shoulder dumbell press on bench

How to do the shoulder dumbell press

Hard to master for beginners, the shoulder dumbbell press is an excellent exercise for bringing mass to the anterior and lateral heads of the deltoid muscle. It is a movement very similar to the dumbbell chest press and has all the usual advantages of a dumbbell movement.

shoulder dumbell press on bench


Sit on a bench with your back against the back rest. Place a dumbbell on each knee and kick up while at the same time lifting the dumbbell with your arm up to your shoulders. You don’t need to do this for light dumbells but for very heavy ones, you won’t be able to get the dumbells up otherwise. Place your feet wide apart for maximum stability.

With the dumbells resting close to your ears and positioned with your palms loosely facing forward, this is your starting position. Take a deep breath and then while exhaling push the dumbells up and slightly together in an arc so that they are closer at the top. Your arms only need to be straight up. Don’t lock out at the top. As you lower the dumbbell for a second rep, breathe in.

The shoulder press using dumbells is a very natural movement so don’t worry too much about the path the dumbells take when you push them up or the orientation of your hands. Simply do what feels the most natural to you. This is the advantage of dumbells – that they adapt to your body rather than the other way around. There is less chance of an injury this way.

Dumbell presses are very difficult for total beginners, as explained in the chest dumbbell press article.


There are not many variations you can do here. Start with the palms facing each other or start the usual way palms facing forward and twist during the movement so your palms end up facing each other.

Bring the dumbells closer together at the top so they touch each other.

Do the Arnold press where you start with the your palms facing you and ending the exercise the usual way. This particularly emphasises the front delts.

You can vary the angle of the bench away from 90 degrees but this is not recommended as you end up putting less emphasis on your shoulders and more on the chest muscles.

You could do the exercise standing up or sitting on an exercise ball but you’ll find that without a stable bench with a firm backrest, you won’t be able to lift as heavy. Nevertheless, performing the shoulder dumbbell press standing up is an excellent way of involving your core muscles in the exercise.

Neck in the way!

The main disadvantage of shoulder press exercises with the bar is that the bar itself gets in the way. How? The natural path of your arms to press up is on either side of your head. With a bar, you can’t have your arms in this position. Instead you must either bring the bar behind the neck or in front of your face. Either way, the movement is less natural.

Using dumbells avoids this issue entirely and allows you to enjoy a very natural movement and safely push as much weight as you can.

Shoulders of a giant

Wide shoulders, along with lots popping out like wings, a narrow waist and thick legs, serve to shape the silhouette of a body and define someone as a true weight-lifter. To build Atlas shoulders, you need to think big and lift big. Deltoids-burning front and lateral raises won’t pile on the meat. Make sure you add the following exercises to your menu.

Barbell presses

There are several variations to this basic exercise. The basic form of the exercise involves pushing a bar vertically up from your shoulders. Getting the grip right is crucial in order to place the maximum emphasis on the shoulder muscles. Variations to the shoulder barbell press include pushing the bar in front or behind the neck, seated or standing and free weight or using the Smith machine. The behind-the-neck press has had a bad reputation has many have suffered from shoulder injuries due to the stress placed on the shoulder girdle whilst pressing in this position. Yet many others have attributed their shoulder development to this exercise. If you are wary of injury, stick to the front press. While doing the shoulder press standing up strongly recruit the core muscles, you will not be able to lift as heavy. Stick to the seated press if all you want is to focus exclusively on developing Atlas shoulders.

Dumbell press

This is one of the best exercises for the shoulders. Because there is no bar to get in the way of your face or neck, the position that you will take when pressing while truly be a natural movement. Furthermore, like all dumbbell exercises, you will have to balance the weight while pressing it upwards. This may not be a great move though if you are at the end of your workout and feeling very tired. In this case we can recommend a machine exercise where all you have to think about is pushing without having to worry about keeping the weight balanced.

Dumbell presses further add a twist to your shoulder workout missing completely from a barbell press: you don’t just push up with the dumbbells but also bring them together at the top of the movement. This small motion further contracts your deltoids and traps. Dumbell exercises are for the skilled and clever trainer who seeks quality versus quantity.

Upright rows

What is great with this exercise is that it is completely different to all other pressing moves. If your triceps are tired, if you’ve just completed a chest or triceps workout or simply if your triceps are too powerful and taking over the pressing movement, the upright row is your solutions.

This exercise is performed standing and raising 2 dumbells, a barbell or a cable bar vertically up. Make sure your elbows are pointing up and leading the way all the time. It is easy to recruit the biceps in this exercise so make sure you are pulling with your shoulders. You can do this by imagining that the weight is directly attached to your elbows and you are pulling up with your elbows. At the top of the movement, hold the contraction for a second or so. Negative reps are also great with this exercise.

3 great shoulder exercises that will truly tire your arms. If you’ve trained them properly, afterwards you should have trouble lifting them or holding your hand in front of you without stopping it from shaking.