Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Exercise Name:
Name: Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Also Called: Seated Dumbbell Press
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Shoulders
Secondary: Chest, Triceps, Upper Back
Function: Strength
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Push
Main: Dumbbells
Ancillary: Seated Utility Bench or Adjustable Weight Bench
Experience: Beginner
Rep Range: 5-12
Training Tempo: 2 – 1 – 1 – 0
Related Exercises:
Variations: Dumbbell Unilateral Shoulder Press, Dumbbell Standing Shoulder Press, Barbell Seated Overhead Press
Alternatives: Overhead Press, Push Press

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Sit down with feet planted on floor; butt back in seat.
  • Hold dumbbells vertically on lower thighs.
  • Kick weights up with knees, to shoulder height.
  • Turn palms out to rotate dumbbells into position.
  • Keep spine neutral throughout the movement.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Flex shoulders and extend elbows to press dumbbells up in an arc until they nearly touch at the top, just shy of locking out.

3. Midpoint

  • Pause to squeeze delts at the top of the motion.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Extend shoulders and flex elbows to lower dumbbells until elbows are at least 90° (touch dumbbell ends to shoulders, if flexible enough).

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the motion for the remaining reps in the set.
  • The dumbbell shoulder press is best performed in the 5-12 rep range.

Common Dumbbell Shoulder Press Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Limited range of motion Nearly everyone who does this exercise with poor range of motion is simply using dumbbells that are entirely too heavy. So pick up weights you can handle and go all the way down until your elbows are 90° (or a bit further, but only if you have the flexibility).
Going too far down While some people don’t go down far enough, still others go too far down. Don’t allow your elbow joint to go much past 90°, as this will put excess stress on the rotator cuff muscles and shoulder joint (90° is approximately when your fists are at ear level). Stop if you feel any strain or “bad” pain.
Sliding butt forward/leaning back Keep your butt pressed against the back of the seat with your spine neutral and torso upright. When you slide forward and lean back, you essentially are doing an incline bench press; not a shoulder press.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Tips

  1. Keep your elbows slightly in front of the shoulders, as viewed from the side – such that your elbows approximately align with your hips. Do not flare them all the way out to sides, as this will stress the shoulder joint.
  2. Hold your wrists as straight as possible with your knuckles towards the ceiling. This ensures efficient transfer of force into the dumbbells.
  3. Tilt pinky side of hands up slightly to emphasize the deltoids.
  4. Use an adjustable bench and set it to 90° if you don’t have a seated utility bench.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The dumbbell shoulder press can be a great tool for all experience levels.

While beginners can see noticeable progress with the dumbbell shoulder press, the barbell overhead press is more suitable because it builds strength faster. Even if gaining muscle is your main goal, maximizing strength now enables greater muscle growth down the line.

This shoulder exercise is a great exercise if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter looking to build bigger and wider shoulders, or improve strength/size asymmetries between your left and right deltoids.

Avoid or use great caution with this exercise if you have shoulder, scapula or neck/upper back issues.

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