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.

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