Ever try to do a chest workout in a crowded gym? Bench press stations are hard to come by, people expectantly hover around the most popular machines waiting for a turn, and, well… good luck ever landing both sides of a crossover station.
If that situation sounds familiar — or you just like the idea of a fast, efficient chest workout that allows you to get in, get out and get on with your day — we have a perfect pec solution.
The following regimen only requires access to dumbbells and the monopolization of one piece of equipment. You’ll either choose an adjustable bench or, if you’re ready for a steeper challenge, an exercise ball. The bench provides stability, while doing presses, flyes and push-ups on a ball introduces instability, thus recruiting numerous additional muscle groups to hold your body in place as you rep.
You’ll do five exercises in circuit style — incline dumbbell presses, incline flyes, flat dumbbell presses, and finish with incline and decline push-ups. But there’s a twist: Instead of counting reps, you’ll track time, performing each set for 30 seconds.
The goal isn’t cramming in as many reps as possible into those 30 seconds. Be sure to take your time, with a two-second positive (concentric) action, a one-second pause in the peak position, and a two-to-three second negative (eccentric) “lowering” of the weight. By counting time instead of reps, you get to focus on something you may not have given too much thought to in the past — the amount of time your target muscles are under tension during a set.
A mere 15 minutes or so later, you’ll be wiping down the bench and slipping out with a great chest workout in the books before some others have managed to navigate the crowd for their warm-ups.
“Chest in 30” Circuit Workout
Do 30-second sets (no counting reps), going through the following circuit four times. Rest 60 seconds between circuits.
Incline Dumbbell Press
Incline Dumbbell Flye
Flat-Bench Dummbell Press
Note: You can do this workout using an adjustable bench, or switch that out for an exercise ball for a more advanced variation.
Setup: Adjust a bench so that the incline in the bench is roughly 30–45 degrees, and lie face up on it with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just outside your shoulders. (If you’re using a ball, start by lying flat on it, feet planted on the floor and knees bent to 90 degrees — now, roll a few inches forward by bending your knees and bringing your hips toward your legs so that the angle of your upper body changes to an incline position.)
Action: Extend your elbows and flex your pecs to powerfully press the dumbbells upward toward the ceiling, allowing them to arc toward one another but not letting them clang together at the top. From there, slowly return the weights to the starting spot alongside your torso and repeat.
Incline Dumbbell Flye
Setup: Lie on a bench set to a 30- to 45-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral (palms facing) grip. Extend your arms above your chest, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. (If you’re using a ball, take the same position you used for the incline press.)
Action: Without changing the angle of your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide arc down to your sides into a deep stretch, then reverse the motion. You can push the dumbbells together for a one-count at the top, but do not allow them to slam together, which dissipates the desired stress on the pecs.
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press
Setup: Lie on a bench or ball with your feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand just outside your mid-chest.
Action: Powerfully press the dumbbells toward the ceiling by extending your elbows and flexing your pectorals — the ’bells can arc toward each other, but don’t let them forcefully strike at the top. To reverse, bend your elbows, controlling the descent back to the starting point.
Setup: Place your feet on a bench or ball, with your hands wider than shoulder-width and flat on the floor and your arms fully extended.
Action: Keeping your head neutral and abs tight, lower your upper body toward the floor until you’re an inch or less from your chest touching down, then press through your hands until your arms are fully extended.
Setup: Reverse your position so your feet are on the floor and your hands are on the bench. (And yes, it’s admittedly confusing, but the “decline” position actually mimics an incline press, thus targeting the upper pectorals, while the “incline” position mimics a decline press, taking aim at the lower pecs.)
Action: Keeping your head neutral and abs tight, lower your upper body toward the bench until you’re an inch or less from your chest touching down, then press through your hands until your arms are fully extended.