If it feels like you’re on a never-ending quest to fill out your shirt and bust through your sleeves, you need to course-correct. Odds are you’ve had a heavy rotation of bench presses and biceps curls when training an upper-body split. They’re great building blocks, but after years of the same exercises, you’ve either plateaued, become bored or both.
One way to shock your muscles is changing your stance to challenge your stability, core strength, balance and muscular endurance while making your favorite movements feel completely new. With these variations, you’ll engage your core more and tap into ancillary strength (the targeted group’s supporting muscles). Here are a few classic upper-body exercises with a lower-body twist.
Complete exercises as a circuit for 3 to 5 rounds, resting as needed. While these moves will crank up your heart rate, don’t rush. Perform with control and use moderate to heavy weight.
Clever Stance Variations That Make Classic Upper-body Exercises Feel New
1. Glute Bridge Hold Floor Press x 15 reps (shown above)
Start in a lying position with knees bent at 90 degrees, feet on the ground, hip-width apart, dumbbells in hands. Lift hips by driving heels into floor, engaging glutes. Position elbows out 45 degrees and stack wrists directly above. Exhale as you press dumbbells toward ceiling, finishing with wrists directly over shoulders (shown). Inhale as you lower to start position. Really engage core and glutes for stability; they’ll help keep your spine neutral and hips level and elevated for the duration of the round.
2. Staggered-stance Unilateral Bentover Row x 8 reps each side
Assume a staggered stance with soft bend in knees, holding dumbbells. Maintain a flat back as you hinge at hips, leaning chest forward to 45 degrees. With arms extended straight and palms facing each other, exhale, then row weights to hips, driving elbows back. Complete all reps on one side, then switch leading leg in the stance.
3. Seated Straight-leg Bilateral Shoulder Press x 16 reps
Sit on floor with legs extended out wide, feet flexed. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with elbows stacked under wrists. Brace your core, exhale, then press the dumbbell in your left hand until it’s fully extended and directly over your shoulder (shown). Inhale and return to start, then repeat with dumbbell in right hand, alternating sides on each rep. Keep torso tall.
4. Half-kneeling Unilateral Hammer Curl x 8 reps each side
Begin in half-kneeling position with left knee on ground under hip, toes tucked. Hold dumbbells in each hand, arms extended, palms facing each other. Exhale and curl weights to shoulders, isolating the biceps, keeping elbows tight to rib cage and torso upright (shown). Complete all reps on one side, then switch kneeling leg.
5. Single-leg Front Raise x 8 reps each side
Stand on left leg with soft bend in knee, dumbbells in hands, as you lift right knee to hip height. Exhale as you raise arms in front of you to shoulder height; don’t lock out elbows (shown). Inhale as you lower arms but keep leg raised. Complete all reps on one side, then switch working leg. Stare at a fixed point to help stay balanced.
6. Split-squat Hold Shoulder Press x 8 reps each side
Begin in half-kneeling position with left knee on ground under hip, toes tucked. Hold dumbbells in each hand, arms hanging at sides. To get in the starting position, curl weights to shoulders, keeping elbows close to torso and hover left knee above the ground. You’ll hold split squat for duration of round, stabilizing through ankles and knees. Exhale and press weights overhead. Inhale and lower arms to start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch leading leg.
7. Bench-supported Single-arm Row x 8 reps each side
Stand parallel to the right back corner of a flat bench. Place left knee and left palm on top, with the ball of your right foot on the floor for balance, knee slightly bent. Maintain a flat back and keep hips and shoulders square and parallel to the ground. With a dumbbell in your right hand, arm extended, exhale as you row the weight by driving elbow toward ceiling (shown). Inhale and return to start position. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.
8. Bench Step-up Biceps Curl x 12 reps
Place right foot on flat bench and left foot on ground, holding dumbbells with arms extended by sides. Exhale as you drive right foot into the box to stand as you simultaneously curl weights to shoulders, keeping elbows tucked to torso. Inhale, then return to start. Alternate legs on each rep.
9. Bench-supported Lat Pullover x 12 reps
Lie on the length of a flat bench with feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart, holding the “bell” of a dumbbell by creating a diamond between thumbs and index fingers. Extend arms directly over chest, palms facing ceiling, wrists in line with shoulders. Keeping arms straight, inhale as you lower the dumbbell back toward the front of the bench until your biceps are aligned with ears. Exhale and engage lats to bring the dumbbell back to start position.
10. Seated Balancing Lateral Raise x 10 reps
Sit at end of bench with dumbbells in hands. Lean back, keeping a flat back, then lift feet off ground, knees bent at 90 degrees. Find balance on your tailbone and engage core. Exhale and raise arms laterally to shoulder height, soft bend in elbows (shown). Inhale, lower arms, then repeat.