Even if you have no other equipment, having access to a weight bench can add variety, enjoyment and new challenges to your workout routine. You can use a bench at home, or in the gym, to target all the areas of your body and get a fat-burning, muscle-building workout that also increases your fitness. If you also have dumbbells, there are even more workout variations you can try.
Lower Body Exercises
Work your quadriceps and hamstrings with a series of body-weight bench exercises. Bench squats are similar to box squats and an excellent way to learn correct squatting technique. Stand in front of the bench and squat down by pushing your hips back and knees out, until your butt rests on the bench. Pause for a second, then drive up forcefully. These help you learn the correct depth for squatting and increase power in your glutes and hamstrings. Split squats, with your back leg elevated on the bench and front foot on the floor, along with glute bridges, in which you lie on the floor, place your heels on the bench and push your hips up, both hit your leg muscles and increase knee and hip stability, notes corrective exercise specialist Mike Robertson in his book "Bulletproof Knees."
Upper Body Exercises
Pushups hit your chest, shoulders, triceps and core muscles, but many people struggle with the correct technique. This is where incline pushups come in useful. Put your hands on the bench, step your feet back and perform pushups as you would usually. The decreased range of motion makes them easier and you can soon transition to full pushups. Likewise, if normal pushups are too easy for you, try decline pushups. Put your hands in the normal position on the floor, but elevate your legs by putting them on the bench behind you. Keep your core, butt and upper back muscles tight in both variations.
Plyometrics are any exercise that involves jumping or bounding movements. They are extremely beneficial for developing speed, power and building explosive strength. Perform bench jumps by standing in the squat position, dipping your knees and jumping forcefully onto the bench. You can also do bunny hops over the bench or clap pushups, which are like incline pushups, but involve an explosive push and a hand clap at the top of the movement. Your focus with plyometrics should be on quality, rather than quantity, notes UK Athletics coach Brian Mackenzie. Keep to three to five sets of three to five repetitions per exercise.
Training with weights can add another dimension to your training. You don't need anything fancy -- a basic set of adjustable dumbbells will work just fine. You can make exercises such as squats and split squats harder simply by holding dumbbells. Alternatively, try different exercises. Dumbbell presses lying on the bench work your chest, while overhead presses sitting up straight hit your shoulders. Work your back with dumbbell rows while supporting yourself on the bench. Train your arms with seated curls and lying triceps extensions.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.