Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press

With three distinct muscle heads, well-rounded shoulders require a systematic training approach. If we know one thing for sure, it’s that you need to perform pressing movements as part of your program. 

While it’s not quite as popular as the barbell overhead press, the dumbbell seated shoulder press remains a shoulder staple. It uses a simple pressing movement pattern that offers many useful benefits. 

In the guide below, we’ve discussed the correct form, programming tips, and the expected benefits. Let’s take a look!

How To Do

  1. Adjust the bench back pad until it’s at the most upright position. Set a pair of dumbbells on the floor; one on either side of the seat.
  2. Pick the dumbbells up with a neutral back position and sit on the bench. 
  3. Use an overhead grip with your palms facing inward. Allow the dumbbells to rest on your knees. 
  4. Ensure your feet are firmly on the ground and your back is against the pad. Your head should be facing forward. This is your correct starting position. 
  5. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. Using your knees, kick the dumbbells up towards your shoulders one at a time. 
  6. Adjust your elbows to point sideways at a 45-degree angle. 
  7. Press both dumbbells overhead. Extend both elbows until the dumbbells nearly touch. Pause briefly at the top position. 
  8. Start to bring the dumbbells back down under control. Take a breath out at the same time. 
  9. Once they reach shoulder height again, repeat the same movements from step five for the desired repetitions and sets.

Tips From Expert

  • Don’t lean back at an incline. Keep your back firmly against the bench pad throughout the movement. 
  • Bring both dumbells up together using the same movement pattern and tempo. They should both reach the top position at the same time. 
  • Don’t drop the dumbbells once you get to the top. Bring them back down under control and place them on your knees first. 
  • Avoid forcefully bringing the dumbbells together at the top. This can cause you to lose balance and form. 
  • Keep your eyes fixed on a point in front of you throughout the movement.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The table below shows the suggested number of sets and reps for different training goals. Use these as a general guide to program the dumbbell seated shoulder press.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell seated shoulder press is a versatile pressing exercise. It uses a unilateral movement pattern meaning it works each side of your body individually. 

The primary movers are your anterior deltoids and lateral deltoids. Your triceps and serratus anterior play secondary roles. 

As a compound exercise that uses a functional movement pattern, you can program it using different options. We’ve organized the programming below according to your training focus. 

  • Bodybuilding training — You can program it using different splits. As an upper-body pressing exercise, include as part of an upper-body, full-body workout, or shoulder workout. Pair it with lateral raises or reverse flys. 
  • Strength and power training — Program it following your main competition lifts or strength movements. It should come after these but before isolation exercises. An example would be between a snatch and a cable face pull. 
  • General fitness training — For general training, program it as part of a push, upper-body, or full-body split. As a compound movement, add it near the start of your workout. Ensure you understand how to perform the normal overhead press first. 

To program the seated shoulder press efficiently, you need to consider the intensity and volume of your training. Consider the loading ranges below as a general guide to focus on. 

For this example, we’ve used your one repetition max (1RM). This is the amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. You can work this out with the help of a friend or personal trainer. 

  • Strength Training — 80%–100% of your 1RM.
  • Hypertrophy Training — 60%–80% of your 1RM.
  • Endurance Training — 40–60% of your 1RM.
  • Power Training — 80%–100% of your 1RM.

For strength and power training, allow two to three minutes of rest. For hypertrophy and endurance, 60–90 seconds is enough. 

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 main function of your anterior deltoids is to bring your arms up and forward. Compared to the lateral and posterior heads, they are much more active when pressing overhead. 

As you press the dumbbells up, your anterior deltoids function to bring your arms forward and up. The dumbbell seated shoulder press is the perfect exercise to build size and strength in your anterior deltoids. 

*Expert tip: If you’re looking for an equally good exercise to target your anterior deltoids, try the seated dumbbell Arnold press. It uses a similar movement pattern but you bring your elbows together. 

Lateral Deltoid

Your lateral deltoids, also known as your side deltoids, are located at the side of your shoulder; between your anterior deltoids and posterior deltoids. Their primary function is to abduct your arms or bring them away from your body. 

The lateral deltoids also play a key role when bringing your arms up and forward. Because of this, they help to flex your shoulders as you bring the dumbbells up. 

Secondary Muscle Groups

Serratus Anterior

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

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 

Out of the three heads, your lateral head is considered the strongest. It's located on the outside of your upper arm, providing both size and shape. 

Your lateral head doesn’t attach to your scapula, or shoulder blade. Because of this, its primary role is to extend your elbow. 

During the seated dumbbell shoulder, your lateral heads help to extend your elbows as you press the weight overhead. 

Triceps Medial Heads 

Your medial head is located at the back of your arm underneath your lateral and long head. Like your lateral head, it doesn’t attach to your scapular. 

Therefore, its principal role is to extend your elbow. When performing a seated dumbbell shoulder press, it helps to lock your elbows as you press the dumbbells up.

Triceps Long Heads 

Unlike the other two heads, your triceps long heads originate from your scapula but also insert at your elbow. Because of this, they help to stabilize your shoulder and perform shoulder adduction. This is where you bring your shoulder across your body. 

In the seated dumbbell shoulder press, your tricep long heads extend your elbows and stabilize your shoulder as you press overhead. They help to keep the dumbbells on a straight movement path as they go past your shoulders. 

Serratus Anterior

Your serratus anterior are thick, fan-shaped muscles deep under your pectoralis major and scapula muscles. They are known as key scapula stabilizers that keep your shoulder blades from moving out of position. 

As you press overhead, your serratus anterior plays a key shoulder stabilizing role. It helps to stabilize the shoulder blades as your arms move overhead. 

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.

Pike Push-Ups

Arm Circles

Bear Crawls

Who Should Do?

General Populations

As a general gym goer, you’ll likely want to get stronger, look better, and become more functional. The seated dumbbell shoulder press is great for accomplishing each of these goals. It uses a fairly simple movement pattern that’s easy to progress. It also works your anterior and lateral deltoids which make up a large part of your shoulders. 

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits for general populations is the application to daily movements. Examples include raising your children in the air and putting something heavy away in a high cupboard. 

Sports Athletes

The overhead pressing motion used in this exercise can improve the efficiency of many common sporting movements, such as fending a player off in rugby or cleaning and pressing in Olympic lifting. This makes it great for sports athletes to program as part of their training. 

Did you know? In weight training sports, the shoulder is one of the most frequently injured body parts. It accounts for approximately 7.4% of all injuries. 

Bodybuilders

As a bodybuilder, your main goal is to build a well-rounded physique. To accomplish this, you need to train each muscle group with enough volume and intensity.

Your shoulders make up a large proportion of your upper body. Building well-rounded shoulders requires a systematic training approach where all three heads are worked. 

The seated dumbbell shoulder press effectively isolates two of your three shoulder heads. It also works three heads of your triceps as secondary movers. Because of these reasons, it’s great for building both training volume and intensity.  

Who Should Not Do?

Anyone With Shoulder Mobility Problems

If you suffer from a shoulder mobility issue, you may not be able to use your shoulder’s full range of motion. In this case, performing the seated dumbbell shoulder press may cause pain. It could also place unneeded stress on the joint, increasing injury risk. 

In this case, a shoulder mobility program with the help of a physiotherapist or appropriate healthcare professional may be needed first. 

Anyone With A Chronic Lower Back Issue

Whilst the seated pressing position limits the involvement of your lower back, it requires you to pick the dumbbells up and get them overhead. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, this movement pattern wouldn’t be advised. In this case, a seated shoulder press machine or Smith press may be better exercise options.  

Did you know? Approximately 84% of people are thought to experience at least one episode of lower back pain in their lifetimes. 

Benefits Of The Exercise

Builds Muscles And Strength

To effectively build muscle, you need to develop the different heads of each muscle group. To build strength, you need each head of the muscle group to work together so they can function normally. 

The seated dumbbell shoulder press works a large proportion of two key upper body muscle groups; your shoulders and triceps. Therefore, it’s a great upper-body muscle-building exercise.

In terms of strength, your shoulders and triceps are involved in more strength-based movements. A good example would be to develop better lockout power in the bench press. Because of this, the dumbbell seated shoulder press is great for strength development too. 

Enhances Shoulder Mobility And Stability

Shoulder mobility and stability are important for functional performance. As you bring the dumbbells down, your arms go parallel to the floor at 90 degrees as you extend your shoulders. When you press them up, you fully extend both elbows whilst performing shoulder flexion. 

During this, your stabilizer muscles keep your arms moving on the correct vertical movement path. Therefore, regularly performing the seated dumbbell shoulder press helps develop a good shoulder range of motion and improves stability. 

Work On Any Muscular Imbalances

When performing bilateral compound exercises, you use both sides of your body. In some cases, this can result in an over-reliance on one side or half of your body and possible injury.

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is a unilateral exercise. This means that it works on each side of your body separately. Because of this, each one needs the same strength and function to successfully lift the dumbbell. This allows you to identify and work on any potential muscular imbalances. 

Improves Posture

Unfortunately in today’s society, postural problems are becoming a much bigger issue. As the hours at office desks go up, the prevalence of slouched shoulders goes up with it. 

Your deltoid muscles and serratus anterior both play key roles in postural control. By building and strengthening both of these, you can improve your posture at work and during sports performance.   

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the correct form for a seated dumbbell shoulder press?

Set the back pad and place the dumbbells next to the bench. Bring them to shoulder height. Keep your back against the pad and chest up. Press the dumbbells overhead and extend your elbows.

What is the best angle for a seated shoulder press?

The best angle for a seated shoulder press is approximately 70 to 90 degrees. The best angle for you will depend on your mobility levels and preferences.

What does the dumbbell shoulder press work?

The dumbbell shoulder press works your anterior deltoids and lateral deltoids as the primary movers. It also works the three heads of your triceps and serratus anterior.

Is seated dumbbell shoulder press good?

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is a great exercise to develop strength and power. It also has several functional applications and helps to work on muscular imbalances.

Resources

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