As anyone who has ever watched an infomercial knows, when it comes to equipment that promises to jack up your exercise routine, options abound. But in terms of both utility and ubiquity, the bench may stand far above the rest. An ideal platform for strength moves, the no-frills workhorse also makes a remarkably good stand-in when it comes to cardio. (Remember the step-class fad? The foundation of the trend was really nothing but a glorified bench.)
â€śItâ€™s one of the most versatile pieces of equipment youâ€™ll find outside the gym,â€ť says Jenna Speicher, a personal trainer at the Grand Del Mar resort, in San Diego. â€śPlus, every playground has one.â€ť Most of us probably run or walk by a dozen benches every day without even thinking about it.
â€śLook for a bench thatâ€™s stable and not too high,â€ťSpeicher says.â€śMost park benches are ideal.â€ť Rainy day? A sturdy living room ottoman makes a fine backup.
Speicher designed this bench-based routine, which takes advantage of body weight to both elevate heart rate and provide a total-body workout. Try the 20-minute series of exercises a few times a week to get your body into starting shape.
What it does: Strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps
How to do it: Sit close to the edge of a bench with knees bent and aligned directly over ankles. Lift right leg off the ground and extend arms forward. Keep right leg lifted (or lightly rest it on the ground if necessary), and rise up while balancing only on your left leg. Slowly sit back down and repeat. Do 12 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Keep in mind: Look down at your knee as you squat and rise up; donâ€™t let it angle in or out, as that could lead to injury.
What it does: Challenges the core, chest, and arms
How to do it: Place hands shoulder-width apart on the ground several feet in front of a bench and place feet (heels up) on bench. Tighten abs so that your body is straight from head to heels. Draw your left knee in toward your chest, keeping toes off the ground. Do 10 knee drives, then switch legs and repeat. Follow with 10 reps, alternating sides.
Keep in mind: Pull your navel in and tilt your tailbone toward the ground. This will protect your back and keep your belly from sagging.
What it does: Tones the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes
How to do it: Stand facing a bench, arms at sides. Place right foot on bench as you raise left arm in front of you, elbow bent 90 degrees and forearm perpendicular to the ground. Rise up onto the bench, raising left knee to hip height and swinging right arm to 90 degrees. Step both feet back down to the floor and repeat for 30 seconds. Then switch legs (stepping onto the left foot first) and repeat.
Keep in mind: As you rise onto the bench, explode up from the ground with as much power as you can muster.
What it does: Strengthens shoulders, core, chest, and triceps
How to do it: Place hands slightly wider than shoulders on a bench and step feet back so that your body is straight from head to heels. Your head should be just in front of your fingers. Bend elbows and lower your chest toward the bench. Press up and repeat. Do 10 reps.
Keep in mind: Reduce stress on your shoulders by angling your elbows back and in toward your body (not straight out to the sides) as you bend them.
What it does: Works chest, core, back, arms, glutes, and legs
How to Do it: Stand on one long side of a bench and lean over, grasping the edge on either side of it. Keeping your arms straight (not locked) and your shoulders aligned over your hands, bend knees and jump your feet over to the other side of bench, landing with feet together. Repeat back and forth for 30 seconds. As you get better, youâ€™ll be able to jump faster and land more softly.
Keep in mind: Tighten your abs as you jump to improve balance and control.
What it does: Strengthens glutes and lower back
How to do it: Lie facedown on a bench with your hips just off one short end. Grasp the edges of the bench and extend both legs parallel to the ground, pointing your toes. Keeping your torso on the bench and your legs straight, lower your toes to the ground. Raise legs again, squeezing glutes tight, and repeat. Do 20 reps.
Keep in mind: Maintain a slow, controlled pace to avoid flinging your legs up; raising them higher than parallel could strain your back.