Bench Exercises: Dumbbell Chest Press and Step Ups

Using the exercise bench in two ways — for the chest press and step ups — with just one set of dumbbells, is a great way to get the benefits of working both your upper and lower body–burning tons of calories to boot.

Dumbbell Chest Press

The chest press helps build the pectoralis muscles, or muscles in the front of your chest, while using the shoulders and triceps as stabilizers. A stronger chest improves your posture and your ability to lift and push heavy objects.

How To Do It

Lie on your back on the bench with 15-20 lb dumbbells in your hands, just outside your chest. Press the weights up so they are even with your shoulders, then bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the bench. Lower the weights, bringing elbows out wide to your sides until the weights are about 6-8 inches from the height of your chest, and your elbows are still above the bench. This will keep your shoulders safe and injury free. To repeat, push weights back up, even with your shoulders, without locking your elbows at the top of the exercise. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Stay Safe

Elbow height, described above, will keep your shoulders safe from overextending through the press. Keep elbows soft, and don’t lock at the top of the press to avoid injuring your elbow joints. Press your lower back to the bench for the duration of the exercise to keep your back pain free.

Add Intensity

Build strength and power by adding additional weight or varied tempos (slow presses vs. quick presses) to make the exercise more intense.

Time Under Tension

Complete your 15 reps at varied speeds, building in a pyramid of counts. Do your first rep, pressing 1 count down, 1 count up. To repeat, take 2 counts to lower and 2 counts to raise the weight. Count 3 down and up for your third rep, and 4 up and down for the 4th rep. After the 4 count rep, reverse your counts down to 1 at the end of the pyramid.

Dumbbell Step Ups

After one set of the chest press, stand up next to the bench to perform step ups. You’ll get the benefit of working your total body in this mini circuit.

How to Do It

Hold your dumbbells at your sides. Place your right foot on the bench and push up to standing on the top of the bench. Keep your hips directly underneath your shoulders, so your backside doesn’t push out. This will keep the focus in your glutes. Tap the bench with your left foot, then step down. Switch feet on your second rep, completing 20 (10 on each side) for one set.

Stay Safe

Keep your abs tight as you step up, maintaining your balance. Also, press your shoulders back to avoid rounding forward through your back, keeping your lower back safe. Finally, check that your knees don’t extend farther forward than your toes as you step.

Make It Harder

A few small tweaks can challenge your balance and work your core. Try stepping up on the bench, and bring your left knee up to hip height, or slightly higher. This will work your abs and force you to balance through the exercise.


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