Coming in second was a lateral raise, an arm movement that works your upper body, shoulders and upper arms and focuses on strength and isolation through weights. "This exercise involves lifting away from your body and out to the side," shares Wilkinson.
How to? a. Stand or sit with a weight in each hand with arms by each side. While keeping your back straight, engage your core muscles and slowly lift the weights to the side, in line with your shoulders and parallel to the floor.
b. Then, slowly lift your arms back to the starting position, keeping them under control and not losing your form. Do not exceed your shoulder line when lifting or lean forward when performing the exercise.
How long? Perform this move with a weight you can control. For a beginner try three to four sets of eight to twelve reps.
3. Bulgarian split squat
What? While you've likely heard of a squat, you might not have guessed that a rather specific type of the move - a Bulgarian split squat - would rank the third most popular workout move for 2023.
Essentially a more intense version of your standard leg squat, it requires you to carry out the move with one leg elevated. The main pros of this move include stronger quadricep muscles, glutes, and hamstrings, shares the PT.
How to? a. Start by standing in front of a knee-level bench or step, picking up a comfortable weight for each hand and keeping your arms flat against your side.
b. Lift one leg and place it on the top of the bench so your shin rests flat on its surface; your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Your standing leg should be far enough in front of you to lunge comfortably while engaging your core, keeping your shoulders back while beginning to lower down on the bending knee.
c. Ensure to engage the core and keep form while returning to the original position.
How long? If you're new to this move, start with six to eight reps in sets of two. Increase according to comfort.
4. Bench press
What? The fourth most popular workout exercise is the bench press, an exercise that works three muscles- your pecs, front delts and triceps. A great way to strengthen your upper body muscles, there are various different ways to carry out this move, all of which work different muscles.
How to? a. Lay flat on your back, on top of a bench, with your legs bent to each side with your feet on the floor. The barbell should be directly over your shoulders while your hands grip the bar slightly further than shoulder width.
b. Engage your core and keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the exercise.
c. Slowly lift the barbell off of the rack, lower it to the chest, and bend your elbows to the side, away from the body. Lift till arms are extended, then lower the bar again, making sure to hit just below the bench line.
How long? Start with a comfortable weight for between five to ten reps for a set of three, recommends the trainer.
5. Lat pulldown
What? Another arm move which works your biceps, rear delts and your most significant back muscle, the latissimus dorsi muscle. The trainer shares that this is one of the best workout exercises for beginners as it is straightforward, yet will help you build strength in multiple areas.
How to? a. Start by sitting with legs in front of you, facing the lat pull machine. Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees and sit under the pad with your feet flat on the floor.
b. Reach up, grab the bar with hands wider than shoulder width, and extend your arms fully, ensuring you aren’t shrugging or lifting your bum off the seat.
c. Pull down on the bar towards your chest just below your collarbone and hold the bar at your chest for a few seconds before returning to the start position. Make sure to squeeze your shoulders back and down throughout. Do not lean too far back when pulling.
How long? As a beginner, aim for two to three sets of eight reps, increasing as strength builds.
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6. Romanian deadlift
What? A take on the classic deadlift that ranked as the most popular, a Romanian deadlift is different in that you bend your body at the hips, rather than the knees. "A strengthening exercise, it focused on your hamstrings, core, and glutes," shares Wilkinson.
How to? a. Start with a comfortable weight; you can use dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells. Your feet should be hip-distance apart with a small bend in the knees and your weights ready in front of you.
b. Hinge forward while your torso parallels the floor, remembering to keep your back straight. Grab the barbell with both hands shoulder width apart, push your shoulders back and engage your core. Aim your eyes forward but slightly down to keep your neck in the perfect position, avoiding hyperextension.
c. While pushing your feet firmly into the floor, straighten your back and legs, squeeze your glutes and push out your hips when you reach the top. Repeat by lowering the weight between your legs around knee length, all while maintaining a flat back and slight bend in the knees.
How long? Start with eight to ten reps in sets of three to five, increasing as strength builds.
What? You'll likely have heard of or tried a squat before - in short, a movement that requires you to lower your hips towards the floor from a standing position, engage your glutes, and then return to your original standing position. "Squats are brilliant for developing leg strength, increasing core strength and stabilising muscles," shares the trainer.
How to? a. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart; your feet should be turned out slightly to open up your hip joint.
b. Lower your body until the back of your legs and thighs parallel the floor. Place your hands on the top of your head for ease and help with positioning. Repeat.
How long? Beginners should aim for anything from ten to 20 squats.
8. Hammer curl
What? A take on a more traditional bicep curl, this move requires you to face your palms towards one another, rather than forward as with the former workout exercise. They're a great move for beginners as they can be slightly easier to achieve.
How to? a. Start with a comfortable weight, either in the form of a dumbbell or kettlebell. Hold your weights in each arm while standing or sitting but with a straight back, with palms facing each other.
b. Bend your elbows whilst lifting the weights towards your shoulders, keeping your palms facing each other. When the weight reaches shoulder height, hold for one to two seconds, then slowly lower the weights to the original position, arms at your sides. Repeat.
How long? Aim for two to three sets of between eight to fifteen reps.
9. Bent-over row
What? This one - yep you guessed it - does what it says on the tin. A compound exercise that works several muscle groups at once, it involves you bending at the hips and rowing your arms towards your body, pausing at the top while engaging your bicep muscles. "This move is ideal for those who want to improve their posture and hip stability," shares Wilkinson.
How to? a. Start with a barbell, standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and bending the hips but keeping your back straight.
b. Your body should be around 45 degrees, grasping the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width and palms facing towards your shins. Engage your core and tighten your glutes as you pull your elbows behind you and the bar to your midriff.
c. Keep lifting your elbows backwards while your shoulders are squeezed and your back is straight. Hold each pull for one to two seconds and slowly lower back to the original position.
How long? Aim for eight to twelve reps for two to three sets.
10. Face pull
What? One of the best shoulder exercises, a face pull requires you to pull a band or weight towards your face, working out your back, shoulder and arm muscles in the process. "Face pulls are a great shoulder-targeted exercise which improves posture, protects rotator cuffs and aligns shoulders," shares the trainer.
How to? a. Use the rope attachment on a cable pull machine and start with a comfortable weight. Stand with your body facing the machine, feet shoulder width apart and leaning back around 20 to 30 degrees.
b. Grip the rope with both hands and feel the weights rise. While keeping your knees slightly bent and your back straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and bring the cable to your face at eye level.
c. When your arms reach a 90-degree angle, pause for one to two seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat.
How long? Start with eight to twelve reps for two to three sets.
What are the main workout exercises?
When it comes to weight training, the "main" workout exercises are widely accepted to be the core compound moves - that is, deadlifts, squats, lunges, and so on.
According to the Columbia Association, compound moves simply refer to any singular workout moves that uses more than one muscle group at a time. "Consider a squat," they share on their site. "This one simple motion engages your core, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calf muscles and hip flexors."
Isolation exercises, on the other hand, focus on just one muscle group (think a bicep dip or curl).
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
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