Dumbbell Arnold Press

The dumbbell Arnold press smartly combines overhead shoulder strengthening with joint mobility. The featuring of posture alongside high resistance provides aesthetic and functional benefits as all three shoulder groups are utilized. 

The nature of high-load compound movements does not commonly promote such a well-rounded array of training results. What better way to build muscle than to maintain movement and joint balance in the process?

How To Do

  1. Choose a bench with an upright back support and angle it about 15 to 20 degrees back.
  2. Select a pair of dumbbells that you can comfortably hold at shoulder height with your elbows at your sides.
  3. While the weights rest on your thighs, sit with your back against the support and your knees at 90 degrees.
  4. Use your knees to force the weights to shoulder level and prepare to lift.
  5. Starting with your palms facing you and elbows tucked.
  6. Move the weights outside your shoulder width while turning the palms away.
  7. As your hands and elbows move to the outside, push the weights up and over your head locking at the elbows.
  8. Control the weights back down and as the arms drop, turn the palms back in as the elbows move back towards your sides.

Tips From Expert

  • Choose weights about 10 pounds less than what you would do for a simpler overhead shoulder press.
  • As your arms extend overhead do not allow your chest to raise or lower back to arch.
  • Brace and draw in at your lower stomach to stabilize through the lift.
  • Control the dumbbells as they come back downward by decreasing press force gradually.  
  • Do the dumbbell Arnold press early in your workout before your muscles fatigue.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The dumbbell Arnold press is a healthy movement regardless of the goal, but volume and reps vary depending on what you are aiming for.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 6–8
Hypertrophy 3–6 8–12
Endurance Training 2–3 15–20
Power Training 1–3 1–5

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell Arnold press is a thoughtful muscle-building exercise. For strength and endurance, several different workout splits can be used:

  • Push/Pull — Include Arnold presses on your push days. They should be the primary shoulder movement with one or two light isolation exercises for volume. 
  • Total Body — If your program is designed to work your full body every day, Arnold presses should be programmed about three times per week. Two days should be for training with challenging resistance. Other high-load days can feature single-joint or lighter-weight dumbbell shoulder exercises
  • Single Muscle Group — If your routine features just one muscle group per day, you likely will not work your shoulders often. The dumbbell Arnold press should be programmed on those days for a high set number. 

Light loads and fewer sets should be considered for splits like the total body, which has many upper body days. Those with just a few weekly shoulder days may feature higher loads and volumes.

Primary Muscle Groups

Anterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the front of your shoulder region

Lateral Deltoid

Muscles located at the side of your shoulder which gives your shoulders a rounded appearance.

Anterior Deltoid 

The anterior deltoid is a compact strip of muscle running directly down the front shoulder. It is instrumental in raising the arm away from the body. This is observed most actively when the wrist is pointing in the same direction of movement. 

Lateral Deltoid

The other primary mover used to perform the dumbbell Arnold press is the lateral deltoid or medial head, that covers the outer shoulder.

It is most engaged in arm raising as well but with palms facing opposite the movement direction. The lateral deltoid is the broadest deltoid head giving the shoulder its round shape.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Serratus Anterior

Small, fan shaped muscle that lies deep under your chest and scapula.

Upper Trapezius

Triangular shaped muscles located between your neck and shoulder blades.

Triceps Lateral Heads

Muscles located on the back of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

Triceps Medial Heads

Small muscles located at the back of your arms. Deep to the triceps long heads between the shoulder and elbow.

Triceps Long Heads

Large muscles located at the back of your arms between your shoulder and elbow. Most outside portion of the tricep.

Triceps Lateral Heads 

This portion of the triceps, located to the outer rear arm, is synchronized with the medial head in elbow extension. 

The triceps lateral head forms the outer half of the famous horseshoe shape that lifters attempt many techniques to get. 

This can commonly be the most worked of all the triceps heads so be sure to give it some relief routinely.

Triceps Medial Heads

The medial head of the triceps is located along the lower half of the rear arm above the inner elbow.

Of the secondary muscles worked, this muscle aids elbow extension as it gets past 90 degrees from your body. 

The medial deltoid head becomes very useful during the lockout of the elbow to finish the overhead extension of the dumbbell Arnold press.

Triceps Long Heads 

The triceps' long head is along the upper arm's inner back half. This muscle produces its greatest extension force when the elbow is closer to the body, at the end of the Arnold press.

Upper Trapezius 

The upper trapezius is a secondarily worked muscle connecting the shoulder to the neck. It is instrumental in raising the upper arm into the overhead position to finish the dumbbell Arnold press.

Serratus Anterior 

The serratus anterior muscles run against the rib cage under the scapula and pec muscles. They have been known to be called superhero muscles as they give a lean look right outside the sternum. The action of these muscles is to stabilize the scapula against the rear ribcage during heavy presses.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Flat Bench Without Rack

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Flat Bench Without Rack

This is great for pressing and pulling movements. Ensure the safety catch is firmly locked in. If you can't find this bench, use one with a rack for barbell exercises.

Variations

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the same equipment.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do?

Those With Bad Posture

A key feature of the dumbbell Arnold press is the lateral movement to position the weights outside shoulder width. This opens up the chest and engages the upper back, encouraging the best posture. 

Lifters Wanting To Gain Size

The hidden stimulus behind the size benefits of the Arnold press lies in the time under tension (TUT) aspect of it.

Holding the dumbbells as they move laterally in and out of the press adds greater intensity. The impact of TUT can be evidenced here in efforts to negate its advantage during training comparisons. 

Individuals Seeking That V Shape 

The combination of deltoid size gains and postural aesthetics provides a broadness to your look that pairs nicely with a trim waist. Incorporating the dumbbell Arnold press can bring that V look into striking range.

Who Should Not Do?

Individuals With Joint Pain

As great an exercise as the dumbbell Arnold press is, it is an overhead movement with typically high resistance.  

This exercise can significantly irritate any imbalance or weakness around the shoulder, as high weight overhead creates top shoulder pressure.

Weight Lifting Novices 

Beginning weight lifters typically struggle with control and mechanics at high resistances. The stability requirement and broad movement range needed for this exercise are not ideal for those newly learning to lift. 

Those With Weak Abs

The dumbbell Arnold press can be intense during the final reps of a set as muscle fatigue is sure to set in.

During overhead presses, if the abdominals are not strongly engaged, the lower back can hyper-extend to force the weight up.

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Arnold Press

Maximize Your Mass Gains 

The ability to resistance train through the complete movement range of all your deltoid heads can only aid in gains.

Controlling heavy loads without sacrificing mobility poses a strength requirement bound to maximize your muscles

Increased Range Of Motion 

Similar to the previously mentioned idea, strength building through larger movement ranges trains your shoulder for full function. 

This quality is undoubtedly helpful even with everyday tasks where cross-body or high-reaching movements are needed. 

Improves Posture

The classic hunching and forward posture of the upper back and shoulders is one of the most common examples of bad form.

The widening of the elbows to perform the dumbbell Arnold press promotes retraction of the shoulder blades and un-rounded shoulders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is dumbbell Arnold press good?

Yes, this movement is great as it allows for tremendous strength gains without sacrificing mobility.

What angle should a dumbbell Arnold press be?

You should perform the dumbbell Arnold press using a back support angle somewhere in the range of a 20-degree tilt from completely upright.

What does the dumbbell Arnold press build?

The dumbbell Arnold press primarily builds the deltoid muscle groups which wrap superficially around your shoulder joint.

Does the dumbbell Arnold press hit all heads?

Yes, this exercise does engage all three main deltoid heads with the prime movers being the anterior and lateral heads. The rear heads work to widen the elbows prior to pressing the weights.

Why do I need to do the Arnold press?

The dumbbell Arnold press is done with the entire movement range that your shoulder is designed to move in. In this way, it is a much healthier strength exercise. 

Resources

  1. Yuri, Vianna, J.M., Guimarães, M.P., Jorge, Hernández-Mosqueira, C., Silva and Marchetti, P.H. (2020). Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics, [online] 75(1), pp.5–14. doi:https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2020-0033.
  2. Yuri, Vianna, J.M., Guimarães, M.P., Jorge, Hernández-Mosqueira, C., Silva and Marchetti, P.H. (2020). Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained
  3. Kholinne, E., Rizki Fajar Zulkarnain, Yu Cheng Sun, Lim, S., Chun, J.-M. and Jeon, I.-H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica Turcica/Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica, [online] 52(3), pp.201–205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005.
  4. Coratella, G., Tornatore, G., Longo, S., Esposito, F. and Emiliano Cè (2022). Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training. Frontiers in physiology, [online] 13. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2022.825880.
  5. Lohre, R. and Elhassan, B. (2022). Serratus anterior dysfunction examination: wall push-up or shoulder flexion resistance test? JSES international, [online] 6(5), pp.859–866. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jseint.2022.05.002.
  6. Martins-Costa, H.C., Lacerda, L.T., Rodrigo C.R. Diniz, Lima, F.V., Andrade, P., Peixoto, G.H., Gomes, M.C., Lanza, M.B., Bemben, M.G. and Chagas, M.H. (2021). Equalization of Training Protocols by Time Under Tension Determines the Magnitude of Changes in Strength and Muscular Hypertrophy. Journal of strength and conditioning research, [online] 36(7), pp.1770–1780. doi:https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000004004.
  7. Afonso, J., Ramirez-Campillo, R., João Moscão, Rocha, T., Zacca, R., Martins, A., Milheiro, A.A., Ferreira, J., Sarmento, H. and Filipe Manuel Clemente (2021). Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare, [online] 9(4), pp.427–427. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare9040427.
  8. Pallarés, J.G., Hernández‐Belmonte, A., Martínez‐Cava, A., Vetrovsky, T., Steffl, M. and Courel‐Ibáñez, J. (2021). Effects of range of motion on resistance training adaptations: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, [online] 31(10), pp.1866–1881. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.14006.
  9. Foad Seidi, Bayattork, M., Hooman Minoonejad, Lars Louis Andersen and Page, P. (2020). Comprehensive corrective exercise program improves alignment, muscle activation and movement pattern of men with upper crossed syndrome: randomized controlled trial. Scientific reports, [online] 10(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77571-4.
  10. Busch, A., Busch, A. and Busch, A. (2024). Electromyographic analysis of shoulder-complex muscles performing overhead presses with dumbbell, kettlebell, and bottom-up kettlebell. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, [online] 37, pp.308–314. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2023.10.001.‌