By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Overhead Dumbbell Press
For all the benefits the traditional overhead barbell press affords, the dumbbell version (with palms facing forward) keeps pace stride for stride. For one, the biggest benefit of the dumbbells is they allow a greater (or freer) range of motion than the barbell counterpart. And with that increased ROM comes greater time under tension and the recruitment of the traps, which act to raise the shoulder blades. This action also requires more stabilizer muscles to perform the move. In other words, more total muscle fibers are hard at work when doing the overhead dumbbell press. Most of the time this is done seated, but you can also perform this standing, which allows you to go slightly heavier by using your lower body and core to a greater extent.
While a number of variations of dumbbell overhead presses have risen in popularity, our focus is on the original. If you haven’t tried the Arnold press, you’ve been missing out on one of the best moves for your delts. It’s important to adequately warm up your shoulders as well as the rotator-cuff muscles prior to your heavier sets. Because of the rotation of your wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, you want everything full of fluid and blood before loading up the weight. If you happen to be completely new to this exercise, start out light because you’ll quickly see it doesn’t take a lot of weight to feel it taxing your shoulders beyond belief. With dumbbells in hand, simply begin with your palms facing your shoulders and your elbows down in front of you. Press the weights straight up, pronating your hands (turn your wrists out once the dumbbells reach eye level) so that your palms face forward as you reach full-arm extension. Control the dumbbells in the reverse motion all the way back down to the start position.
Advantage: Arnold Press
Overhead presses are compound moves (meaning more than two sets of joints are working together, in this case the muscles that attach to the elbow and shoulder joints, so the triceps are also assisting) that are typically done first in your shoulder routine. Dumbbells require the most coordination but also allow the most freedom, such that you can do them with even your hands facing forward or neutral (palms in). When comparing dumbbell shoulder moves for front delt stimulation, the key is actually elbow position. Because you keep your elbows out to your sides during standard overhead dumbbell presses, the emphasis remains primarily focused on the middle delts. However, the Arnold press forces your elbows to drop in front of your body, in some regards similar to a front raise, which calls upon the anterior delts to a great degree. As you press the dumbbells upward, the middle and rear delts become increasingly engaged but not until the front delts initiate most of the move. Arnold wins!