Go to any gym and you’ll likely see a row of weight benches lining the mirrored walls. They look like a great place to check your form while doing
arm exercises, or maybe to sit and sip some water between reps. But there’s also a whole world of workouts you can do using nothing more than that weight bench — and maybe a dumbbell or two.
Weight benches — aka workout or exercise benches — are actually an incredibly versatile piece of gym equipment, says
Chandel Stallworth, CPT, NCPT, a certified personal trainer, nationally certified Pilates instructor, and owner of Curls & Pilates. “You can definitely get a good full-body workout using your exercise bench and whatever weights — whether dumbbells, a barbell, or a kettlebell — you have available.”
While many people see a bench and immediately think it’s for bench presses, you can totally use it to do other moves that
train your upper body, lower body, and core, depending on what you’re in the mood for, adds Cary Williams, a boxing coach and CEO of Boxing & Barbells. Believe it or not, you can also use an exercise bench to get in some cardio.
If every other
machine at the gym is full and all you see is that lonely workout bench, you technically have everything you need for a great workout, Williams says. So waltz up, claim it, and then read on below for 13 different weight bench exercises to try. 1 Single-Leg Crossover Candice Nicholson, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer, recommends this workout bench move for hitting your lower body. “It targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and helps to work on your balance,” she tells Bustle. “If you want an extra burn, feel free to use dumbbells or ankle weights.”
- Stand sideways next to the bench.
- Place the foot that’s closest to the bench on top of it and position it directly in the middle of the bench.
- Once your foot is stabilized, take the foot that’s still on the ground and lift it up, raising your body along with it, and cross it behind the foot that’s resting on the bench.
- Tap your toe on the opposite side of the bench, then bring it back to start.
- Cross back and forth for 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 20 reps.
- Repeat on the other side.
2 Lateral Hops
Nicholson says lateral hops are effective for strengthening your calves, quads, hamstrings, and arms. It’s also guaranteed to
get your heart rate up.
- Stand next to the exercise bench, closer to the top.
- Grasp the edges of the bench with both hands.
- Lean forward over the length of the bench.
- Keep a slight bend in your knees.
- Make sure your shoulders stay aligned with your hands/wrists.
- Engage your core as you hop your legs and jump over to the opposite side of the bench.
- Continue hopping back and forth for a minimum of 10 to 20 reps.
- Your hands should stay in place for the duration of the exercise.
3 Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Nicholson says this exercise is great for building your arm and
back strength. She recommends looking over at a mirror if you can to check on your form as you move through it.
- Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.
- Bend over and place your left knee and left hand on the bench.
- Make sure your shoulders are aligned with your hand on the bench and your left knee is under your hip.
- Maintain a flat back as you engage your core.
- Let the dumbbell hang, then begin to pull the dumbbell upwards.
- Bend your elbow up and back.
- Gently release the dumbbell back down until your arm is straight again.
- Continue this motion for 10 to 15 reps.
- Repeat on the other side.
4 Step-Up With Kick Back
“Step-ups are one of the
best exercises for building strong glutes,” says Williams. “Once you feel good with them, add some dumbbells.”
- Stand on the side of the bench.
- Step up on the bench with one foot, being sure to dig your heel into the bench.
- Keep your torso upright as you raise up to stand on the bench with one foot.
- As you raise up, take the leg that’s left on the floor and kick it back behind you.
- Bend your knee, slightly point your toe, and really focus on contracting the top of your glute.
- Bring that foot in and place it back on the floor.
- Move in a fluid motion as you balance on your other leg the whole time.
- Do 10 reps on one leg then switch to the other.
- Repeat for 3 sets.
5 Dumbbell Pullover
The dumbbell pullover
works your lats, biceps, triceps, and pecs, Lalitha McSorley, PT, a physical therapist and personal trainer at Brentwood Physio, previously told Bustle. Here’s how to do it.
- Lie down on a workout bench.
- Hold a dumbbell on one end.
- Extend your arms straight up above your head.
- Lower the dumbbell back behind your head.
- Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
6 Incline Push-Up
The incline push-up is a slightly easier version of
regular push-ups, but it still gives your core, triceps, and pecs an excellent workout, says certified personal trainer TJ Mentus.
- Place your hands on the bench just wider than your shoulders with your chest over the bench.
- Walk your feet back so that your whole body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
- Bend your elbows back toward your body and lower your chest until it lightly touches the bench.
- Press back up until your arms are fully extended.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
7 Elevated Split Squat
do an elevated split squat, all you need is an elevated surface. Enter: the workout bench. Here, Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness instructor, breaks down how to do the exercise.
- Stand about two feet in front of the bench.
- Lift your left leg and reach back to rest the top of your foot on the surface.
- Bend your right knee to get into a lunge position.
- Place your hands on your hips or hold
dumbbells at your sides.
- Slowly bend your legs to lower into a squat.
- Check that your right knee stays directly over your right toes.
- Engage your glutes to rise back up.
- Lower down 10 times, then switch sides.
- Aim for a total of 3 rounds.
8 Incline Row
“Incline rows are amazing for
strengthening your lower lats and improving overall back strength,” says Stallworth.
- Set the workout bench to a 45-degree incline.
- Straddle the bench and lie face-down so that your head is not resting on the bench, but your chest is in full contact with it.
- Keep your feet on the floor and your body in one long line.
- Squeeze your glutes and hang your arms on either side of the bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Inhale. As you exhale, squeeze your shoulders together to initiate a row.
- Bring your elbows back until your arms are parallel or just slightly higher than your torso.
- Return your arms to the start position.
- Do 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
- Use a weight that feels difficult without sacrificing form.
9 Hip Thrust
According to Stallworth,
hip thrusts work your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, all while helping to build power and strength in your legs.
- Sit on the ground with the bench behind you at the base of your shoulder blades.
- Bend your knees 90 degrees and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Hold the weight of your choice on top of your hips.
- Exhale and drive your hips up, squeezing your glutes at the top of the position.
- Pause for 2 to 4 seconds while engaging your glutes.
- Inhale and control your hips back down to hover above the floor.
- Repeat 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 thrusts.
10 Tricep Dips
You can also
work your triceps using a bench, says Mentus.
- Sit on the side of a bench.
- Place your hands on either side of you on the bench and extend your legs straight out.
- Perform the dip by bending your elbows to lower your body towards the ground.
- Stop when your elbows are at 90 degrees.
- Press through the bench until the arms are extended again.
- Aim for 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
11 Single Leg Sit To Stand Katie Pajerowski, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy at Ascend Physical Therapy & Wellness, notes that the standup is one of the most underutilized but effective exercises for working the quads and hips. “What I love about this exercise is that there are many ways to make it harder or easier depending on your needs,” she tells Bustle.
- Sit down on a workout bench.
- Keep one foot down and the other lifted as you stand straight up.
- Your heel will lightly rest or hover just above the floor.
- Keep your hands at your chest.
- Slowly lower down with as much control as possible to tap your hips to the bench, then return to standing.
- For an easier variation, keep your legs staggered with most of your weight in the back leg.
- For a challenge, hold a dumbbell at your chest.
- Do 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps.
12 Side Planks
You can also do a
side plank using a bench. Pajerowski says it’ll feel slightly less difficult compared to side planks on the floor, but it’s still a great challenge for your core, obliques, hips, and shoulders.
- Start with either your palm on the bench and elbow straight, or a bent elbow and forearm on the bench.
- Walk your feet out to the side and stack your top foot on your bottom foot while keeping your knees straight.
- Focus on keeping your feet, hips, and shoulders in line while actively pushing your hips away from the floor.
- Keep your hips square as you
hold the plank.
- Aim to hold for 30 to 60 seconds, 3 to 5 times.
13 Side Plank Dips
For a challenge, try adding a dip to the plank variation. The
side plank dip builds lateral core strength and stability by targeting the obliques, Mentus says.
- Position yourself perpendicular to the bench.
- Place your feet on top of it, stacked.
- Prop yourself up onto your elbow.
- Dip the hips down until they lightly touch the ground then raise the hips back up.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 on each side.
Studies referenced: McKenzie, A. (2022). Bench, Bar, and Ring Dips: Do Kinematics and Muscle Activity Differ? Int J Environ Res Public Health. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192013211. Sources: Chandel Stallworth, CTP, NCPT, certified personal trainer, nationally certified Pilates instructor, owner of Curls & Pilates Candice Nicholson, LA-based personal trainer TJ Mentus, certififed personal trainer Lalitha McSorley, PT, physical therapist, personal trainer at Brentwood Physio Alayna Curry, AFAA-certified fitness instructor Cary Williams, boxing coach, CEO of Boxing & Barbells Katie Pajerowski, PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy at Ascend Physical Therapy & Wellness
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