Dumbbell shoulder presses, whether done in a standing or seated position, is one of the most optimal shoulder exercises you can master. 

Joint health, increased unilateral strength, shoulder mobility, and impressive muscle definitions are only a few of the benefits you can gain from performing the dumbbell shoulder press. This works several muscles in the shoulder department, namely the anterior deltoid (front delts), medial deltoid (middle delts), and the upper portion of the pectoralis major (chest). 

In this article, we share game-changing techniques to effectively perform the shoulder press, some novice mistakes to avoid, and variations that you could throw into your program. Check out more details on the content guide below.

We’ll Guide You On:

  • How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press Benefits
  • Common Dumbbell Shoulder Press Mistakes To Avoid
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Arnold Press
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press

What You’ll Need: 

  • Pair of Dumbbells: This exercise is best done with a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells will challenge your arms to keep both sides of the body proportionally balanced while engaging the right muscle groups.

Alternative Equipment:

  • Kettlebells: You may use a pair of kettlebells in lieu of dumbbells while keeping the same controlled manner in lifting.
  • Bar (loaded or empty): A generalized overhead press can also be achieved using a bar with no load to work on your form or your preferred volume according to your strength or program.

Step 1: Find Your Position

The DB press can be performed either standing or sitting. To do the standing shoulder press, stand with your feet at a shoulder-width distance. Meanwhile, to do the seated dumbbell shoulder press, sit on an Inclined Bench with your feet slightly apart but not overly stretched. In both positions, keep your upper arms parallel to the floor.

Step 2: Activate Your Core, Shoulders, Legs, and Back

The core and legs are mainly used for drive and stabilization, a neutral back keeps your torso strong and upright, while the shoulders are the main movers for this particular exercise for building muscle.

Step 3: Lift with Intention

The key is to lift in a controlled manner. With your upper arms slightly positioned in front of your shoulders and holding a 90º angle, use a combination of your lats, shoulders, and core to press the dumbbells upward. Avoid locking your elbows at the top of the movement and prevent the dumbbells from clanking against each other.

Step 4: Lower the Dumbbells with Full Control

During the eccentric phase (lowering portion), slowly return to your starting position. Keep your upper arms from dipping below your shoulder blades by maintaining a straight line while keeping the dumbbells aligned with your head.

3 Dumbbell Shoulder Press Benefits

1. Promotes Movement Integrity

Working on both sides of the body simultaneously may prove to be more challenging when it comes to balance and coordination but you can reap amazing benefits from it. Not only are you working on your shoulder strength but you are also promoting muscle symmetry and coordination.

2. Increases Muscle Mass

Aiming for shoulder boulders for days? The DB shoulder press can help you achieve those beautiful capped shoulders you have always wanted. More muscle activation leads to endurance leads to strength leads to muscle hypertrophy. Especially by working with dumbbells, you can achieve a powerful and well-sculpted aesthetic that leaves you with a nice v-taper, too.

3. Improves Symmetry

The dumbbell shoulder press is a great movement for correcting strength and muscle size imbalances between your right, left upper arm. This exercise can prevent or correct issues where one side may be stronger than the other when performing barbell overhead presses because it forces you to use both arms equally in order to complete reps at all points during each set.

Common Dumbbell Shoulder Press Mistakes To Avoid

Locking out the elbows.

 Some lifters make the wrong assumption that every exercise has to be locked out to count a rep, but this is far from the truth. Locking your elbows at the top of the movement only transfers the tension from the shoulders to the triceps, which, in this case, is not really an advantage for you.

Dipping the elbows below the shoulders.

You may have a strong core and perfect arm positioning, but when you are dipping your elbows, you are not putting the right amount of tension on your delts. The goal is to slowly lower the dumbbells and be aware of your every movement.

Clanking the dumbbells together

Similar to locking the elbows, this common mistake loses tension on your grip and shoulders and may also throw off your posture. A good cue to keep in mind is to “throw the dumbbells towards the ceiling” instead of aiming for the dumbbells to rub against each other.

Positioning the arms too far back 

One of the common mistakes committed with the DB press is pulling the arms backward to create a straight line across the arms, shoulders, and head. However, this puts unnecessary strain on the rhomboids and takes proper tension away from the shoulders.

Lifting too heavy 

Shoulders tend to look massive when worked on overtime, but these are actually small muscles that do not need a strenuous amount of weight to gain mass. A quick fix is to work on your form first using lighter weights until you can progress when it makes sense.

Pressing explosively 

A shoulder press in its standing version should not be confused with a push press, which uses leg drive to press explosively. Instead, make every rep count by controlling the movements all the way up and down.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids (anterior, posterior, medial)
  • Triceps
  • Trapezius
  • Pectoralis (minor and major)
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Forearms

The shoulder muscle and upper chest are the main targets during the actual rep. The core plays along as a stabilizer of your entire torso and gives your lift more power while the traps, together with the shoulders, help carry the volume of the lift. 

The triceps are mostly activated at the top of the movement. Meanwhile, the heavier your dumbbells, the more the forearms are worked.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Arnold Press

These two exercises typically go side to side if you want to achieve those fantastic boulders that will be the envy of everyone. While the Arnold Press may not be invented by 7x Mr. Olympia himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized this exercise by heavily incorporating it into his bodybuilding program. 

Unlike the dumbbell press that has the palms always facing outward, the Arnold press has the palms facing the chest at the start position. During the movement proper, the forearms are rotated halfway as the dumbbells are lifted towards the ceiling. The movement is reversed during the lowering phase.

As the dumbbell press focuses on the delts and chest, the Arnold shoulder press involves the anterior deltoids (front), lateral deltoids (middle), and serratus anterior.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Muscle Gains

Performing between 6-12 reps for 3-6 sets is ideal for hypertrophy. Make sure to focus on lighter weights first until you can progress to a heavier load for your own safety. Also, note that the deltoids are minor so it is normal to work on a particular volume for a week or two until you can add small increments.

For Improved Muscle Endurance

To gain endurance on your delts, is it ideal to perform three or more sets of 15 reps with a load that is 50% or less of your one-rep max (RM). 

For Upper Body Strength Training

A set with 12 to 15 repetitions each is the best gauge to having stronger shoulders. Perform this for a general set of 3, two to three times a week, or incorporate them into your push day, upper body day, or unilateral training.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations

If you are serious about achieving cannonball deltoids, then you should seriously give the following variations a go:

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Performing seated dumbbell shoulder press proves to enable the lifter to press heavier volume and more weight by 10%. By sitting on an upright bench, the quads and hips work together as drivers and supporters for the lift.

Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

One advantage of the neutral grip or hammer shoulder press is that you can work on one arm at a time while hitting different muscles at the same time. You may not achieve the same build as the great Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, but you will definitely have a chance to work on your muscle imbalances.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Partials

You would think that partials are easier since they take a shorter range of motion, but the truth is contrary to this. Performing partials on a seated dumbbell shoulder press prompt your shoulders to work harder, creating more tension and just the right level of burn on the entirety of your delts.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternatives

Once your fondness for dumbbell presses have tamed down, try out these alternatives that give your boulders an equally satisfying pump:

Overhead Press

This is best done with a barbell (empty or loaded). One great tip to keep in mind is once the bar reaches your eye level, push your head out to activate your traps and shoulders properly. This exercise is great for addressing asymmetries, especially on the delts.

Landmine Press

Landmine Press works on your unilateral strength without abusing your shoulder strength. It also has an intuitive movement that allows you to achieve the proper form immediately. Aside from the delts and triceps, this exercise also works on the lower body including the glutes.

Incline Barbell Bench Press

This movement focuses on the upper pecs. When you put it into a more inclined position, the more it hits the shoulder muscle and creates powerful-looking delts. This works on multiple muscles, improves posture, increases strength, and achieves an amazing chest definition.

Frequently Asked Questions

The muscles worked in dumbbell presses are as follows:

  • Deltoids (anterior, posterior, medial)
  • Pectoralis (minor and major)
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Trapezius
  • Forearms
  • Triceps

Yes, by performing 6-12 reps for 3-6 sets of moderate to heavyweights, you can achieve muscle hypertrophy on your deltoids and create the appearance of bigger upper extremities. Throw in other variations and alternatives like seated dumbbell shoulder press and overhead press for a more functional program.

It depends on your goal. The DB shoulder press works on the shoulders and traps more while a barbell press targets slightly different muscle groups including the shoulders, upper back, mid-back, and core. They are similar in execution with the palms facing outward although the main equipment used are different, thus hitting different muscles.

Absolutely. Not only does this exercise help with mobility, general shoulder strength, health conditions, and aesthetics but it can also be conveniently done using free weights of your choice. If you are new to this exercise, it is always ideal to seek the help of a personal trainer for you to achieve good form whether standing or seated on a bench.

The dumbbell shoulder press is one of the best shoulder exercises you can conveniently incorporate into your upper body workout. Performance-wise, this promotes mobility, joint health, strength, and muscle symmetry. When it comes to physique, you can achieve well-sculpted boulders that give you a powerful posture and proportioned muscles.

Variations and alternatives are also up for your exploration so you can keep challenging yourself and discover new ways to build shoulder muscles all while performing with a proper form. In any case, the shoulders play a vital role in our daily lives, which gives you all the more reason to get started with those presses.

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