Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press 2024: How To Do It Properly And Tips

The overhead press is a compound shoulder exercise with several functional and performance applications.[1] With multiple pressing variations to choose from, it can be challenging to know which shoulder workouts to perform and why.

If you want to build strong shoulders, look no further than the seated overhead dumbbell press. It offers a versatile exercise option that hits the three deltoid heads and works on muscular imbalances.  

We’ve covered the seated dumbbell press in detail below. This complete exercise guide takes you through the correct form; muscles worked, and benefits of performance. We’ve also explained how many sets per workout to perform. 

If you want to get bigger shoulders – a common interest in men’s health,  this overhead press guide below will help you do just that.  

How To Do The Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

The correct form can be split into three phases. Follow the guidance below:

  • Setup Phase – Adjust the bench to the highest setting. Press your back against the pad and rest both dumbbells on your knees. Keep your head facing forward and upper chest out.
  • Press Phase Bring the dumbbells to your shoulders. Bring your arms out with your elbows at 45-degree angles. Press overhead until your elbows are locked out.
  • Breathe out as you lift overhead, and breathe in as you return to the starting position.
  • Descend Phase – Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position under control.

How To Do The Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press

seated overhead dumbbell press
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press Instruction. Photo: Aliaksandr Makatserchyk

The seated press should be split into three distinct phases. These are the setup, press, and descend.

Setup Phase

  • Adjust the backrest of an adjustable bench to an 80 to 90-degree angle. This is typically the highest or the second-highest backrest position. A fixed bench can also be used. 
  • Pick up two dumbbells from a weight rack and sit on the bench. While sitting, keep the dumbbells on your knees with the dumbbell heads facing upwards. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Place your back firmly against the backrest. Keep your head facing forward and chest out. This is the correct starting position.

Press Phase

  • Lift the dumbbells to shoulder height one at a time. You can use your knees to drive them upwards using a kicking motion. 
  • Take a deep breath in to brace your torso. Exhale as you press the dumbbells overhead. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  • Once the dumbbells are at shoulder height, adjust your arms so that your elbows face outward. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle with your palms facing in front of you. 
  • Maintain a strong grip by keeping your thumbs wrapped around the dumbbell shafts. Keep the tension throughout your upper body before pressing.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead using a straight movement pattern. Your elbows should move straight up as you initiate the press. Drive your feet into the floor while maintaining the correct positioning.
  • Lift your arms straight up until your elbows are locked out. As the weights go overhead, the dumbbells should come toward each other. Keep your head facing forward and chest up. Don’t take your back off the backrest. 
  • Avoid excessively arching your lower back when pressing. If arching your back occurs and you’re using heavy weights, lower the weight amount and reassess your form before progressing.

Descend Phase

  • Once your elbows are locked out, pause briefly at the top of the movement.
  • Bring the dumbbells back to your shoulders by reversing the above mentioned movement pattern. Ensure the lowering portion is performed in a controlled manner.

Some of the technique cues described above can be applied to other overhead press variations. 

The seated barbell shoulder press uses many of the same movement patterns. The standing overhead press using dumbbells requires more core strength, which can be harder to perform.

 A shoulder workout machine uses the same movement pattern but requires fewer stabilizer muscles due to the fixed weight path.

For Hypertrophy: Perform three to four sets of eight to ten repetitions.

For Strength: Perform five sets of five repetitions.

For Endurance: Perform three to four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. 

Seated Overhead Press Dumbbell Benefits

The seated dumbbell overhead press has a range of benefits when performed correctly. Whether performed as part of a shoulder workout at home or the gym, the main ones are listed below.

Builds Bigger Shoulders

Regarding strength and power, the standing overhead barbell variation is the winner. The seated press is better if you’re looking for a shoulder exercise for hypertrophy.

The seated dumbbell shoulder press makes developing a good mind-muscle connection much easier. During the movement, your back is against the backrest, and your legs don’t perform a leg drive. With this, shoulder muscle activation is higher[2] when performing seated dumbbell press variations compared to other shoulder exercise variations. 

While this won’t lead to huge improvements in muscle growth, it’s certainly easier for building muscle.

Helps To Address Muscular Imbalances

Compared to a shoulder machine workout, pressing separate weights overhead allows you to identify muscular imbalances that may be present. During the barbell overhead press, your body naturally compensates for any imbalances. This makes it harder to recognize.

If one side of your body is more mobile or stronger than the other, using dumbbells means you’ll immediately notice the difference. Once recognized, any issues can be addressed, which may lead to performance improvements. 

Works Stabilizer Muscles

Performing the overhead press using dumbbells means each arm has to move separately. Your stabilizer muscles need to work harder[3] to keep the dumbbells under control. Stabilizer muscles help to maintain the proper function of the primary movers. The seated press involves your serratus anterior, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus. 

Offers A Range Of Versatile Exercise Options

The seated dumbbell overhead press can be performed using several movement patterns. Varying your hand placement and the movement pattern can allow you to emphasize a particular deltoid head. The Arnold press is a variation of the seated dumbbell shoulder press.

Several dumbbell press variations exist, offering a range of versatile workout options. The form above should be used for the standard seated overhead dumbbell press. Other variations may use different form and technique cues.

Provides A Convenient Exercise Option

In a busy gym environment, having access to a machine, squat rack, or barbell can become a problem. Dumbbells are often readily available and easy to change as needed. 

Different weight benches can also be used depending on availability. This makes the seated dumbbell overhead press a more convenient exercise option in most cases.

They can be performed with other shoulder exercises or when performing arm workouts with dumbbells

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press Muscles Worked

The seated dumbbell shoulder press requires multiple muscle groups and joints to work together. It can be done independently or with other muscle groups – for example, as part of a shoulder and bicep workout

Different overhead variations vary the level of muscle activation[4] for each muscle group. This is mainly due to differences in the movement pattern. 

The main ones for the seated dumbbell press are listed below.

Anterior Deltoids

Your anterior deltoids, also known as your front deltoids, are located at the front of your shoulders. During the seated dumbbell press and overhead dumbbell raise, they function to raise your arms above your head. They also raise them out in front of your body. 

Muscle activation in the front deltoids is the greatest during overhead press movements. They are classed as the primary movers. 

Lateral Deltoids

Your lateral deltoids, also known as your side deltoids, are located at the sides of your shoulders. During the seated shoulder press, they also function to raise your arms above your head. Alongside this, they help to bring them in front of your body. 

These are also classed as primary moved in the seated press but to a lesser extent than the front deltoids. 

Posterior Deltoids

Your posterior deltoids, also known as your rear deltoids, are located at the back of your shoulders. They are directly opposite your front deltoids. 

When pressing overhead, they function to stop your arms from going too far back. They are also classed as primary movers as they are part of the shoulder muscles. However, they play a smaller role than the other two deltoid heads. 


The trapezius is a large superficial muscle at the back of your body. It consists of three parts. These are the upper traps, middle traps, and lower traps. 

During the seated overhead press, they help to stabilize your shoulder joints. They are classed as primary movers. 

Pectoralis Major

Your pectoralis major makes up your chest muscles alongside your pectoralis minor. They are more commonly known as the pec muscles.

During the seated overhead press, your pectoralis major helps to move your shoulders and pull your arms across your body. They are classed as secondary movers. 


Your tricep muscles consist of three heads. These are the long head, lateral head, and medial head. 

During the seated shoulder press, the three heads function[5] to press the weight overhead and lock your arms out. They are classed as primary movers. 

Stabilizer Muscles

Your stabilizer muscles are better known as your support muscles. They consist of your serratus anterior, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus. 

During the seated overhead press, they ensure the primary movers maintain their proper function. They provide support and stability to keep the dumbbells from moving out of position.

Common Dumbbell Shoulder Press Mistakes

An awareness of common mistakes can ensure correct performance and limit the risk of injury. These are the main ones to focus on when pressing the dumbbells overhead.

Excessive Leaning Back

When pressing overhead, there’s a tendency to lean too far back. This turns the shoulder press into more of a bench press movement. Common causes include poor shoulder mobility and inadequate muscle strength for the chosen weight.

Ensure your body is firmly against the backrest throughout the pressing movement. Your head should face forward, and your chest should stay up without any deviations in form. If your back tends to come away from the bench, reassess the weight before continuing. 

Poor Range Of Motion

As you press the dumbbells overhead, your arms and elbows should fully lockout at the top of the movement. Your elbow joints should be able to fully extend with only the dumbbell weights offering resistance. Using improper equipment, such as an incline bench, can yield subpar results.

If you can’t fully extend your arms overhead, this may indicate poor shoulder mobility or joint issues. Work with a professional to assess your ranges of motion and perform suitable mobility exercises if needed.

Partial repetitions may be programmed if required and do have their place in hypertrophy-focused workouts.[6] They can be used to target different muscle groups.

Finishing The Set Poorly

Once your set has finished, ensure the dumbbells return to the floor under control. Keep a tight body position with your back still firmly against the backrest. Lower the dumbbells down and avoid dropping them if possible. Use your knees to help bring them down if needed. 

If you do need to drop them, ensure the gym area is equipped with protective flooring.  


Seated dumbbell shoulder presses are versatile exercise options. They offer several physical and performance-based benefits when performed using the proper form above. Follow the guidance to ensure safe performance and limit the risk of injury. 

When performing seated overhead dumbbell presses, your prime movers include your shoulders, triceps, and trapezius muscles. Your pectoralis major and stabilizer muscles are classed as secondary movers. 

The dumbbell overhead press uses separate weights that move freely. Due to this, regular performance can help to address muscular imbalances. Shoulder muscle activation is higher when using dumbbells compared to a barbell. When seated, your core musculature and legs are less involved than in standing overhead press movements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a seated overhead press effective?

The seated overhead press is an effective exercise option for hypertrophy. It helps to isolate the shoulder muscles more than the standing variations. It’s also a better exercise option if you’re lacking core strength. 

What are the cues for a seated overhead dumbbell press?

Assume a seated body position, keeping your back against the bench. Rest both dumbbells on your knees before bringing them to shoulder height. Engage your core. Press the dumbbells overhead until your elbows are extended and locked. 

Why is the seated overhead press easier?

The seated shoulder press is easier due to the stability provided by the bench when pressing. The bench supports Your upper back, meaning less core strength is required. 

Why is my overhead press so weak?

A weak overhead shoulder press may be due to several factors. These are a lack of strength, poor mobility, or incorrect form. Common mistakes include leaning back excessively, not pressing high enough, and a poor head position.


  1. D Martínez-García, LJ Chirosa Ríos, A Rodriguez-Perea, D Ulloa-Díaz, D Jerez-Mayorga, IJ Chirosa Ríos (2021). Strength training for throwing velocity enhancement in overhead throw: A systematic review and meta-analysis – D Martínez-García, LJ Chirosa Ríos, A Rodriguez-Perea, D Ulloa-Díaz, D Jerez-Mayorga, IJ Chirosa Ríos, 2021. [online] International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. Available at:
  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 Individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics, [online] 75(1), pp.5–14. doi:
  3. Williams, M.R., Hendricks, D.S., Dannen, M.J., Arnold, A.M. and Lawrence, M.A. (2020). Activity of Shoulder Stabilizers and Prime Movers During an Unstable Overhead Press. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, [online] 34(1), pp.73–78. doi:
  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:
  5. 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, [online] 52(3), pp.201–205. doi:
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