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Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Muscles Worked, Variations, and Benefits

In the quest for some serious shoulders, there are few exercises that can produce as much muscle mass, strength, and aesthetic boulders for shoulders than the shoulder press, specifically the dumbbell variations.

In this article we will discuss the most common dumbbell shoulder pressing variations, benefits, and why you could be missing out on some serious gains.

Muscles Worked

The dumbbell shoulder press is a movement similar to the strict press (barbell) that can produce significant growth of the shoulder, triceps, and upper chest. Depending on the grips used, angles, and variations of the shoulder press, certain aspects of the anterior, posterior, and overall shoulder region can be highlighted. Below are some of the main muscle groups targeted by the shoulder press:

  • Deltoids (posterior, medial, and anterior shoulder)
  • Triceps
  • Traps
  • Upper Chest

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations and Exercise Demos

There are a plethora of dumbbell shoulder pressing variations that one can choose from, mainly all differentiated by the angles and/or rotations of the wrist/forearm (pronation/supination). By doing so, we can work around shoulder concerns, address weaknesses in a specific pattern, and hit the shoulders from a multi-directional and highly impactful way. Here are some of the most common dumbbell shoulder pressing variations and a general overview of it’s purpose.

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This is simply a standing dumbbell shoulder press, which is done identically to the seated version (with the exception of standing). By standing, you allow a lifter to use the legs, core, and hips to stabilize the movement, often allowing for additional back extension to turn this press into a very high inclined shoulder/chest pressing movement. While still needing to be done strictly, slightly extending the back to press overhead is often seen and does have some carryover to strength and power sporting movements.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated dumbbell shoulder press increases a lifter’s need to move the weight with as much strict form and shoulder strength as possible, as the seated variation limits their ability to extend to recruit the upper pecs and increase levage into the press. By doing so, you get a pretty direct and effective movement to tax the shoulders (think of it as doing bench presses with the feet down on the floor and back arched, versus feet on bench and flat lower back). Less leverage in the seated version will increase demands specifically on the shoulder muscles and less on the supporting cast.

Dumbbell Arnold Shoulder Press

Named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, the “Arnold Press” is a brutally isolated approach to shoulder development, geared for moderate to higher rep based training schemes to develop the entire shoulder muscle (posterior, medial, and anterior deltoids). The sweeping motion works to hit similar pennation angles as the muscles is self are attached, making for a very effective and specific way to increase shape and size of the deltoids.

Dumbbell Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

When working with some athletes, placing the shoulder in excessive external rotation and/or at a certain range of motion can increase joint stress (such as powerlifters, baseball players, etc). While other variations are not completely bad, at certain times in one’s training a coach/advisor may want to limit the amount of joint stress placed upon the shoulders, in which this variation can decrease that stress while still allowing for the shoulder muscles to be trained for strength, mass, and endurance.

Dumbbell Shoulder Partial Press

While half or partial reps may be frowned upon depending on who you ask, the partial shoulder press can be helpful for addressing strength sticking points or isolating a certain range of a movement to increase muscular growth and strength, and/or allow pressing in a restricted range for injury concerns or sport specificity. Similar to how half and quarter squats can have a positive influence on strength development and addressing weaknesses (as well as pin presses, block pulls, etc), partial rep training can really increase lockout strength and overhead muscle mass for athletes like strongmen, weightlifters, and fitness athletes (think about how a kipping handstand push up is really a “half” rep as well…).

Benefits of the Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Below is a generalized overview of the benefits of the dumbbell shoulder press. Some variations may highlight one of these more than the other, so be sure to be aware of the variation proposed discussed above.

Increased Muscle Mass

Dumbbell shoulder pressing is a great way to build hypertrophy and increase muscular activation, as the dumbbells work to recruit new muscle fibers and increase movement coordination, similarly to other unilateral training benefits.

Joint and Movement Integrity

By performing the dumbbell shoulder press, either with two dumbbells a t a time or one, you increase joint and movement integrity (if done correctly) by training the body to increase movement coordination and not rely on compensation mechanisms in the event one shoulder is stronger or a better mover than the other.

Address Movement and Muscular Asymmetries

To reiterate, unilateral training exercises can be highly effective at increasing unilateral strength, muscle mass, and movement. By doing so, athletes who may not train with dumbbells or kettlebells often in their strength movements (most strength and power athletes) can find great benefits in addressing asymmetrical movement patterning and/or strength/muscular asymmetries.

More Shoulder Strength Training

Take a look at some of these great shoulder and upper body strength pressing movements!

Featured Image: @ptfitness500 on Instagram

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Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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