Overhead Dumbbell Press: Muscle Worked, How To Do, Benefits

If you’re looking to build impressive upper body strength, the dumbbell overhead press is a fantastic exercise to add to your workout routine.

The overhead dumbbell press is one of the best upper body exercises for gaining muscle and overall strength in the shoulders.

It is a compound exercise which is considered one of the four major lifts that define your strength.

It is an amazing movement to build shoulders, traps, triceps, upper chest, and core. To have a strong upper body, you must master the overhead press.

This guide will give you all the tips and tricks you need to learn how to do the dumbbell overhead press.

Below, we discuss the following:

  • Anatomy and functions of your shoulder
  • Muscle groups worked during dumbbell overhead shoulder press
  • The benefits of overhead presses
  • The best variations of overhead shoulder presses
  • How to do them properly for shoulder development.

Shoulder Anatomy

In fitness, “shoulder exercises” refers to resistance exercises that target the deltoid muscle.

The deltoid is the superficial muscle that forms the rounded contour of your shoulder. While the deltoid is technically a single muscle, anatomically speaking it has three distinct sets of muscles fibers and muscle bellies, which are referred to as “heads.

The deltoid muscle of the shoulder consists of three separate sections or heads.

Shoulder Anatomy

Anterior Deltoid

It is commonly called the front delt. It arises from your collar bone and inserts into your humerus (upper arm bone).

Your front delt’s main function is to move your arm up, forward, and to your center. 

Lateral Deltoid

It has a few common names, such as side delts, middle delts. It arises from a little area on the shoulder blade called the acromion process and inserts into the humerus.

Your lateral delt’s main function is shoulder abduction, which is bringing it up to the side.

Posterior Deltoid

It also knows as the rear delt. It arises from the spine of the scapula (upper part of your shoulder blade) and inserts into the humerus.

Your posterior delts main function is moving the arm outward and backward.

Muscle Worked During Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell overhead shoulder presses work all three heads of the deltoid (shoulder) and the triceps because you are straightening your arms as well as lifting them upward.

During a dumbbell overhead press, various muscles are involved as primary movers, secondary muscles, and stabilizers.

Primary Muscle Worked:

  • Deltoids: Anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (rear) heads, are the primary movers during the dumbbell shoulder press.

Secondary Muscle Worked:

  • Triceps Brachii: It acts as synergist. They assist the deltoids in elbow extension during the pressing movement.

Stabilizer Muscles Worked:

  1. Trapezius: Particularly the middle and lower fibers, stabilize the scapulae and assist in maintaining proper shoulder positioning and posture,
  2. Rhomboids: Help retract and stabilize the scapulae, supporting proper shoulder alignment.
  3. Rotator Cuff Muscles: They play a crucial role in stabilizing the shoulder joint.
  4. Erector spines: provide stability and support to the core and back, helping to maintain an upright posture.
  5. Core Muscles: To provide stability and prevent excessive arching of the back during the exercise.

You can vary the stress on your shoulders to a slight degree to direct it toward the different deltoid heads by doing different kinds of Presses—to the front, lateral, and the rear by using dumbbells positions.

Muscle Worked During Dumbbell Shoulder Press
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Standing Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell overhead press can be done in either a sitting or standing position and with dumbbells held horizontally at the shoulders or rotated in a hammer grip.

The standing dumbbell shoulder press is a classic deltoid-building exercise that is common in gyms around the world.

Performing the move standing up rather than seated allows you to use more weight and puts more stress on the core than seated presses.

The standing press is worthy of being the main movement in a muscle-building shoulder workout, but is also a great strength movement and accessory for the bench press.

Standing Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How To Do Standing Overhead Press With Dumbbell

  1. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip.
  2. Without leaning back, extend through your elbows to press the weights above your head.
  3. Then, press the weights up above your head until your arms are fully extended.
  4. Pause, and slowly return the weight to the starting position.


  • Always use the longest range of motion possible and control the dumbbells throughout the set.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Go as heavy as possible with proper foam.

Other Variations of the Dumbbell Overhead Press

Repeating the same exercise too often can cause boredom, overuse, and a decrease in performance and gains.

So, If you want to train the same muscles as in the overhead press, but want to change things up, you might be wondering if there are other exercises you can do.

You can do this exercise in several different ways depending on your fitness level and goals.

Here are some considerations to take into action:

1. Seated Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell shoulder press is a good variation to barbell shoulder press. The fact is that the dumbbells allow a full range of motion.

The dumbbell press is a very effective exercise for building muscle mass in the front and side deltoid muscles.

Performing the exercise while seated upright is a stricter version than standing and prevents cheating the weight upward using momentum generated by the legs.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How To Do It

  1. Sit on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, maintaining a neutral spine.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip. Rest them on your thighs, just above your knees.
  3. Lift the dumbbells one at a time, using your thighs to help propel them up to shoulder level.
  4. Position the dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
  5. Inhale and begin the movement by pressing the dumbbells overhead.
  6. Extend your arms fully without locking out the elbows.
  7. Exhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
  8. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Exhale during effort, inhale during rest.
  • Engage your core and maintain a straight back throughout the exercise.
  • Move in a smooth, controlled way.

2. Arnold Shoulder Press

The Arnold shoulder press is a great exercise to build your shoulder muscles. It stands out from the crowd when it comes to the best exercise with the best range of motion for shoulder muscles.

It gives a wide range of motion as you lower the dumbbells well down in front, giving that maximum stretch other shoulder exercises lack.

The exercise is performed while seated upright, which prevents cheating the weight upward by using the legs’ strength.

Arnold Press

How To Do It

  1. Stand straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder position with palms facing you.
  3. Now press the dumbbells overhead just like dumbbell presses, but twisting them so that palms face forwards at the top of the movement.
  4. Now lower the dumbbells in a reverse movement.
  5. Repeat the desired number of reps.


  • Inhale when you lower the weight and exhale when you lift.
  • Keep a strict form.
  • Do not lock your arms overhead.
Know More: Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises & Workouts For Mass

3. Seated Neutral-Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

The seated neutral-grip dumbbell overhead press is a very effective exercise that targets the anterior delt

But, using a neutral grip is also more challenging and makes for a great variation since it still works the same muscle.

Seated Neutral-Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

How To Do It

  1. Sit on a bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height.
  2. Begin with your palms facing toward each other and your elbows just below shoulder level.
  3. Push the weights straight up, stopping just short of locking out your elbows.
  4. Then control the dumbbells all the way down until your upper arms are parallel with the floor or slightly lower.


  • Keep your back and neck neutral.
  • Always warm up before training heavily to prevent shoulder discomfort.

4. Dumbbell One Arm Shoulder Press

Dumbbell one-arm shoulder press is an exercise that isolates the heads of the shoulders.

The single-arm overhead press is a unilateral exercise that increases shoulder strength, stability, and symmetry.

Performing the exercise with one arm at a time will actively engage the core throughout the range of motion.

One Arm Shoulder Press

How To Do It

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in your one hand.
  2. Extend through your elbow to lift the dumbbell directly above you.
  3. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
  4. After completing all reps on the right side, repeat on the left side.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Don’t allow your torso to sway to one side or the other as you press the weight overhead.
  • Keep the tension on your shoulder as you press the weight up.

5. Alternating Overhead Dumbbell Press

The alternating overhead dumbbell press is a great shoulder press variation that allows you to focus on one side of the body at a time.

By doing this exercise unilaterally, you have to actively engage your core so that your torso doesn’t lean towards one side or the other.

This exercise can help to balance out any possible weaknesses that might be present on either side.

Alternating Dumbbell Press

How To Do It

  1. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip.
  2. Without leaning back, Press one dumbbell up over your head without moving the other dumbbell.
  3. Press the weight up above your head until your arm is fully extended.
  4. Pause, and slowly return the weight to the starting position.
  5. Do the same with the other arm.


  • Do not allow your torso to sway to either side as you press the weight overhead.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Squeeze your abs and glutes to help keep your body stable as you press the weights.

6. Reverse Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

The reverse grip press starts in the same position as the Arnold press with your palms facing towards you, but instead of opening the arms and rotating the wrists, you will press straight up.

This exercise is good for targeting the front delts, triceps, and the serratus anterior.

Reverse Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

How To Do It

  1. Sit on a bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells with both hands using an underhand grip.
  3. Bring the weights up to shoulder level with palms facing in and your elbows just below shoulder level.
  4. Push the weights straight up, stopping just short of locking out your elbows.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the exercise for the prescribed number of repetitions.


  • Keep your back and neck neutral.
  • Choose a lightweight first and focus on form before going heavy.
  • Do not lock out your elbows.

Benefits of Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

There are several advantages to including the overhead press in your workout routine.

1. Full Upper Body Workout

The overhead dumbbell press is a compound exercise that works major muscle groups in the upper body, including the arms, shoulders, chest, core, and abs.

This comprehensive exercise promotes overall upper body strength and development, benefiting athletes and bodybuilders.

2. Improve Core Strength

Along with working the primary muscles, the overhead dumbbell press also engages the core and stabilizer muscles.

This enhances core strength, stability, and posture, which are crucial for daily activities and athletic performance.

3. Enhanced Physique

By targeting the shoulders and arms, the overhead press helps build muscle mass, leading to a more defined and muscular upper body.

Additionally, it contributes to broadening the chest and creating a desirable V-taper structure.

4. Improved Posture

It helps to maintain proper posture by strengthening your scapular and trap muscles.

This exercise counteracts the negative effects of prolonged sitting and strengthens the muscles that support an upright position.

5. Muscle Symmetry

Dumbbells allow for focused work on muscle asymmetries and imbalances that might be overlooked with other equipment.

The overhead dumbbell press helps address these issues, promoting balanced muscle development and improving overall mobility.

Build symmetry with the shoulder, preventing a “forward sloping” look

6. Versatility

The overhead dumbbell press offers versatility in terms of customization to individual fitness goals and levels. It can be adjusted to suit different needs, making it suitable for a wide range of individuals, including those with lower extremity injuries.

7. Shoulder Joint Mobility

Performing the full range of motion during the overhead press promotes shoulder joint mobility.

This not only improves joint health, but also enhances performance in other arm exercises, allowing for more fluid and effective movements.

Common Mistakes to Avoid During the Dumbbell Overhead Press

To avoid injury and get the most out of the dumbbell overhead press, it’s essential to avoid these common mistakes:

1. Arching your back

Arching your back can place unnecessary stress on your spine and increase the risk of injury.

Make sure to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.

2. Leaning forward

Leaning forward can also place stress on your spine and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

Keep your back straight and avoid leaning forward.

3. Using too much weight

Using too much weight can compromise your form and increase the risk of injury.

Start with a weight that you can comfortably lift with proper form and gradually increase it as you get stronger.

4. Not engaging your core

Using your core muscles helps you keep your spine straight and keep your posture straight.

Make sure to brace your core muscles before lifting the dumbbells overhead.

5. Using Momentum

Momentum can diminish the effectiveness of your workout by shifting tension away from the targeted muscles and onto the wrong muscle groups.

To prevent this, it’s important to avoid swinging or using excessive momentum during the overhead dumbbell press.

6. Partial Range of Motion

It is important to ensure that your movements follow the natural and complete range of motion of your shoulders. This means maintaining a constant path without deviating or straying from the intended plane.

By doing so, you can maximize the engagement of the targeted muscles.

How to Incorporate the Dumbbell Overhead Press in Your Workout Routine

The dumbbell overhead press can be incorporated into your workout routine in several ways, depending on your fitness goals. Here are some examples:

1. Upper body strength workout

Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions of the dumbbell overhead press, followed by other upper body exercises such as rows, pull-ups, and push-ups.

2. Full-body workout

Incorporate the dumbbell overhead press into a full-body workout that includes exercises for your lower body and core muscles.

3. Superset workout

Pair the dumbbell overhead press with another upper body exercise, such as bicep curls or lateral raises, to increase the intensity of your workout.


What does dumbbell overhead press work?

The overhead dumbbell press mainly works your shoulders, but it also works your triceps, glutes, trapezius, and core muscles.

Is the overhead press better with dumbbells?

Yes, there are many benefits of doing an overhead press with dumbbells.

  • It requires more balance than barbells or machines, which can help you recruit more muscle fibers.
  • If you are new to weight training, it is best to use lighter weight dumbbells. This will allow you to learn proper form and build up your strength gradually.
  • Dumbbell training allows for unilateral training, which increases core stability, and improves muscular imbalances.
  • The shoulder press with dumbbells provides greater joint safety and stabilization.
  • The dumbbell shoulder press is a safe and effective exercise that can be performed without a spotter. This makes it possible to do anywhere, anytime.
  • It allows for a greater range of motion (ROM), leading to a greater number of muscle fibers being recruited.

How many reps of overhead press should I do?

How many times you should do an overhead shoulder press depends on what you want to achieve.

  • To increase strength, aim for 2 to 5 repetitions during your working sets.
  • If your goal is to build muscle mass, try rep ranges of 6 to 12 reps.
  • And, if you wish to increase endurance, try doing 12 to 20+ reps.

What’s the difference between a shoulder press and an overhead press?

Many people use the terms “shoulder press” and “overhead press” to mean the same thing.

Often, the barbell overhead press is often called an overhead press, and the dumbbell shoulder press may be called a shoulder press.

The overhead press includes all variations and is a blanket term that includes the standard shoulder press, military press, Arnold press, and push press.

Are dumbbell shoulder presses effective?

Yes, the dumbbell shoulder press is a highly effective compound exercise that works the shoulders, chest, triceps and core.

The primary benefit of this exercise is that it increases overall upper body strength by requiring the use of heavy weights for multiple repetitions. Dumbbell presses also help you strengthen and improve the shape of your arms and shoulders.


The following overhead dumbbell press exercises are recommended when designing your next delt workout.

An Overhead Dumbbell Press is an excellent exercise if you’re looking to increase muscle mass and strength in your arms, shoulders, core, and chest.

As with any weightlifting exercise, proper technique and form are crucial for the best results and to prevent injury.

15 Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises to Build massive and 3D Shoulder.

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