You're going to hate me for this one...this is one of my very favorite "secret weapon" core training exercises. And when you're done, you're going to feel like you can punch through a brick wall.
It's a relatively simple-looking concept on the surface...you'll be doing a single-arm dumbbell bench press while at the same time doing a single arm cable pulldown/row.
As you're pushing the dumbbell UP, you're pulling the cable DOWN.
However, even though you're doing a back and chest exercise, as I mentioned, that's NOT the focus of the exercise.
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 at the same time. In order to stabilize the core while doing two opposing movements, your deep core muscles (obliques and transverse abdominis) will be pushed to the limit.
This is honestly one of THE best core exercises I've ever found. And it's going to develop incredible core strength in you.
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. That means 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 dumbbell. Set the bench perpendicular to how you'd "normally" set it for a press, beside or under the high pulley. You're going to be lying with just your upper back on the bench.
I'm using a 105 lb dumbbell and about 110 lbs on the pulldown part. You'll need to do a little practice to get the weight balance right for yourself. The dumbbell should be something you can press for at least 8-10 reps, then balance the pulldown load according to the dumbbell you're pressing (about even or a little bit more than the press is good).
Pick up the dumbbell in your right hand, sit on the end of the bench and rest the dumbbell on your right thigh.
There are two ways to get into position for the exercise, depending on your setup.
If you are able to lower the handle down (either using an adjustable-height pulley or a length of chain), set it at a point where you can lie on the bench and reach up and grab it.
If you can't adjust the height, you'll need to reach up and grab the handle FIRST, before you lie back on the bench (it's a bit trickier, so practice it with lighter weight first).
Lie back on the bench with your upper arm resting on the bench.
This turns the press into almost a "floor" press done on the bench. This is much easier for getting the dumbbell into position and performing the exercise. It's also going to allow you to use heavier weight, which allows you to put more cross-loading on the core.
This exercise is not about working the chest or the back...it's about MAXIMUM torque on the core.
Now reach up and grab the single cable handle and set your feet out wide (important especially with heavier weights).
Now PUSH and PULL.
This should be simultaneous. And this is where you'll start to feel the incredible cross-tension on the core!
At this point, you will feel like a giant is clawing at your entire midsection and/or wringing you out like a big, wet towel. The cross-tension is ridiculous.
As you press/row, try and keep your feet on the floor, however, there will likely be some movement in the lower body as you try to prevent being twisted in half.
With the pulldown/row part, 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. This is important for balance.
Press all the way up and pull all the way down as far as you can. We're not necessarily looking for full range of motion on the pull...just enough to get that massive cross-tension.
Now just lower the dumbbell and let the cable come up and repeat.
I like to keep to lower reps on this one...(4-6 reps). The core responds better to lower reps and resistance, especially if you want to build power and explosiveness, so start with moderate resistance but definitely work your way up.
On each rep, rest your upper arm on the bench, similar to a floor dumbbell bench press.
To finish the exercise, let your upper arm rest on the bench and release the cable handle.
Reach over and stabilize the dumbbell with the left hand, too. Then just shift your legs around to a kneeling position, then move the dumbbell 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.
Repeat for 4 to 6 reps.
I would suggest performing two sets on each side.
If you've never really felt your deep abdominal muscles after training THIS exercise is going to change that!
(Side note: do your best not to sneeze for the next few days...trust me on this...the deep core soreness you're going to get from this one will be intense.)