The Arnold press is a shoulder exercise that many people shy away from because they don’t know how to do it properly. The Arnold press is a great exercise because it works both your anterior (front) and posterior (back) deltoids, and it also requires a fair amount of weight to be effective. The exercise can be done with either dumbbells or a Barbell and can be performed standing or seated. So if you’re looking for an all-around shoulder workout, give the Arnold press a try!
In this article, we’ll teach you the proper way to do the Arnold press so that you can start incorporating it into your shoulder workout routine, — what this exercise is, the muscles it targets, the benefits you can get from it, and the variations you can do at home.
How To Do Arnold Press
As long as done properly and regularly, the Arnold Press can help you achieve your fitness goals faster. This is especially true if you want to focus more on the muscles in your upper body.
What You’ll Need:
- Dumbbells – The Arnold Press is best done with a barbell to achieve balance on both sides of the body
- Milk jug, canned goods, or water-filled plastic bottles – Use one alternative item for each hand
Step 1: Master The Starting Position
Grab two dumbbells (make sure that you can comfortably carry the weight) and stand with your feet hip-width apart while slightly bending your knees.
Make sure to maintain a straight posture wherein your shoulders are aligned directly over your hips, and your head and neck are in a neutral position. Your chin should be tucked throughout the exercise as if you’re keeping or holding an egg under your chin.
Evenly distribute your body weight along your feet. Using your feet, grip the floor to maintain a stable foot position. This will help you maintain proper form and balance when performing several reps of Arnold Press.
Step 2: Incorporate The Dumbbells
Grip the dumbbells slightly about your shoulders with your palms facing your body. Your upper arms should be close to your ribcage, and your elbows should be pointing downwards. This is the starting position of the Arnold Press, and all repetitions should start with this position.
Step 3: Engage Your Core
Apply tension to your hips and shoulder as you engage your core. This step is crucial to prevent your back from arching as you lift weights and ensure that you don’t lose your balance.
Contrary to popular belief, engaging your core isn’t all about “sucking in” your stomach. This process will require you to take a deep breath and strengthen all of your abdominal muscles. To make things easier, picture “zipping up” your abs as if you’re bringing your navel toward your spine.
Step 4: Extend Your Arms Upward
As you maintain a neutral wrist position and proper spine alignment, initiate an upward movement by moving your elbows out wide, away from your body. Press the dumbbells overhead as your palms are facing forward. Your shoulder blades should move naturally with your shoulder joint as you press the dumbbells up.
Step 5: Keep Your Arms Extended
At the top of the movement, ensure that your arms are extended and your elbows are slightly bent. Your palms should be facing forward by this time. Pause for a few seconds at the top but make sure that there is a distance between the dumbbells.
Step 6: Begin The Downward Movement
Initiate the downward movement by bending both of your elbows and pulling with your lats. Rotate your arms until both of your palms are facing your body. All of these should occur in one smooth motion, and your upper arms should return to the starting position. You can start another repetition of the Arnold Press in this position.
Keep in mind that the Arnold Press is more advanced and challenging than a shoulder press. Practice and maintain proper form to avoid any shoulder injury and discomfort when performing the Arnold Press. This is especially important if you’re using lifting more weight.
If you do experience shoulder injury, pain, or discomfort when performing the Arnold Press for the first time, consult a doctor or certified personal trainer before continuing. Don’t attempt to repeat reps of Arnold Press without their approval.
Arnold Press Benefits
Performing the Arnold Press and incorporating it into your shoulder workout can be taught, but doing so will be worth it. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy from Arnold Press:
Address Movement and Muscular Asymmetries
Arnold Press is an excellent exercise to increase your unilateral movement, muscle mass, and strength. If you’re an athlete who doesn’t usually train with kettlebells and other weights, performing Arnold Press is an excellent alternative as it can address asymmetrical movement patterning and muscular asymmetries.
Increased Muscle Mass
Adding Arnold Press to your regular workout is an excellent way to build hypertrophy (the increase and growth of your muscle cells) and improve your body’s muscular activation. Unlike other exercises, Arnold Press works by increasing movement coordination and toning your new muscle fibers, similar to other forms of unilateral training.
Joint And Movement Integrity
The Arnold Press will require you to use either one or two dumbbells at a time. The movement of the Arnold Press, along with the weights you lift, can increase your joint and movement integrity.
This happens because Arnold Press trains the body to increase movement coordination and not solely rely on compensation mechanisms when one shoulder is better or stronger than the other. Over time, this can help improve the stability of muscle groups in your upper body.
Common Arnold Press Mistakes to Avoid
To ensure the efficacy of your workout and your safety, avoid committing the following mistakes when performing Arnold Press:
- Arching Your Lower Back: When performing the Arnold Press, your lower back region shouldn’t move. However, most people will arch their lower back as they raise their arms over their heads.
Never arch your lower back when doing Arnold Press, as this will put too much stress in your lower back when you lift up the dumbbells. Over time, arching your lower back can lead to severe pain and might even contribute to anterior pelvic tilt.
- Head Pushed Forward: Don’t push your head forward past your shoulders in an attempt to maintain stability and balance when doing Arnold Presses. This will trigger neck pain and forward head posture.
Instead of pushing your head forward, keep your chin pulled in and relaxed. Brace your core and work through your shoulders so you won’t have to compensate by pushing your head forward.
- Shrugging Your Shoulders: Shrugging your shoulders will make the Arnold Press into an upper trapezius exercise. This can cause pain and discomfort for some because the upper trapezius is often stiff. When performing the Arnold Press, keep your shoulders down and lift the barbells using deltoids.
Arnold Press Muscles Worked
The Arnold Press targets different muscle groups in the body, which is why you should definitely add this routine to your workout regime. Listed below are some of the muscles targetted by Arnold Press:
- Deltoid Anterior: Also known as the front deltoid, the deltoid anterior is one of the three shoulder heads. It works with your deltoid posterior (also known as rear delts) to stabilize your arm while your deltoid lateral moves away from the midline of your body. This muscle also works with your pec muscles to flex the arm whenever you’re running or walking.
- Deltoid Lateral: The deltoid lateral is also part of your shoulder heads. This muscle is responsible for giving width to your upper body and abducting the arm from 15 to 100 degrees. If you want to improve your upper body strength and have impressive shoulders, you need to perform exercises that maximize the movement of this muscle.
- Serratus Anterior: The serratus anterior is located over the ribs, shaped like a fan. The primary responsibility of the serratus anterior is to extend the scapula (a triangular-shaped bone in your upper back) and assist your trapezius muscle as you lift heavy objects.
- Triceps Brachii: Commonly known as your triceps, the triceps brachii is a three-headed muscle that features a lateral, medial, and long head. This muscle group extends the forearms to your elbows and contributes about ⅔ of your upper muscle mass. The stronger your triceps are, the easier it’ll be for you to move your shoulders and elbows.
- Pectoralis (clavicular): The Arnold Press will require you to perform reps of dumbbell overhead press. This repeated movement targets your chest muscles and emphasizes the upper portion by working on the clavicular. The main muscles in your clavicular are activated as you press your arms upward as you lift dumbbells.
Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press
Most shoulder presses are similar when it comes to form but quite different in terms of grip, stance, and certain movements. So, what makes the Arnold Press different from the dumbbell shoulder press? This section will answer that question.
First, the elbow positions of these exercises are different. The Arnold Press requires rotating your elbow in order to complete a repetition, while a dumbbell shoulder press doesn’t. The need to rotate your elbows to meet a desired number of reps is one of the reasons why Arnold Schwarzenegger created the exercise in the first place.
Second, the Arnold Press won’t allow you to lift as heavy as the dumbbell shoulder press. Instead of extending your arms without shoulder rotation, the Arnold Press requires movements in your lower and upper arm, preventing you from lifting heavier weights.
Finally, the dumbbell shoulder press targets your front and medial delts without too much activation of your back delts. The Arnold Press offers superior delt activation because different muscles are being used in one routine. This gives the Arnold Press an advantage over the dumbbell overhead press.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Sets and Programs
Regardless of whether you want to tone more muscles or improve your muscular endurance, there’s always a program that incorporates the Arnold Press. Here are some of our suggested sets and programs that suit different fitness goals:
To Tone Muscles
Do at least three sets of six repetitions of the Arnold Press using moderate to heavyweights. Another option is to do four sets of 12 reps with a moderate weight without any rest in between. Shortening the recovery time and a hight-training volume are key steps to hypertrophy.
To Improve Muscle Endurance
Repetitive exercises push the muscle endurance further and train the muscle memory to adapt to the weight and movements. Working out to a level of “almost failure” can enhance the resistance to fatigue when done consistently. Do four sets of 12 to 20 reps using light to moderate weights. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Arnold Press Variations
Although convenient, performing the same Arnold Press every single day can do more harm than good. This can lead to excess strain and soreness, which can delay your progress and ability to achieve your fitness goals.
Here are four variations of Arnold Press you can add to your workouts:
Single Arm Arnold Press
Do you want to challenge your core and total body stability? If you do, perform the Arnold Press with one arm at a time. You can start lifting your left arm and proceed with your right arm.
The single-arm Arnold Press can bring more tension to your arms as you’re working with one at a time. This will enable you to build muscles faster.
Kettlebell Arnold Press
If you’re looking for a more functional and challenging shoulder exercise, master the kettlebell Arnold Press. This exercise will require you to swing a kettlebell through your legs before you transition into an overhead press. Aside from working on your upper arm, the kettlebell Arnold Press can also train your hip range movement.
Seated Arnold Press
As the name suggests, this variation of the Arnold Press is done while being seated. This exercise increases your ability to move the weight with a stricter form and more shoulder strength. The seated Arnold Press also allows you to get direct and effective movement to tax your shoulders.
Standing Arnold Press
This variation of the Arnold Press enables you to use your legs, core, and hips to stabilize movement. This exercise also allows additional back extensions to turn the Arnold Press into highly-inclined shoulder and chest press movements.
Arnold Press Alternatives
If you think the Arnold Press isn’t the best exercise for you to meet your fitness goals fast, you can try out other alternatives. In this section, we’ll list down some Arnold Press alternatives that are easy to master.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
If you want to keep things simple while targeting several main muscles in your body, perform reps of dumbbell overhead press regularly. We highly suggest this alternative, especially if you’re fond of working out with heavyweights.
The Cuban press targets your upper back, rotator cuff, and upper back. This is a great alternative to Arnold Press as it can improve your shoulder flexibility and mobility, and ensure that your shoulders function properly all the time.
The Pike Pushup is an excellent exercise to improve your core stability and build shoulder strength. If you want to master handstand pushups, doing a few reps of pike pushups regularly is a great starting point.
The Arnold Press offers countless benefits, which is why you should add this exercise to your shoulder workout. Just make sure to properly perform this exercise, so you can finally have shoulders that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s!