Arnold Dumbbell Press

Personal Trainer’s Exercise Tutorial, Muscles Worked, and Variations

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 29, 2021

Any exercise with “Arnold” in the name is worth giving a try, right? You bet it is!

Before you grab the dumbbells, I’ll explain what makes the Arnold dumbbell press unique. And show you how to do a few different variations of the Arnold press.

Then you will be ready to build shoulders like the great Schwarzenegger himself.

Arnold Dumbbell Press

What Is An Arnold Dumbbell Press?

The Arnold press is a shoulder exercise popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his book, the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger said he included this exercise in every shoulder workout1.

One reason Arnold liked this exercise so much is its greater range of motion. And the movement path is better for targeting multiple areas of the shoulder muscles.

Arnold Press

Arnold Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

Most shoulder press movements target the front of the shoulders. But the Arnold dumbbell press works the front, side, and rear delts (anterior, lateral, and posterior).

Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

In addition, the arm extension during the press activates the triceps as a secondary muscle group. While the external arm rotation engages some upper back muscles.

Arnold Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

Arnold Press vs Dumbbell Shoulder Press

One of the key distinctions between the Arnold dumbbell press and the regular shoulder press is the rotation.

With the Arnold press, you rotate the dumbbells as you perform the pressing movement, resulting in a greater range of motion. Therefore, the muscles must do more work for each rep.

In contrast, your hands face outward throughout a traditional dumbbell shoulder press, and the range of motion is shorter.

Read More – Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press: Which Is Better for Size & Strength

Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press

Arnold Dumbbell Press Benefits & Limitations

As you can see, the Arnold press is excellent for working multiple parts of the shoulder muscle while engaging more muscle fibers. So you don’t need to use super heavy weight to achieve muscle activation.

However, you might not gain as much strength from this exercise compared to heavier dumbbell presses.


  • Works the front, side, and some rear delt
  • Increases the range of motion
  • You don’t need to use as much weight to see results


  • Not as good for strength gains as traditional dumbbell press

How To Do A Seated Arnold Press

This section will show you how to do the Arnold dumbbell press while seated on a bench. The seated variation is best for reducing momentum and isolating the shoulders.

To begin, pick up the dumbbells and sit down on the bench with one on each thigh. Next, use your legs to hoist the dumbbells up to shoulder level with your palms facing your chest.

In one smooth motion, press the weights up overhead until your arms are nearly fully extended. As you press, rotate your hands, so your palms face forward at the top.

Now lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the bench
  2. Lift the dumbbells to shoulder level with palms facing your chest
  3. Press the dumbbells overhead while rotating your palms to the front
  4. Lower the weight and repeat for the desired number of reps

Seated Arnold Press Video

Arnold Dumbbell Press Form

There are three things to focus on when doing the Arnold press: range of motion, movement path, and hand rotation.

First, think about starting with the handles of the dumbbells down past your chin or even lower. Then press upward until you feel a squeeze in your shoulders.

Also, focus on moving the weight through a “J” shaped movement path. In other words, move the dumbbells back and up at the same time when viewed from the side. And out and up when viewed from the front.

Lastly, make sure you rotate your hands in one smooth motion as you press the weight up. This twist is what brings the sides of your shoulders into the movement.

Seated Arnold Press

Arnold Press Variations

In addition to the seated Arnold press, you can also perform this exercise standing or one arm at a time.

Standing Arnold Press

One benefit of the standing Arnold dumbbell press is that you don’t need a bench. But it’s possible to use your legs to generate momentum. So it would help if you kept them as still as possible to be more strict.

Single Arm Arnold Press

The single-arm Arnold dumbbell press is where you alternate sides while performing the exercise. Some advantages are that the muscle gets a longer break between reps, and each shoulder must work independently.

Arnold Press Alternatives

Of course, you don’t have to be like Arnold and include this exercise in every shoulder workout. Below are some alternative shoulder press exercises you can use instead.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

As mentioned earlier, the regular dumbbell shoulder press involves no hand rotation during the exercise, and the range of motion is smaller.

Therefore, this exercise is a good alternative if you’re going heavy to build maximum strength.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

Barbell Shoulder Press

A barbell shoulder press involves pressing a bar in front of or behind your head. One advantage of the barbell press is that both shoulders work in tandem and you can lift more weight.

Standing Shoulder Press

Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Another similar variation is the Smith machine shoulder press. This exercise is identical to the free-weight barbell version except the bar travels on guide rails.

The benefit of the Smith machine is that you don’t have to balance the bar. So it’s easier for beginners and isolates the deltoids in more advanced lifters.

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Hypertrophy Training Program

The Arnold dumbbell press is an excellent exercise for building all three heads of your shoulder muscle. But to reach your overall fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

To maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust ten specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better body. And if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

1. Dobbins, B., and A. Schwarzenegger. Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon & Schyster, 1985.

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By |November 29, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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