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

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

It is a compound exercise, considered one of the four major lifts defining your strength. It also helps build traps, triceps, upper chest, and core.

I usually do barbell overhead presses, but I switched to dumbbell presses for a few weeks due to shoulder pain. Now, it is one of my favorite shoulder exercises.

To strengthen your upper body, you need to master the dumbbell overhead press. This guide will give you all the tips and tricks you need, including:

  • What it is
  • Muscles Worked
  • How To Do it
  • Best variations

What Is an Overhead Dumbbell Press

The dumbbell overhead press is a fundamental or compound exercise that all bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and weightlifters do. It is a classic deltoid-building exercise common in gyms worldwide.

It not only helps you build a bigger shoulder, but it also helps you build upper body strength.

There are many ways to do it, either sitting or standing. You can also use different grips (pronated and hammer) to train the shoulder from different angles.

  • During standing overhead press your legs slightly to assist with the lift. This can allow for heavier loads compared to the seated version. It also requires more core engagement for stability.
  • During a seated dumbbell shoulder press, your back is supported, which helps you isolate the shoulders better.

Both variations are great for shoulder development, but beginners or those with back issues should start with a seated press.

Standing Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Overhead Dumbbell Press Muscles Worked

Dumbbell overhead shoulder presses work all three heads of the deltoid (shoulder) and the triceps because you straighten your arms and lift them upward.

  • Primary muscle worked: The anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (rear) heads are the primary movers during the dumbbell shoulder press.
  • The second muscles that work are the triceps brachii and upper chest.
  • There are many stabilizer muscles worked during shoulder presses: Trapezius, Rhomboids, Rotator Cuff Muscles, Erector spines, and Core muscles.
Muscle Worked During Dumbbell Shoulder Press
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How To Do Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly pointed out for balance.
  2. Engage your core, keep your back neutral, and maintain a strong, upright posture.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, palms facing forward (pronated grip).
  4. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body.
  5. Exhale and fully press the dumbbells overhead with your arms without completely locking your elbows.
  6. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  7. Do 8–12 reps and 3–4 sets
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press

Tips and Form

  • Engaging your core like you are about to take a punch. It provides a stable base for movement and protects your spine.
  • Maintain a natural, slight arch in your lower back. Don’t hyperextend or round your back.
  • Actively pull your shoulder blades down and back for stability and to prevent unwanted shoulder elevation.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Keep your elbows pointing slightly forward as you press the weights overhead, avoiding letting them flare out to the sides.
  • The weights should travel mostly straight overhead. Avoid pressing in a forward arc.
  • If you maintain a slight bend in your elbow at the top of the lift, the focus will be on your shoulders, not your triceps.
  • It is important to ensure that your movements follow your shoulders’ natural and complete range of motion. This means maintaining a constant path without deviating or straying from the intended plane.
  • Maintain proper form throughout each repetition, and avoid sacrificing technique for heavier weights or more reps.
  • Give your muscles enough time to rest and rebuild between sets and workouts, and ensure you get enough sleep. It is essential to prioritize good nutrition for optimal muscle repair.

Other Variations of the Dumbbell Overhead Press

If you love the overhead press but want some fresh options, here are some exciting variations that target those same shoulder muscles.

This workout can be done in various ways, depending on your fitness level and objectives.

1. Seated Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated and supported position allows you to focus on your shoulders without engaging your legs or relying on your core stability as much.

It benefits both beginners and advanced for building muscle mass in the front and side deltoid muscles.

  • If you are a beginner with weak core strength, your shoulder should start seated.
  • Some lifting find they can lift slightly heavier weights in the seated variation due to the added stability.

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

Seated Overhead 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.

2. Arnold Shoulder Press

The Arnold shoulder press stands out from the crowd as the best shoulder exercise with the best range of motion.

It provides a wide range of motion when you lower the dumbbells and gives you the maximum stretch other shoulder exercises lack.

The rotation movement trains all three heads’ anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid, but it emphasizes the front and middle heads more.

Arnold Shoulder Press

How To Do It

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

One of the best benefits of this grip is that it places less stress on the shoulder joint. This makes it a great option for those with shoulder pain or a history of shoulder issues.

The neutral grip works your triceps more than a traditional overhead press does.

Seated Neutral-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 at shoulder height.
  3. Begin with your palms facing each other and elbows just below shoulder level.
  4. Push the weights straight up, stopping just short of locking out your elbows.
  5. Then, control the dumbbells all the way down until your upper arms are parallel to the floor or slightly lower.

4. One-Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The single-arm overhead press is a unilateral exercise that increases shoulder strength, stability, and symmetry. Since each side works independently, you’ll quickly notice any differences in strength and fix them.

You’ll work your abs and obliques much harder than bilateral (two-arm) variations.

One-Arm Dumbbell 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. Repeat on the left side after completing all reps on the right side.

5. Alternating Overhead Dumbbell Press

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

Doing this exercise unilaterally requires you to work your core to prevent your body from sagging towards one side or the other.

This exercise can help to overcome any possible weaknesses on either side of the shoulder.

Alternating Dumbbell Press

How To Do It

  1. Stand 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.

6. Reverse Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

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

This variation targets your anterior (front) deltoids more intensely than a standard grip. Some people also find the reverse grip easier on their shoulders than the traditional overhand grip.

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.


What does dumbbell overhead press work?

The overhead dumbbell press mainly works your shoulders but also 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 allows 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. It can be done anywhere, anytime.
  • It allows for a greater range of motion (ROM), which recruits more muscle fibers.

How many reps of the overhead press should I do?

How many times you should do an overhead shoulder press depends on your goal.

  • Aim for 2 to 5 repetitions to increase strength during your working sets.
  • If you aim 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.

Are dumbbell shoulder presses effective?

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


To build bigger and stronger shoulders, make the dumbbell overhead press a regular part of your routine.

Proper technique and form are important for getting the best results and preventing injury.


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