dumbbell shoulder press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Workout: How to, Variations, Muscles Worked

Shoulder press with a dumbbell is a workout you cannot afford to ignore if you intend to build a hulking physique. Dumbbells are the best choice of equipment in the gym that will sculpt your shoulders into an amazing shape. 

Dumbbell shoulder press, with its many variations, will help you hit all the muscles required for a great upper body. 

Unlike other exercises, dumbbell shoulder press targets particular muscles with unmatched precision. Every single variation is uniquely designed to achieve a specific fitness goal. 

The wide range of variations is based on the pattern of your lifts, direction, twists, and posture. 

This exercise can be performed in either a standing or sitting position. Both postures have their benefits, and they are used to activate different muscles with varying intensity. 

This article presents a practical guide on how to perform the dumbbell shoulder press. It further elaborates on the variations; muscles worked, benefits, and all you need to know. 

dumbbell press

The main purpose of this exercise is to help you activate muscles that will give you a well built upper body with emphasis on your shoulders, traps, and upper chest. These set of muscles are hard to activate, and not many exercises will effectively target them.

Dumbbell shoulder press will brilliantly recruit these muscles and curve an aesthetic upper body for you.

Related: How to do bicep push ups workout to work your core


You can perform this exercise in a sitting or standing position. Sitting or standing dumbbell position is the major classification of dumbbell shoulder press workouts. Standing or sitting positions will influence the muscles you target.  

The two are then further broken into multiple variations depending on the angle, direction, or how you twist your arms as you lift the dumbbells. Apart from sitting and standing, other variations of shoulder press with a dumbbell are also performed when lying on a bench facing down. 

 Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press  

Standing dumbbell press how to:

Step 1: Get in a standing position with your feet in a shoulder-width stance.

Step 2: With a firm grip, hold the dumbbells in either hand. Your palms may either face forward or inwards, depending on the muscles you want to target.

Step 3: Slowly and steadily raise the dumbbells until they almost touch overhead. However, there is no harm in letting them lightly touch each other at the top.  

Step 4: Lower the dumbbells at a controlled pace until they reach ear level. Pause for two seconds and go for your next rep. 

Seated dumbbell shoulder press 

seated dumbbell press

Don’t be fooled. Being in a seated position doesn’t make things any easier. This is how things are made much harder while performing a dumbbell shoulder press. Seated dumbbell shoulder press puts more emphasis on your shoulder muscles and engages the triceps even harder. 

Seated dumbbell shoulder press how to:

Step 1: Sit on a bench with back support and take a dumbbell in each hand. 

 Step 2: Raise the dumbbells to shoulder level with your palms facing inward. 

Step 3: Press the dumbbells overhead until your hand is fully extended and pause. You can either let the dumbbells touch lightly, or they can just come close to each other.

Step 4: Lower the dumbbells in a slow and controlled motion back to the starting position. Pause and repeat. 

Arnold Shoulder Press

Arnold Schwarzenegger not only influenced the film industry but also left a mark in the gym. This particular variation was named after him. The Arnold dumbbell shoulder press involves rotation of the weights as you lift.

This makes it to activate the posterior and medial deltoids significantly. It also recruits the traps more than the traditional dumbbell press. As a result, it is arguably the best exercise for building aesthetic shoulders. Note that this variation should be performed with a little less weight than the standard dumbbell shoulder press

Arnold dumbbell shoulder press how to:

Step 1: 

Get in a standing position with your feet in a shoulder-width stance.

Step 2: With a firm grip, hold the dumbbells in either hand with elbows on your sides and the dumbbell close to your front deltoids. 

Your palms should be facing inward. 

Step 3: Lift the weight steadily as you rotate your palms slowly to face in front. The curl should be gradual on your way up until the dumbbells are almost in contact overhead. 

Step 4: Once at the top, lower the weights slowly back to the start, pause for two seconds, and repeat. 

Isolated Shoulder Press 

From the name, you can guess what this variation is all about. It simply means that you are going to work for one hand at a time. Working one side at a time creates a postural imbalance. This will recruit the oblique and core muscles to work harder to restore and maintain the balance. 

In this variation, you can either work on one side through a set before alternating or alternate the sides for every repetition. The passive side should be held overhead as the other works. 

Isolated dumbbell shoulder press how to:

Step 1: Get in the standing dumbbell press stance. 

Step 2: Raise both sides, extending them overhead. 

Step 3: Hold one side up in a static position and start pressing the other side. 

Step 4: Alternate with the other side either after a repetition or after a complete set.   

Serrano Shoulder Press 

 You are not standing or sitting. It’s time to press while lying face down on an incline bench. These variations mainly target the posterior and medial deltoids. It also activates the rotator cuff and the muscles of the upper back. This is a tough one, and it demands lots of energy. You have to start with lighter weights as you build strength slowly. 

Serrano dumbbell shoulder press how to:

Step1: Lie on your chest, face down on a 450 inclined bench. 

Step 2: Rotate your shoulder as you grow up your elbow until you align your arms with your body. 

Step 3: Once the arms are in line with your body, extend them so that they can be at the bench angle. 

Step 4: The passive side should remain extended as the other is pressing—alternate sides. 

Related: We recommend these best weight bench with squat rack for the incline shoulder press workouts.

Stability Shoulder Press 

This single-arm press is performed in a sitting position. It majorly works the back shoulder stabilizer muscles. It strengthens the shoulders and can be used as a warm-up before going for a heavy bench workout. It prepares the shoulder muscles for the task. 

Stability dumbbell shoulder press how to:

Step 1: Get in a seated dumbbell press position

 Step 2: Keep one of your arms held across your stomach as you press the other overhead with the dumbbell.  

Step 3: Maintain your shoulders level and square without leaning towards one side. 

Step 4: Alternate the sides 

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

muscles worked


Pectorals refer to the muscles of your chest. The dumbbell shoulder press tremendously activates muscles of your upper chest. 

Upper chest muscles are usually hard to target and with many other exercises. Frequently pressing with dumbbells will give you a well built upper chest.  


Simply put, these are muscles of your shoulder. They are the main target in this exercise. Not many workouts will activate the shoulder muscles as the dumbbell shoulder press does.

 If anything, the shoulder press derives its name from the ability to recruit the shoulder muscles in unmatched intensity.


You cannot call it dumbbell shoulder press without involving your arms. From grabbing the dumbbells with a firm grip to the overhead raises and lowering, your arm muscles are heavily recruited. 

The triceps are worked the most. The intensity of triceps activation depends on the variation. So, if you are wondering how to get skinny arms, this is the right exercise. 


Traps, as they are commonly referred to in the gym, are located at the upper part of your back. They connect your upper back to your neck. Traps offer support to your neck and enable controlled movements. Alongside the shoulder muscles, they are worked heavily and strengthened by the dumbbell shoulder press. 

Abs and Oblique 

 Standing dumbbell shoulder press is the variation that exceptionally recruits muscles of your abs. Pressing with dumbbells while in standing activates the abdominal, oblique, lower back, and spinal stabilizer muscles. This cannot be achieved in sitting variations because your trunk is supported at the back.

Lower Body Muscles

The standing position will always activate muscles of your legs from glutes, thighs to the toe. However, these muscles are not worked significantly since they are only used in a stationary position. 

Dumbbells shoulder press benefits

Shoulder press with dumbbells is one of the exercises that is always underrated by many. It is always perceived only as a shoulder and traps exercise. Nonetheless, it is an exercise with tremendous benefits: 

  • Best way to Widen Your Shoulders

Pressing with dumbbells helps you achieve wider shoulders. This is because of the freedom to vary the curls and motion path. This variant enables you to intensely target lateral deltoids than you could while performing a barbell. By effectively working the lateral delts, you achieve more developed shoulders. 

  • Builds and Strengthens the deltoids

This is the exercise that comes to give you well-built deltoids. Its intensity engages your delts, making it possible for you to gain more strength and build more muscles. It is the best way to begin your shoulder building journey. 

  • Excellent Trap Builders

No one consistently performs dumbbell shoulder press in proper form and remains with the same thin and poorly developed trapezius muscles. This exercise is a basic requirement for building your traps.  

  • Assured Body Symmetry

There is no compensation for the weaker side. All sides will work equally and independently during the dumbbell shoulder press, unlike in the barbell. This ensures that muscles will build symmetrically on both sides of your shoulder. In the barbell press, it is common for athletes to tilt their bodies so that they can compensate for a weaker side, an act that, if done frequently, may result in poor muscle development. 

  • Improves Stability and Balance

By working the stabilizer muscles, the lower back, and your abdominal muscles, the dumbbell shoulder press enhances your overall body stability for both sitting and standing postures. It gives your body better control and balancing abilities. 

  • Shapes your Upper Chest 

This is one of the few exercises that effectively activates the upper chest muscles. Doing push-ups or bench press will not hit the upper pectorals as precise as this exercise will. However, you have to maintain the proper weight path as you press overhead if you want to accurately target your upper chest.  

  • Good for you triceps Too

Overhead press engages the triceps fairly. Pressing up and folding your arms at the elbows as you lower the weights activates the triceps. They are activated to help bear the weight of the dumbbells and help control the movements’ pace. 

  • Healthier Joints

The wrist, elbow, and shoulder joint are put into the test as you perform this exercise. Pressing up with a slight twist works all these joints and makes them much stronger. A strong and stable joint will help you avoid many injuries both in the gym or t home. 

6 Common Mistakes to avoid while performing dumbbell shoulder press exercise

mistakes to avoid

1. Speed

The shoulder press is supposed to involve slow, steady, and controlled movements. Don’t rush it. This is not an explosive kind of exercise. It gives the best results when you maintain the weights in the proper path. When done in a rush, you will stray and fail to hit the target muscles. 

2. Arched Back

Your back should be kept straight throughout the exercise. Do not arch it. Any poor posture will lead to injuries. If you find yourself arching, the chances are that you are using weights heavier than you can handle. Choose lighter weights and gradually increase as you gain strength. 

3. Tucked Elbows

Don’t let your elbows tuck in your ribs as you lower the press. They should not touch your body on the sides as they come down. If they do, it means that you cannot control the weights. Your elbows should not be flared either. To avoid this, always use lighter weights. 

4. Going too Low

In dumbbell shoulder press, do not lower your dumbbell far too low. Don’t go lower than the shoulder level. Doing so will put more strain o your shoulder. Too much strain on your traps is a sign that you are pressing too low. 

5. Too Much Weight

Always start with lighter weights than you can handle comfortably before advancing to heavier options. Too much weight will make it difficult to maintain proper form and may also lead to injuries. 

Many athletes have been using more weight than they can handle due to excitement and peer influence. Don’t fall victim to this. Seek the guidance of your gym instructor to know your recommended dumbbell weight. Remember to use weight lifting gloves to protect your hands from calluses. 

6. Pressing With an Injury

Don’t grab the dumbbells if you have a back, shoulder, or neck injury. These muscles are heavily engaged during the exercise. You should consult your trainer if you have any history of injury to your upper body before trying to press. Always stop this exercise when you experience any pains. 


What muscles do dumbbell shoulder press work?

Dumbbell shoulder press majorly work muscles of your upper body with emphasis on your deltoids (shoulder), pectorals (upper chest), and trapezius muscles. By extension, the triceps, core, glutes, and leg muscles are also worked. Muscles of your core and lower body are mostly activated when performing a standing dumbbell shoulder press 

Which is better dumbbell shoulder press or barbell? 

Both exercises are superb for your building your shoulder muscles, and you may often alternate the two in your workouts. However, the dumbbell shoulder press can be more effective and convenient for you than the barbell. Dumbbells have many variations that can be used to target muscles from different angles and intensity. The independence of each side in training is also better. 

Does dumbbell shoulder press work traps? 

Yes, dumbbell shoulder press work traps. The traps are one of the majorly targeted muscles in this exercise. This is one of the best workouts performed to achieve a well-built trapezius.  

Is overhead press enough for shoulders?

There is never a muscle group on your body that is only developed by one type of workout. Overhead press alone is not enough for a well-developed shoulder. You may need to add other workouts that will hit your deltoids from different angles for an amazing rounded shoulder. 

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