Exercise bench workouts can be quite versatile and require minimal equipment and space to perform. With an adjustable weight bench and some dumbbells, you can train your whole body with effective weight bench exercises like the chest press, row variations, hip thrusts, etc.
Basic Weight Bench Exercises
Below you’ll find some highly-recommended weight bench exercises sorted by upper body, lower body, and core & abs. To make them easier to follow, we’ll mention a couple of weight bench exercises for beginners, intermediate, and advanced athletes.
That said, all of these exercises can be applied to varying fitness levels and easily adjusted in difficulty by simply altering the amount of weight you lift or slightly altering your body position. Feel free to try them all and stick to those you like most.
1. Upper Body Exercises
Undoubtedly, the upper body is the most common popular area for exercises to do on a bench. Here are a few you can choose from and create a thorough upper body workout bench routine to your liking without needing to visit a gym:
- Back Exercises
- Supported Bent-over Row
The standing Bent-over Row (BOR) using a barbell is a popular back exercise, but research shows BOR’s using a bench to support yourself is equally as effective. Start by placing one knee and arm on the bench to align your upper body parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and extend the other arm with the dumbbell in hand towards the ground. Pull the dumbbell back up by bending your elbow, ensuring your arm slides close to the side of your body. As your elbow passes behind you, squeeze your shoulder blades together to engage the upper back muscles. The Bent-over Row is suitable for beginners as it's performed one arm at a time and permits you to safely lower the weight if needed.
- Incline Dumbbell Row
Place your bench in an inclined position, usually at a 30 or 45-degree angle, based on your comfort. Lie down on your stomach and chest to suspend your upper body from the bench. With dumbbells in each hand, fully extend your arms toward the ground. Now perform the same exercise motion as in the Bent-over Row — lift both arms back toward you by bending them at the elbow and pulling up until your elbows pass behind you, simultaneously squeezing your shoulder blades closer together. The Incline Dumbbell Row is particularly good at activating the muscles in your middle back.
- Dumbbell Face Pulls
The Dumbbell Face Pull using a weight bench is eerily similar to the Incline Dumbbell Row. It starts the same way, lying on your stomach and chest, with your body suspended from the bench and your arms fully extended. However, instead of pulling the dumbbells back towards your chest, you're going to raise them to the sides of your head by extending your elbows outward. As the dumbbell reaches your head, squeeze your shoulder blades closer together to fully activate the upper back.
- Chest Exercises
- Dumbbell Chest Press - Beginner
The Dumbbell Chest Press is one of the easier workout bench exercises for your chest. Lie down flat on your bench and plant your feet on the ground. Spread your arms roughly shoulder-width apart and press the dumbbells horizontally away from your chest in a straight line. Raise your arms straight away from your chest in an upward motion but be careful not to extend them all the way to avoid locking in your elbows. Once your arms reach near full extension, lower them down in a controlled manner by bending your elbows until the dumbbells are back at chest level. This exercise is highly recommended for beginners because it's effective yet safe; you can easily drop the dumbbells to your sides if anything goes wrong or you become fatigued, while your weight is fully supported by the bench.
- Inclined Press - Intermediate
The Incline Press is essentially the same as a Dumbbell Chest Press, except this time you'll place your bench at an angled position, usually at 45 degrees. By incorporating this incline, the travel distance of your arms is extended, increasing the total range of motion (ROM) and recruiting more muscles in your chest, shoulders, and arms. Moreover, the inclined position makes the entire exercise less stable, resulting in greater recruitment of slow-twitch muscles to maintain control.
- Barbell Bench Press - Advanced
The Bench Press is arguably the most popular and famous chest exercise in the world. This popularity comes from having the greatest results both empirically and based on research comparing it to other chest exercises. For this one, you’ll also need a set of weight plates, a barbell, and somewhere to rack it safely. To briefly explain it — lie down on the bench with your feet planted on the ground and position yourself underneath your racked barbell at chest level. Grip the barbell underneath with your arms spread roughly shoulder-width apart. Press the bar up and away from you until your arms are almost fully extended, making sure not to lock in your elbows to avoid injury, then control it back down towards your chest by bending at the elbows. The bench press can also be done flat or with an incline to increase difficulty but isn’t recommended for novice athletes who don’t have a full grasp of their strength just yet due to the danger of dropping the barbell and pinning yourself underneath.
- Arm Exercises
Single Arm Preacher Curl - Beginner
Place your bench at an angle just below 90 degrees — on most adjustable benches this will be around 60-75 degrees. Grab a dumbbell and place your arm so that the upper part of the bench sits under your armpits. Stand in whatever position feels most comfortable and grab onto the bench with your other arm to maintain stability. With your arm fully extended and your wrist facing outwards, bend it up towards you at the elbow and raise the dumbbell to your shoulder, squeezing your biceps in the process. As you get more comfortable with the exercise, you can incorporate the “twist” — as your arm gets up to a roughly 90-degree angle, simply rotate your wrist inwards.
Seated Biceps Curl - Intermediate
Place your bench in an upwards position and sit down on it as you normally would on a chair. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang to your sides. Raise the dumbbells towards your shoulder by bending your arms at the elbows, squeezing your biceps in the process, then lowering your arms back down in a controlled manner. The great thing about this exercise is that it can be customized to your liking. You can choose to do both arms at the same time, alternate between them, or do one at a time. As you get more comfortable, you can also add a twist.
Incline Biceps Curl - Advanced
Same exercise as the seated biceps curl, except you’re going to put the bench in an incline position. The lower the angle, the higher the exercise intensity will be, as it will increase the overall range of motion for your arms and instability to the rest of your body.
- Seated Triceps Overhead Extension - Beginner
Sit down on your upward-positioned bench as you would on a normal chair. Rest your back, grab a dumbbell of your choice, and raise it straight up by extending your arms above your head. Bend your arms behind your back at the elbows and control their descent until you make a 90-degree angle with your arms. The exercise is especially safe for beginners because it’s fully seated with your back supported by the bench, plus you can simply let go of the dumbbell if you need to make an emergency stop. Additionally, you can choose to do one arm or both arms at the same time.
- Triceps Dips - Intermediate
Sit down at the edge of your bench from the side and place your hands next to your hips. Note that you'll have to extend your legs to find a comfortable position, which will depend on your height and the height of the bench. Slide your hips off the bench and lower your body down by bending at the elbows until your upper arms and nearly parallel to the ground while keeping your arms elbows at a 90-degree angle. Push yourself back up through your palms to extend your arms back to the starting position. If done correctly, you should feel the burn in your triceps. To adjust the exercise intensity, place yourself closer or further away from the bench by adjusting your leg position to enter a steeper angle.
- Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are essentially the same as Overhead Triceps Extensions, except they’re performed in a lay down position to create instability and up the intensity. Lie down on your flat bench and plant your feet on the ground. Raise your dumbbells above your forehead and isolate the arm below your shoulder. Start bending your arm at the elbow, controlling the weight down towards you. The goal is to have it land above your head, with your arms at just over a 45-degree angle, then raise your arms back up into the starting position.
- Shoulder Exercises
- Seated Shoulder Press
Raise the backrest at an upward angle — the highest setting on most upright benches is usually just under 90 degrees — and sit down as you would on a regular chair. Rest your back, grab a dumbbell, and raise it to your shoulder by bending at the elbows — elbows pointing down. Extend your arm up into a near full-extended position, then lower it back down in a controlled manner. You can choose to do one or both arms at a time.
- Seated Lateral Raise
Sit down at the edge of your bench, grab a dumbbell in each hand, and let them hang to your side. Plant your feet on the ground and lean slightly forward with your chest. Raise your arms to the sides until they reach a T-pose — arms stretched out horizontally away from your body in the shape of the “T”. Control the descent back down into the starting position, then repeat.
- Reverse Dumbbell Fly
Place your bench in an angled position — most people find 60 degrees to be ideal. Lay down on your chest and stomach, suspending yourself in the air from the bench. Grab dumbbells in each hand and extend them fully toward the ground. Raise your arms to the side as if going for a T-pose. Just before your arms are fully horizontal, raise them at the elbows into a 90-degree angle and squeeze your shoulder blades closer together.
2. Lower Body Exercises
Workouts on a bench aren’t limited just to your upper body. With a bit of creativity and some dumbbells, a weight bench can also be used for a variety of popular lower-body exercises. Here are some examples:
- Step-Ups - Beginner
For this exercise, you’re simply going to use your flat bench as an elevated platform to step onto. As the exercise name suggests, all you have to do is step up on the bench. Go one leg at a time and once you’re actually on it, make sure to fully stand up. Conversely, lower yourself in a reverse motion, one leg at a time until you’re flat on the ground. Step-ups are comprehensive exercises that activate various muscle groups, most notably the Gluteus Maximus (Glutes).
- Hip Thrust - Intermediate
Hip Thrusts are a popular exercise for targeting lower body muscles due to being highly effective at both gaining strength and toning your body. Most notably, the Hip Thrust works out your Glutes and Hamstrings, major components of the Posterior Chain, but they also work your Quadriceps, core, hip adductors, and more. Rest your back on the side of the exercise bench, plant your feet down, and bend your knees until you’re almost touching down with your hips. Pushing through your heels, raise your hips upwards until they’re parallel to the ground and in line with your knees and shoulders, then lower them back down and repeat. The exercise can be done without additional weight, or you can place and balance a barbell or dumbbell on your hips to up the intensity.
- Bulgarian Split Squat - Advanced
The Bulgarian Split Squat works out similar muscles as a traditional Barbell Squat, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Face away from the side of the bench and place one foot (bridge) on top of it by bending at the knee. Take about half a step forward with your other leg, the ideal distance will vary depending on your height. Lower yourself down by bending at the front foot knee until it reaches roughly a 90-degree angle, with your rested foot knee close to but not touching the ground. Then raise yourself back up by extending the forward foot knee again, pushing through your front foot to engage your Glutes and Quads. To add resistance, grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them to your side in your hands, or get a larger dumbbell and hold it up to your chest with both hands, whichever feels more comfortable to you.
3. Core and Abdominal Exercises
As opposed to lying flat on the ground, core workouts with bench support can create a more dynamic exercise. The bench allows you to suspend yourself in the air and opens up the ROM on some exercises. Here are some examples:
- Lying Knee-tuck - Beginner
Knee tucks are an essential core exercise that’s easy to pick up. Lie down on your back and grip the bench to the side or over your head depending on your comfort. From an extended leg position, bend your knees and pull them up towards your chest. To drive engagement to the upper abs, raise your head slightly off the bench to look forward without curling your neck.
- Bicycle Crunches - Intermediate
Bicycle crunches are great because they’re easy to adjust the difficulty by changing your speed, angle steepness, or number of reps. Lie down on your back with your legs extended and place your hands behind your head. Raise your legs at a slight upward angle (aim for roughly 20-30 degrees) and bend them one by one towards your chest, alternating between them as if riding a bicycle. Once one leg is nearing your chest, at the same time start your opposite elbow towards it and try to connect it with the knee while raising your head slightly off the bench.
- Power Kick-Ups - Advanced
If you want a crushing ab exercise on your bench then try Power Kick-Ups. Lie down on your back and grip the bench overhead to stretch out your core muscles. Bring your knees towards your chest in a 90-degree angle facing upwards. Perform a controlled kick-up motion - raise your legs rapidly in an upward motion until they’re fully extended and your lower back is lifted off the bench. Tighten your core to make a rapid stop and hold your legs mid-air, then lower them down away from your body in a controlled manner. If you can, set the bench into a slight decline for greater results.
Weight Bench Workouts For Different Fitness Levels
As previously mentioned, all of the exercises can be slotted into any workout level, so feel free to experiment. That said, if we were to recommend weight bench workouts based on an athletic level, it would look something like this:
1. Beginner Workout
2. Intermediate Workout
3. Advanced Bench Workout
Weight Bench We Recommend — REP Fitness AB-4100 Adjustable Weight Bench
If you’re in the market for a bench, we highly recommend the REP Fitness AB-4100. This bench is made with standardized dimensions (17” H, 20.3” W, 51.3” L) according to the official International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) rulebook. Built from durable steel, it sports an impressive 700 lbs capacity. It’s perfect for a variety of exercises thanks to the 7 levels of adjustable backrest (0-85 degrees) and 3 seat positions (0, 10, 20 degrees). When not in use, it can be moved using the transportation wheels and raised up vertically to save on space, making it perfect for home and garage gyms too. It also comes in 7 different color options, letting you customize the appearance to better fit your taste.
Which Exercise Bench Is Best?
Ideally, you want to get an exercise bench with adjustable angles at least for the back rest, since this will give you more exercise variety. We found the REP Fitness AB-4100 gave us the ideal value for money, so we recommend it.
Do I Really Need a Weight Bench?
Getting a weight bench is a fairly inexpensive but effective way to start building up a home or garage gym. It can be used for a variety of exercises ranging from upper to lower body and in between.
Is Bench Best for Chest?
Arguably the most popular workout bench exercises are those for chest muscles. Research suggests the best among them is the traditional Bench Press, although a typical Dumbbell Press is also highly effective.
Those were some of our favorite exercises to do on a bench and ways to program them into a routine. As you’ve seen, weight bench exercises can be adapted to train your entire body. If you’re building a workout station for yourself at home, the gym, or even the office, getting a weight bench is an excellent place to start.
We’d love to hear from you as well. Let us know which workout bench exercises are your favorite. Also, which of the ones we listed are you looking forward to trying?
Leave a comment letting us know and remember to follow us on social media for more valuable fitness content.
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