This is one of my very favorite “secret weapon” total-torso training exercises. It covers pretty much every major part in your upper body in just one movement (or should I say TWO movements in one!).
It’s a relatively simple-looking concept on the surface…you’ll be doing a single-arm dumbell bench press while at the same time doing a single arm cable pulldown/row.
As you’re pushing the dumbell UP, you’re pulling the cable DOWN.
So you’re hitting the two biggest parts of the upper body in one shot there (including biceps on the pull and triceps on the press, along with aspects of the shoulders on both).
What you might not see at first glance is the INCREDIBLE core cross-tension you’ll get when you execute a push and a pull. You see, in order to stabilize the core while doing two opposing movements, your deep core muscles (obliques and transverus) will be pushed to the limit.
This is honestly one of THE best core exercises I’ve ever come up with, never mind all the other upper body stuff going on. It’s going to develop incredible core strength without any hint of a crunch or sit-up.
I can promise you, if you’ve never done heavy cross-core tension training before, your deep abdominal muscles will be feeling it for DAYS. So start with more moderate weights than I’m using in the demo here and work up to it.
Here’s how to do it…
First, you’ll need a flat bench, a high pulley with a single handle and a dumbell. Set the bench lengthwise beside the high pulley and the dumbell in front of the bench.
I’m using a 95 lb dumbell and about 120 lbs on the pulldown part. You’ll need to do a little practice to get the weight balance right for yourself. The dumbell should be something you can control pretty easily – then balance the pulldown part according to the dumbell you’re pressing.
Pick up the dumbell in your right hand, sit on the end of the bench and rest the dumbell on your right thigh.
Now reach up and grab the single cable handle.
Move your butt forward off the bench and lay back so only your shoulders are on the bench.
Your upper arm should be resting on the bench and your left shoulder will be stretched up and off the bench. Get ready to push and pull!
Start the press and at the same time start the pull. They should be simultaneous. THIS is where you’ll start to feel the incredible cross-tension on the core!
With the pulldown/row, you’ll want to keep your elbow coming down in beside your body…not a wide-grip row position, more like a close-grip row.
Press all the way up and pull all the way down as far as you can.
Now just lower the dumbell and let the cable come up and repeat! I like to keep to lower reps on this one – the core responds better to lower reps and resistance so as I mentioned, start with moderate resistance but definitely work your way up.
On each rep, you can rest your upper arm on the bench, similar to a floor dumbell bench press. It’s not a full-range press, but you’ll find you won’t really care by the time you’re done a set 🙂
To finish the exercise, let your upper arm rest on the bench and release the cable handle.
Reach over and stabilize the dumbell with the left hand, too. Then just shift your legs around to a kneeling position, then move the dumbell to the floor (easier to see in the video).
That’s one side!
I recommend taking a rest period in between that and switching up to work the other side. Your core especially will need it. You’ll get more out of the other side by waiting for some recovery (at least a minute to 90 seconds) before hitting the opposing movements.
It’s going to look exactly the same only with sides reversed. I just shifted the bench over to the other side because I have a wall in the way. If you have a wall, you can just move the dumbell to the other side of the bench and leave the set-up as-is. You’ll just be facing the other way.
Get the dumbell onto your lap then reach up and grab the cable handle.
Get your butt off the bench forward then lay your shoulders on the bench.
Press up with your left and pull down with your right.
Repeat for 5 or 6 reps.
I would suggest two sets on each side and you’ll be pretty well all done with your upper body training for the day. It’s not only a great timesaver but KILLER core training as well.
If you’ve never really felt your deep abdominal muscles after training THIS exercise is going to change that.
Nick Nilsson is known in the fitness industry as the “Mad Scientist of Muscle,” and for good reason! For more than 28 years, Nick has been creating unique, new exercises and training techniques and putting together some of the most innovative muscle-building and fat-loss programs available anywhere.