Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Exercise Form, Benefits, and Variations

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: June 15, 2023

The shoulder press is an excellent exercise if you want to build shoulder size and strength. While it’s relatively easy to execute on machines, the proper form with dumbbells can be more challenging to master.

Even experienced lifters can make mistakes when performing the dumbbell shoulder press, which can negatively affect your progress or even result in shoulder injuries.

Fortunately, this page provides a step-by-step guide, a brief video, and clear images to help you perfect the dumbbell shoulder press and achieve stronger shoulders more efficiently.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise Guide

What Is A Dumbbell Shoulder Press?

The dumbbell shoulder press is an effective resistance training exercise for strengthening your shoulder muscles. It is a modified version of the overhead press and entails holding a dumbbell in each hand to increase resistance.

Although the motion is comparable to other free weight and machine overhead press exercises, the dumbbell variation has distinct differences in mechanics and muscle activation.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

The dumbbell shoulder press exercise targets the deltoid muscle group in your shoulder joint. This group comprises three smaller muscles called heads, namely the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids.

Each head of the deltoid muscle is named according to its location in the shoulder complex. The anterior deltoid is at the front of your shoulder, while the lateral and posterior deltoids are at the sides and back, respectively.

Since this exercise involves extending your arms, it primarily focuses on the anterior deltoid, with some assistance from the lateral deltoid. Simply put, it works the front and side muscles of your shoulder.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Benefits & Limitations

First, using free weights, such as dumbbells, requires controlling the weight through the entire range of motion. This engages more muscles than machines that control the movement path for you.

Additionally, the dumbbell shoulder press necessitates that you balance the weight independently with each arm, improving stability and eliminating side-to-side imbalances.

Using dumbbells also allows for a greater range of motion and different movement paths, as there is no obstruction between the weights that could hit your head or chest. And you can even use different grips to suit your needs.

It is worth noting, however, that the dumbbell shoulder press is a more challenging exercise to perform correctly and will not allow you to move as much weight as other overhead press variations.


  • Free weight movement maximizes muscle recruitment
  • Improves shoulder stability and balance
  • Greater flexibility and range of motion
  • Able to change the grip and hand position


  • More difficult to learn
  • You may be limited to lighter loads

How To Dumbbell Shoulder Press

First, find a sturdy bench and sit down with your feet flat on the ground. You can use an adjustable bench with a backrest set upright or at a steep incline.

Take a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. Then, use your legs to help lift the dumbbells to shoulder level, with your palms facing forward.

Starting from this position, extend your arms straight overhead and press the dumbbells upward. Continue pressing until your arms are fully extended, but do not lock your elbows. Exhale as you reach the top.

Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position as you inhale. Repeat this movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Begin with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form, and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.

Here is how to do a dumbbell shoulder press step-by-step:

  1. Sit upright on a bench with feet flat on the floor
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, hoist them to shoulder level, palms facing out
  3. Press the dumbbells overhead by extending your arms
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting point
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps

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Dumbbell Shoulder Press Form

The description and video above should give you a good idea of how to do dumbbell presses correctly. But here are a few more tips to help you isolate your deltoids and prevent shoulder joint stress.

1. Keep Elbow “Stacked” Under Wrist

When performing the exercise, it is essential to maintain a “stacked” joint alignment by keeping your elbows directly underneath your wrists. This will provide greater stability and enable more force to be directed onto the deltoid muscles.

2. Press Up & Slightly Back

In addition, it is important to avoid any forward movement and instead focus on a slight backward arch as the dumbbells travel up. The green dots tracking elbow movement in the images below illustrate this range of motion more clearly.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Form 1
Dumbbell Shoulder Press Form 2
Dumbbell Shoulder Press Form 3

3. Squeeze Shoulders, But Don’t Lock Out

As a final step, consider briefly squeezing your shoulders when your upper arms extend up and back. But be careful not to extend your upper arms too far inward, locking your elbows.

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Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations

There are multiple ways to do dumbbell shoulder presses that change the movement or just change up your workouts. Here are some of the most common variations.

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

If you don’t have a bench to sit on, you can do the standing dumbbell shoulder press instead. This variation involves standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart while performing an overhead press.

In addition to not needing a bench, the standing variation engages more core muscles and can burn more calories than the seated version. However, if you’re trying to do a strict overhead press, be careful not to use too much momentum.

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Push Press

Another standing overhead press variation, the push press, involves intentionally using your legs to generate momentum. By doing so, you train multiple muscle groups to work in unison, which is beneficial for functional movements and overall strength.

However, it may not be as effective in isolating your shoulder muscles.

Dumbbell Arnold Press

Alternatively, the Arnold dumbbell press is another seated exercise that involves rotating your arms as you perform the shoulder press. This added movement increases the range of motion and incorporates more deltoid heads.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternatives

Of course, you don’t need dumbbells to do the shoulder press exercise. Here are some other shoulder presses you can do with different equipment.

Barbell Shoulder Press

The barbell shoulder press exercise can be done seated or standing, just like the dumbbell shoulder press. However, the barbell variation may have a shorter range of motion as the bar hits your chest.

Moreover, it requires you to move the weight past the front of your head. But you can also perform this exercise by lowering the bar behind your head.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Another barbell shoulder press variation involves using the Smith machine bar mounted on vertical guide rails. With the Smith machine shoulder press, you get the feel of free weights with the fixed movement path of machines.

Machine Shoulder Press

Some gyms have a shoulder press machine with an upright bench seat and handle connected to a weight stack. With this machine, the movement path is fixed, so you can focus on feeling your shoulders do the work.

Landmine Shoulder Press

Lastly, a landmine is a device that turns a barbell into a giant lever that you can use for several exercises, including shoulder presses.

More Shoulder Exercises

Now you know how to do the dumbbell shoulder press with proper form for maximum deltoid activation and safety. And you’ve seen several variations and alternatives you can use to keep your workouts fresh.

But you should also include other movements in your shoulder training to hit all three heads. So here are some additional articles you can use to build your complete shoulder workout program.

23 Anterior Deltoid Exercises for Size & Strength

Best Lateral Deltoid Exercises for Shoulder Width

23 Posterior Deltoid Exercises for 3D Shoulders

9 Landmine Shoulder Exercises With Pictures

Best Cable Shoulder Exercises for Chiseled Delts

11 Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises & Example Workout

With this information, you’re well on your way to building bigger, stronger shoulders. So if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

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EER (estimated energy requirement) is the number of calories needed to repay the energy you expend through activity. Knowing your EER prevents fat gain and muscle loss.

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By |June 15, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – How to Fix Your Form
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