What are Dumbbell Elevators?

Corey St. Clair submitted this question. He is the owner of St. Clair Strength and Fitness, located in Eagle, Idaho. Corey is a professional Strongman and served as a student assistant for me at Boise State University.

I was first introduced to elevator progressions by legendary Dan Riley, former strength and conditioning coach of the Houston Texans and Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. I was fortunate enough to have visited Riley during one of my professional development tours while I was on staff at Arizona State University.

The primary rationale for implementing elevators is to attack various planes of movement in a single training session. Elevators consist of a linear progression of either vertical to horizontal presses or horizontal to vertical presses. I recommend elevator progressions using dumbbells. I’ve used them with barbells, but it’s more efficient to use dumbbells. The set up is harder because of the rack height adjustments needed for the barbell.

In elevator progressions, you simply change the angle of your adjustable bench for each set of the prescribed workout. You can choose to go from zero degrees to a flat bench press at 90 degrees to a seated shoulder press or vice versa. Depending on the volume you’re looking for, you can choose a 3–5 set elevator (the five set approach is displayed on video). The three set choice is the basic elevator and includes the flat bench press, 45-degree incline press, and 90-degree seated shoulder press. You can add in a low or steep incline press for a four-set model or both for the five-set model.

I prefer the downward progression because I’ve had major shoulder issues and need to keep the flat bench press at a lighter load than if I started with an upward progression. I prefer volumes of 8–10 repetitions per set. The goal is to complete the prescribed number for each set (if not, use continuation sets as seen in the video). This is a very good choice for major assistance work. I highly recommend doing these coupled with an upper body pulling movement (i.e. bent over rows).

Here are two workouts I’ve used. They’re very good for adding size and strength using elevators coupled with an antagonistic pulling movement.

Workout #1: Three-stage elevator with hammer back blast

A: Hammer iso lateral pull-down X 12

Alternative: Cable supine pull-down

B: Dumbbell seated shoulder press X 10

C: Hammer iso lateral high row X 12

Alternative: V bar 45-degree pull-down

D: Dumbbell incline press X 10

E: Hammer iso lateral mid row X 12

Alternative: V bar seated row

F: Dumbbell bench press X 10

This is done in what I call a medley (circuit) fashion. Each exercise is performed on a 90–120 second turn around (interval). If you’re using 120 seconds, perform exercise A at zero seconds followed by exercise B at 120 seconds, exercise C at 240 seconds, and so on.

Workout #2: Three-stage single arm elevator with single arm pull

A1: Single arm supine pull-down X 12 right arm (ra)

A2: Single arm supine pull-down X 12 left arm (la)

B1: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (ra)

B2: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (la)

C1: Single arm 45-degree pull-down X 12 right arm (ra)

C2: Single arm 45-degree pull-down X 12 left arm (la)

D1: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (ra)

D2: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (la)

E1: Single arm bent over dumbbell row X 12 right arm (ra)

E2: Single arm bent over dumbbell row X 12 left arm (la)

F1: Single arm dumbbell bench press X 8 (ra)

F2: Single arm dumbbell bench press X 8 (la)

This workout can also be performed in medley fashion. Rest for 30 seconds between every movement.

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About the Author

Known simply as "House" to players, Joe Kenn's goal as the Panthers' strength and conditioning coach is to protect and produce: protect the athletes' body armor and produce athletic based results. He employs a holistic and integrated philosophy in his comprehensive training plan that utilizes strength training, explosive development, high intensity interval training and performance-based nutrition. It is a structured approach that enhances the players' physical attributes. An accomplished strength and conditioning coach with nearly two decades of experience on the college level, Kenn came to the Panthers in 2011 from Big House Power Competitive Athletic Training, where he coached professional, college and high school athletes and teams from several sports. Prior to that, he was the director of athlete development at Louisville for two seasons from 2008-09, working specifically with the football program. In 2009, he was recognized as a master strength and conditioning coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. That same year, Cardinals center Eric Wood became Kenn's fourth first-round draft choice when the Buffalo Bills selected him 28th overall. Kenn started his college coaching career at his alma mater, Wake Forest, in January 1991 as the assistant strength coach. Later that year, he went to Boise State as a graduate assistant and remained there for eight years. Elevated to the Broncos' strength and conditioning coach in 1994, Kenn was named the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Big West Conference Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 1998. He then moved to Utah as the director of strength and conditioning for two years from 1999-2000. While with the Utes, Kenn supervised future Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and tackle Jordan Gross and former NFL standout running back Mike Anderson. He also received accolades as the NSCA Mountain West Conference Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2000. Next, Kenn spent seven years at Arizona State from 2001-07, serving as the head strength and conditioning coach for football for two seasons before being promoted to head coach of sports performance in 2003 and overseeing all sports. During his tenure with the Sun Devils, he worked with future Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. He captured the NSCA College Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year award in 2002. PLAYING AND PERSONAL A two-year starter at guard for Wake Forest from 1987-88, Kenn earned the Bill George Award as the Demon Deacons' standout lineman as a junior and then garnered recognition as the school's weightlifter of the year and an All-American strength and conditioning athlete by the NSCA as a senior. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in health and sports science from Wake Forest in 1988, added his strength and conditioning specialist certification in 1990 and obtained his master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Boise State in 1993. HISTORY Guard: Wake Forest 1987-88. College coach: Wake Forest 1991 (winter/spring), Boise State 1991-98, Utah 1999-2000, Arizona State 2001-07, Louisville 2008-09. Pro coach: Joined Panthers in 2011.