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This Compound Strength Exercise Will Light Up Your Shoulders, Chest & Abs


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mbg Associate Food & Health Editor

By Merrell Readman

mbg Associate Food & Health Editor

Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.

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Andreas von Scheele

If you’re not already utilizing compound movements in your workout routine, now would be a great time to start. Targeting more than one muscle group and therefore firing up your body more effectively, compound movements are the hidden gems of fitness–they offer the most bang for your buck when it comes to weight training. One of our favorites? The incline dumbbell press.

Building your upper body strength not only improves muscle tone, but it can actually make day to day life that much easier (think: carrying your groceries all in one trip), and an incline dumbbell press targets several areas of the upper body and core.

Below, we break down exactly how to perfect your form as guided by fitness trainer BB Arrington, CPT, along with some helpful tips for modifying the movement to match your fitness level.

How to do an incline dumbbell press.

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Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

How-to:

Seated on the floor, in front of your sofa (or a wall), lean back so that your shoulders rest against it.

With dumbbells in hand, lift your elbows to shoulder height, wrists stacked over elbows.

Brace your core and keep your gaze forward. Press the dumbbells up to the ceiling, and return to start.

Keep the dumbbells in your peripheral vision; if you can’t see them overhead when you press, they’ve floated too far behind you. (You will feel your lats engage at the bottom of the movement.)

Form tips.

Since you’re seated on the floor at an incline, you must brace your core while pressing through the movement in order to maintain good form and effectively engage your upper body. Core strength is so important because it plays a role in nearly any exercise you do, and if you want to hold your body at the proper angle to hit your shoulder muscles, then you must call upon those abdominals.

“Strong shoulders help facilitate the various overhead and rotational movements of the arms. A strong chest balances out the back muscles and helps us in pushing movements,” Arrington explains. Since this is a compound exercise, you’re not only hitting your shoulders as a traditional press would, but you’re also engaging your chest, back, and lats. It’s also easily scalable to any fitness level based on the volume of weight you’re pressing.

Modifications & variations.

Curtsy Lunge + Curl + Press

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Demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

How-to:

Start in a standing position, with a single dumbbell in your left hand, and right hand on your right hip.

Bring your left foot back behind your body, and lower down into a curtsy lunge.

From here, complete a biceps curl with your left hand, then press the weight up overhead–using your abs to keep you stable.

Keeping your arm overhead, rise back up to a standing position. Bring the weight back down to start.

Repeat for 45 seconds, then switch sides.

Situp + Single Arm Press

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mbg creative

Demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

How to:

Start by lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet on the mat. Hold a single dumbbell in your left hand.

Engage your core and lift your torso to meet your thighs.

Keep your left arm straight the whole time, and press it overhead at the top of the situp.

Repeat for 45 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

Chest press

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mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

How-to:

Lie on the floor, with your knees bent and feet planted on the mat. Keep your ribs down on the ground to give you extra stability. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand.

Push the weight up toward the sky. Slowly lower back down with control. Use your abs to help you stay grounded.

That’s one rep. Complete 10 reps. Switch sides, then complete 10 reps on the opposite side.

Overhead press exercise

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mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

How-to:

Start in a seated position in your chair, plant your feet, lift your chest, and bring your right arm into a goalpost position with the weight in your hand.

Engage your shoulders, and extend your right arm to lift the weight directly overhead, until your arm is straight.

Keep your core activated as you slowly bring your weight down.

That’s one rep. Complete 10 reps, then switch sides and complete 10 reps.

Add it to your routine.

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The good thing about compound exercises is that they fit into nearly any workout you could do, engaging numerous areas of your body for a well-rounded split. If you want to target your shoulders, chest, and biceps, this five-move routine from Arrington is the perfect way to build a strong base while hitting all the important muscles.

Looking for something a little more intense that includes pressing movements? This strength and conditioning workout from Lai is the up-tempo workout you’ve been looking for that utilizes compound movements with a press to challenge your arms and chest while getting your heart rate up.

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