The Arnold press is a twist (pun intended) on the dumbbell shoulder press that was popularized by the iconic bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the dumbbell Arnold press, you begin the exercise with your palms facing you and then rotate your palms away from your body as you press the weight overhead.

According to the Austrian Oak, this makes the Arnold shoulder press more effective at training the lateral (side) delts than the traditional dumbbell overhead press.

Like other overhead pressing exercises, the Arnold dumbbell press also trains the anterior (front) delts, triceps, and traps, which makes it an effective exercise for developing your entire upper body, as well as increasing your overhead and bench press strength.

So, if you want stronger, more developed shoulders, this article is for you.

In it, you’ll learn what the Arnold press is, the muscles worked by the Arnold press, proper Arnold press form, and how to do Arnold press variations including the standing Arnold press, the single-arm Arnold press, the alternating Arnold press, and more.

What Is an Arnold Press?

The Arnold press—also known as the “Arnold dumbbell press,” “Arnold shoulder press,” or “DB Arnold press”— is a variation of the shoulder press that was invented by seven-time Mr. Olympia winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Arnold press can be performed seated or standing, but most people find the seated variation is more comfortable and allows them to lift more weight. That’s why I do this exercise seated and recommend the same in my programs for men and women.

Arnold Press vs. Shoulder Press

In the Arnold press, you begin and end each rep by holding the dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your palms facing your torso (rather than on either side of your shoulders, as you do during the dumbbell overhead press). Then, as you press the dumbbells upward, you rotate your palms away from your body so that you end in the same position as the dumbbell overhead press. 

With this small change the Arnold press trains your side delts more than the shoulder press, but you can’t lift as much weight. Thus, I look at the Arnold press as an effective (and enjoyable) way to train your shoulders after you’ve already done one or more other exercises that allow you to use heavier weights like the barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press, or push press.

An effective way to do this is to include 2-to-3 sets of the Arnold press in your push, upper-body, or shoulder workouts after another overhead pressing exercise.

Here’s how this might look:

  • Overhead press: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps
  • Arnold Press: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps
  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps
  • Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps

Arnold Press: Muscles Worked

Although the Arnold press is often thought of as purely a shoulder exercise, it trains many of the largest upper body muscle groups

Specifically, the main muscles worked by the Arnold press are the . . .

. . . and it also stimulates the abs, biceps, forearms and serratus anterior to a lesser degree, too.

Here’s a graphic showing the main muscles involved in the exercise:

Arnold Press: Muscles Worked

Arnold Press Form Guide

Arnold Press Form Guide

The best way to learn how to do the Arnold press is to separate the exercise into three phases: set up, press, and descend.

Step 1: Set Up

While sitting on an upright bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. Lift your knees to help push the dumbbells upward and hold them just above your shoulders with your palms facing toward your torso.

Drive your feet into the floor so that your mid and upper back is pressed against the backrest, push your chest out, and pull your shoulder blades down and together (a good cue for this is to think of pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets).

Step 2: Press

Press the dumbbells straight up over your head while rotating your palms away from your face until your arms are straight and your palms are facing away from you.

Remember to keep your shoulder blades “back and down” and your feet on the floor. Keep your mid and upper back pressed into the backrest, and avoid excessively arching your lower back or letting your butt scoot forward on the bench.

Step 3: Descent

Reverse the movement to return the dumbbells to their starting position in front of your shoulders. This is basically a mirror image of what you did during the press.

The Best Arnold Press Variations

Standing Arnold Press

The standing Arnold press develops your whole-body balance and coordination and improves your upper-body strength and chest, shoulder, and triceps size. Although the standing Arnold press tends to work well for people who are new to the Arnold press, most find they need to switch to the seated Arnold press as they get stronger and begin to use heavier dumbbells.

How to:

  1. Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Hoist the dumbbells up so you’re holding them in front of your shoulders with your palms facing toward your body. 
  3. Press the dumbbells straight up over your head while rotating your palms away from your body until your arms are straight.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

Single-Arm Arnold Press

The single-arm Arnold press trains your shoulders the same way as the regular Arnold press. However, since you use one weight at a time, your core has to work much harder to stabilize your torso, which makes this a better ab and core exercise. (Again, though, this also reduces how much weight you can press, so don’t rely on this as your only pressing exercise).

How to: 

  1. While sitting on an upright bench, hold a dumbbell in your right hand and rest it on your thigh.
  2. Nudge the dumbbell upward with your thigh and hoist it up so you’re holding it just in front of your right shoulder with your palm facing toward your body.
  3. Press the dumbbell straight up over your head while rotating your palm until your arm is straight and your palm is facing away from you.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
  5. Once you’ve completed the desired number of reps, switch sides and repeat the process with your left arm.

Alternating Arnold Press

In the alternating Arnold press you press one dumbbell at a time while holding the other in front of your shoulder. This allows the shoulder that isn’t pressing to rest a moment between each rep, which often allows you to lift a bit more weight than the standard Arnold press.

How to: 

  1. While sitting on an upright bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs.
  2. Nudge the dumbbells upward with your thighs and hoist them up so you’re holding them just in front of your shoulders with your palms facing toward your body.
  3. Press the dumbbell in your right hand straight up over your head while rotating your palm until your right arm is straight and your palm is facing away from you.
  4. Reverse the movement, return to the starting position, and then repeat the movement with your left hand.
  5. Continue to alternate between your right and left side for the desired number of reps.

Incline Arnold Press

The incline Arnold press is an Arnold press, incline dumbbell press, and reverse-grip bench press hybrid. Because of the angle of the bench and the way your hands are positioned at the bottom of each rep, it’s effective at training the upper pecs, but it doesn’t train the side delts quite as well as the regular Arnold press. While I wouldn’t say it’s superior to the incline dumbbell press or standard Arnold press, it’s a viable alternative.

How to: 

  1. While lying on a bench that’s angled at about 45 degrees, hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. 
  2. Lie back and nudge the dumbbells upward with your thighs, then hoist them up so you’re holding them on either side of your chest with your palms facing toward your body.
  3. Press the dumbbells straight up over your upper chest while rotating your palms until your arms are straight and your palms are facing away from you.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

Kettlebell Arnold Press

If you don’t have dumbbells or you’re just looking to spice up your training, try the kettlebell Arnold press

How to: 

  1. Place two kettlebells on the floor about a foot in front of you and stand with your feet just outside of shoulder-width apart. Bend over at the hips and grab one kettlebell in each hand with your thumbs pointing toward the wall behind you and your palms facing out to the sides (it’ll feel awkward at the start of the exercise).
  2. Brace your core and lift the kettlebells about a foot off the floor into roughly a half-deadlift position. Explosively drive through your hips and hoist the kettlebells upward.
  3. As the kettlebells rise, rotate your wrists so that your palms face toward each other, then bring your elbows tight to your sides and your knuckles together under your chin with the kettlebells resting on your biceps and forearms.
  4. Rotate your wrists slightly inward so that your palms are facing each other.
  5. Sit on a flat bench (you can use an upright bench if you prefer, though the backrest might get in the way of the kettlebells as you press them), drive your feet into the floor, push your chest out, and pull your shoulder blades down and back.
  6. Press the kettlebells straight up over your head while rotating your wrists until your arms are straight and your palms are facing away from you.
  7. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

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