How to Do a Dumbbell Arnold Press

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 30, 2022
4 min read

The dumbbell Arnold press is an upper-body strength exercise, and it's a variation of the dumbbell shoulder press. Also known as the Arnold press or Arnold shoulder press, this exercise was created by and made popular by well-known bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.

To perform the dumbbell Arnold press, you only need a set of dumbbells. Some people also prefer to have a bench to do it while seated. Trainers commonly include this exercise in whole-body fitness routines and those that isolate and target the shoulders, chest, and triceps.

The dumbbell Arnold press is a more advanced version of the traditional dumbbell shoulder press. It’s best for intermediate to advanced weightlifters.

To do a dumbbell Arnold press, you lift a set of dumbbells up over your head. This movement primarily works the following muscles in your shoulders, arms, and chest:

Deltoid. The deltoid muscle is the primary muscle of the shoulder. Its three heads — the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid — work together to help you lift, move, and stabilize your arms and shoulders.

Triceps. These large muscles are on the back of your upper arms. They allow you to extend and retract your forearm. They also help you move your arms backward at the shoulder.

Trapezius. Also called the traps, this muscle helps you move your head, neck, arms, shoulders, and torso. It also affects your posture and stabilizes your spine.

Other muscles like your core and back don’t play an active role in the dumbbell Arnold press. But they help by stabilizing your torso.

Follow these steps to do a standing Arnold dumbbell press safely and effectively:

  1. Grab a set of dumbbells and stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height with your palms facing your body. Keep your back straight and bend your knees slightly.
  3. Slowly push the dumbbells above your head while rotating your wrists 180 degrees (so your palms face away from your body). 
  4. Raise the weights until your arms are almost fully extended. Avoid pausing at the top of the movement.
  5. Slowly bring the dumbbells back down to the starting position while twisting your wrists until your palms face you again.
  6. Aim for two or three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps). If 12 reps are easy for you, use heavier dumbbells.

Your last set of reps should feel quite challenging, like you can’t do it anymore. As your strength and fitness level increase, you should be able to complete more reps with heavier dumbbells.

Apart from the standing Arnold dumbbell press, other adaptations of dumbbell Arnold press are available include:

  • Seated Arnold dumbbell press
  • Single-arm Arnold press
  • Alternating Arnold press
  • Incline Arnold press

Each of these modified versions have a higher difficulty or work different muscles compared with the original version.

As the standing Arnold dumbbell press gets easier and you begin using heavier weights, you may want to progress to the seated Arnold dumbbell press. Instead of pushing the dumbbells up into the air while standing, the seated adaptation allows you to sit on a bench throughout the entire movement. This helps you avoid overarching your back.

With the single-arm Arnold press, you only lift one weight at a time. This forces your core to work harder to stabilize your torso, making it a fantastic arm and abdominal workout.

The alternating Arnold press is a more challenging variation because you have to stabilize your core from side to side as you alternate lifting each dumbbell over your head. It also challenges your biceps because you must hold the dumbbell out in front of your shoulders for an extended time.

The incline Arnold press involves lying on an incline bench and completing the controlled movement all the way through. Adding the incline engages your shoulder muscles and also works the following:

  • Latissimus dorsi muscles (or lats), the large muscles connecting your arms and spine.
  • Triceps, the large muscles on the back of your upper arms.
  • Pectoralis muscle (or pecs), the large muscles on either side of your chest that help you move your shoulders.

Aside from improving your upper-body strength, weight lifting exercises like the dumbbell Arnold press have many benefits for your overall health. Some of its main advantages:

  • Stronger bones. It can increase your bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which weakens your bones and makes them brittle.
  • Healthier weight. It reduces body fat and burns calories, combating obesity.
  • Better quality of life. You’re more likely to be able to complete daily activities without developing injuries.
  • Chronic disease management. If you have a chronic condition like back pain or arthritis, strengthening exercises can help combat the symptoms.

One study also found that the dumbbell Arnold press is more effective for activating the shoulder muscles than the overhead dumbbell press.

Doing a dumbbell Arnold press may look easy, but proper form is essential for safe and effective weight lifting. Avoid the following mistakes because they can lead to injuries:

  • Not warming up. Cold muscles are more prone to injuries than warm muscles. Always warm up before any strength training workout and cool down with gentle stretches when you’re finished.
  • Having improper form. Doing a dumbbell Arnold press with incorrect form increases your risk of injury. Find a coach or a trainer to help you learn the proper technique before attempting this exercise.
  • Adding weight too quickly. Lifting weights that are too heavy can cause muscle and joint damage. Once you can easily do more reps and have mastered the movement, gradually increase the weight.
  • Ignoring pain. Muscle soreness is normal but if you feel pain while lifting weights, stop immediately. Pain may indicate inflammation or an injury. Consider reducing the weight you’re lifting or taking a few days off before lifting again.

If you’re pregnant, older than 40 years, have a chronic condition, or live a sedentary lifestyle, check with your doctor before starting any strength training program.