Some days you get into the gym and feel completely overwhelmed. As if it wasn’t hard enough to walk through those double-doors in the first place, a crowded floor can turn that sweat session into a stress session. Good news: With just a bench—and some dumbbells—you can do a slew of total-body toning movements.
“Having just a few tools at your disposal is all you need to get in a great workout that works your abs, arms, butt, and legs,” says Erin Bulvanoski, trainer at Brick New York. “For me, an open workout bench is essential.”
Here, Bulvanoski gives us eight moves you should be doing on a bench. For each one, she suggests a total of three sets with a 15-12-9 rep scheme (aka, 15 reps the first round, then 12, then nine). If you’re using dumbbells (start with a five-pound set) try increasing the weight as you decrease the amount of reps. “This will help build both endurance and strength,” she says.
1. HAMMER BENCH PRESS
How to: Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie face-up on a weight bench with your feet flat on the floor. Position your hands by the shoulders with dumbbells in both hands (a). Straighten your arms and lift the weights over your chest (b). Lower the dumbbells until they nearly touch your chest, then press back up. That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “Make sure your lower back is pressed against the bench to support the core and stave off lower back injury,” says Bulvanoski. “Also, control is key. Make sure you’re controlling the dumbbells on the way down. We definitely don’t want you to smack yourself in the face.”
2. SINGLE ARM ROW
Works: Biceps, lats, upper back, traps
How to: With feet at shoulder-width distance, hinge forward at the hips maintaining a flat back and place your right foot on a bench, holding a dumbbell in your left hand (a). Bend your right elbow and pull the dumbbell up to the side of your chest (b). Pause, then slowly lower back to start. That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “This stance is different than your typical single-arm row with a knee up, because I find it helps the client stay away from that cat/cow positioning in the back,” she says. “You really want to make sure you’re not putting unnecessary stress on the lower back.”
3. TRICEPS DIP
How to: Sit on the edge of a bench and place your palms facedown next to your thighs, fingers gripping the edge. Place your feet on the floor in front of you (you can bend your knees to make this movement easier). Keeping your arms straight, scoot forward until your hips and butt are in front of the seat (a). Bend your elbows and lower your hips until your upper arms are parallel to the floor (b). Push back to start. That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “You really want to make sure that you’re keeping your back directly next to the bench,” she says. “That way, you won’t put unnecessary burden on your rotator cuff and you’ll really feel the burn in the triceps.”
4. LEG LOWERS
How to: Lie down on the bench with your legs straight, holding the bench with palms down, fingers facing away from scalp (a). Lift your legs up into the air forming a 90-degree angle (b, c). Lower legs straight down toward the ground. Engage the core, and slowly lift them back up (add an extra challenge by lifting lower back up with legs at top of the movement). That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “Make sure you’re not bringing your legs closer to your face than 90 degrees at waist height,” she says. “The key here is too move slowly, its not a race. The slower you go, the harder it is.”
5. LATERAL BENCH HOPS
Works: Full body, cardio
How to: Start standing with both feet together on one side of the bench, each hand gripping one side of the bench, toward the top end (a). Jump up, propelling your body over to the opposite side of the bench, holding the sides for support. Land on the other side with a slight bend in your knees (b). That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “Your legs go over the middle of the bench as opposed to behind it, where you may not have to jump as high,” she says. “Keep the movement continuous, which helps keep your heart rate stoked.”
6. STEP UP
Works: Glutes, legs
How to: Stand next to a bench holding two dumbbells (you can do this without dumbbells at first, until you feel comfortable with the movement pattern). Place your left foot firmly on the bench (a). Press down with your left heel, push your body up, and simultaneously extend your right foot out to the side at a 45-degree angle (b). Slowly lower back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do reps on one leg, then repeat with the right.
Trainer notes: “You can place one dumbbell on the external side of your thigh to add an extra challenge for your lifted leg,” says Bulvanoski.
7. PISTOL SQUAT PREP
Works: Glutes, legs
How to: Stand in front of the bench with feet together. Holding your arms straight out in front of your body (or wherever makes you comfortable), raise your right leg off the floor (a). Push your hips back and lower your body until your glutes tap the bench (b). Pause, then push your body back to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “Keeping your chest up is super important so you’re not putting unnecessary stress on your back,” she says. “Holding your toe on the lifted foot also may help you getting more control. It’s all about personal preference.”
8. DECLINE PUSHUPS
Works: Chest, arms
How to: Get into plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders, and place your feet on a box or bench (a). (This increases the amount of your body weight you have to lift, making the exercise harder.) Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor (b). Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. That’s one rep.
Trainer notes: “You can easily modify this one by backing your body up and placing shins on the bench,” she says. “Then, go as low as you can, which may not be as close to the floor. You’ll be moving less body weight.