22/06/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
You may think of your weight bench as more of an ‘accessory’ than a piece of kit in its own right. But if you think your bench is designed solely for, well, ‘benching’, you’re not using it to its full potential.
Add some of these movements into your rotation and upgrade your bench game.
Chest supported barbell rows in rack
A prone barbell row bench is an expensive piece of kit that takes up a lot of square footage for the sake of one movement, it is however, a very good movement. This rack hack will enable you to turn any flat bench into a near perfect substitution. Set a barbell up in a rack or rig between hip and chest height. If you have enough J-pegs, set another bar up a few rungs below (this will be the barbell you perform your rows with). Position your bench above the top bar, securing it at an inclined angle. Lay face down on the bench and manoeuvre yourself into a position where you can remove the bottom bar from the rack, perform your rows, and replace the bar.
Chest supported dumbbell rows
The dumbbell cousin of the barbell prone row, the perfect movement for keeping your rows honest, avoiding momentum and isolating the muscles of your back. If you have an incline bench you’re 90% of the way there, simply set your bench to somewhere between 45-90 degrees, sit down facing the back pad, grab your dumbbells from the floor and get to rowing. If you’re working with a non-adjustable, flat bench use the same rack hack method as above to get into the incline position. If you’re struggling to reach your dumbbells from the floor once you’re in position, use a box (or another bench) to keep your bells within reach between sets.
No box? No problem. Benches may not have the height you need to hit a 24 inch RX, but with a few simple tweaks we can up the intensity for a completely different stimulus. Straddle the bench, long ways between your legs, squat down until you touch the bench before jumping up explosively. Bring your feet together to land on the bench before dropping back down. As your feet hit the floor, slow your descent so that you’re not slamming into the bench, this will also build elastic energy helping you to spring back up onto the bench.
Inverted/ Chinese plank
On the surface flipping a plank from front to back sounds a lot like, well… laying down; but with the addition of a bench (or two) we can get into a position that will leave even the most ardent plank hater wishing they were performing the traditional variant. Sit sideway on to a bench, position your upper back up onto the pad and where possible, bring your heels up onto a second bench. Extend at the hips and lift yourself into the air, creating a rigid straight line between both benches (or the floor). Squeeze your glutes, quads and trunk as hard as possible and attempt to maintain their ‘structure’ for as long as possible . Too easy? Get a partner to add a few plates…
Burpee over bench
Another great option for the boxless, and one that gets the upper body involved to boot. Drop down into a burpee position, sideways on next to a bench, as you begin to stand back up, instead of coming up to full extension, place your hands on the bench, hop over to the over side and perform another burpee. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. We’re sure you get this one.
Feet elevated side plank knee raises
In most traditional training modalities .rotational/ anti rotational muscles are nearly as criminally overlooked as unilateral training. This movements kills two birds with one stone. Lay sideways and position your feet on top of each other on a bench. Push one hand into the ground and extend your arm, lifting you into a ‘side plank’ position with both feet still secure on the bench. Slowly take your top foot and bend at the knee, bringing it towards your chest. Reverse and repeat this movement keeping your hips and high a body rigid throughout.
Box squats are a fantastic movement in any trainees arsenal. This variation takes away the need for carefully positioning the box to make sure you’re not doing a backwards marathon to get to it (or tripping over it as you un-rack). Simply place your bench in the rack in a similar position to where you’d locate it for a bench press. Straddle the bench, un-rack your bar and squat.
An old school, bodyweight arm builder that’s not to be underestimated. Place your hands on your bench and step backwards as if you’re about to perform hands elevated press-ups. Keeping your elbows tucked, lower your head towards the bench, then keep going until your head is below your hands. Extend at the elbows, focusing on the triceps and pushing yourself back up to full extension, repeat and enjoy the pump.
Not just a great learning tool for the handstand push-up, the pike push-up is a powerful muscle builder in it’s own right. Assume a press-up position with your feet on a bench, from this position walk your hands backwards, lifting your hips until your torso is perpendicular to the ground. Lower you head slowly towards the ground by bending at the elbow, pause, push the ground away, lower and repeat.
Like the prone row bench, the GHD is another square footage drainer that’s less than ideal for small spaces. With GHD sit-ups coming up regularly in WOD’s, this quick movement hack could be your answer. Sit down with your bench between your legs, around half way up the bench. Lower yourself backwards until your upper body is off of the bench, simultaneously lift your feet and place them on the underside of the bench to stop your rolling completely off. Touch the ground behind your head before engaging your core to sit back up. Touch the bench and repeat.