Shoulder presses are secondary to the barbell overhead press, which more completely engages all the musculature it takes to press something overhead. The DB shoulder press is designed to add extra mass to the deltoids as well as assist in becoming stronger for the overhead press.
Shoulder Press 101
Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Setup
1. Exercise Selection
Choose a weight that will allow you to observe all the below rules of engagement for this exercise.
- You can do these either standing or sitting, just stay consistent with your choice so you can measure gains in strength.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Execution
1. Starting position
Grip the dumbbells in each hand and bring them up to rest on your shoulders, thumbs facing in, elbows out wide but slightly in front of the body’s lateral line (your sides). The exercise begins when you press the weight off the shoulder.
- The first rep will always be the hardest because you are starting below the actual start position of the exercise.
2. Concentric portion
Brace your core, then straighten the arms to bring the dumbbells overhead on a directly vertical path.
- The top of the rep is when the delts are still engaged just before the elbows lock out.
3. Eccentric portion
Bend the elbows to bring the dumbbells straight down.
- The bottom of the rep is when the upper arm is just below parallel with the ground.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Coaching Cues
- Don’t bounce or cause momentum.
- Momentum means you are no longer working the intended muscle, but instead taking advantage of physics.
- Use full range of motion.
- Don’t shorten the reps to allow you to use higher weight. Full range of motion is vital.
- Be proud of making an exercise hard with a lighter weight. That’s workout efficiency.
- Don’t let the shoulders flare.
- The elbows should be wide, but not so wide that they’re in line with the sides of the body.
- Maintain tension.
- Don’t lose tension at the top of the exercise and rest. Stop just short of locking out your elbows in order to maintain constant tension.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Adjustments
Low back pain is the most common complaint in this exercise. Tighten down your core as described above and stay there throughout the movement. When performing the standing variation of this exercise, squeeze your ass tight. The more grounded you are, the less likely it is that you’ll hyperextend through the low back.
If you have shoulder pain, ensure that your elbows don’t go past parallel with the ground on the eccentric (bottom) portion of the movement. Also ensure that your elbows are slightly more forward than the sides of the body, not in line your sides, and not behind it.
If your head hurts, you probably chose a weight that is too heavy, neglected to ask for a spot, and lost your grip. Now you have a concussion. See a doctor.
Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Further Resources