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How To Master The Arnold Press (Yes, That Arnold)

(Image credit: Unknown)

If you want to build the kind of broad, muscular shoulders that can win a handshake-off with Carl Weathers, best the Predator and control an entire class of kindergarten-age children, then you need to take a leaf out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training manual.

Arnie’s take on the dumbbell overhead press recruits all three sections of your deltoids – the round muscles at the tops of your upper arms – with the result that you build fuller, wider, more defined shoulders, and improve your posture to boot.

You don’t have to go too heavy with the weight to achieve excellent results with the Arnold press either (a bonus if the CIA has had you pushing too many pencils at your desk lately). The exercise keeps your muscles under tension longer than barbell presses and standard overhead presses do, meaning that despite the lighter weights you’ll still be stimulating plenty of new muscle growth.

The Arnold press also hits often neglected muscles and will aid you in upping your game when it comes to other lifts. The anterior deltoids tend to get plenty of work from press-ups and bench presses, but the medial (lateral) and posterior (back) often get neglected. However, the Arnold press works all these evenly along with the stabiliser muscles, helping draw back the shoulders for a straight posture and assisting with big pulling moves such as deadliftspull-ups and rows.

How to Do the Arnold Press


(Image credit: unknown)

Start light until you master the form. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arm bent, as in the top of a biceps curl, so your palms are facing you. Now, instead of pushing straight up, spread your arms to each side laterally, then press your arms up and twist your hands so your palms face forwards. For full range of motion, finish by pushing your head forwards and reaching as high as you can so your biceps are close to your ears.

Make this move harder by starting with your elbows slightly raised so your upper arms are parallel with the floor. This ensures there is tension on the shoulders even at the bottom of the lift. Aim for a rep range of between eight to 12 for four sets with 30 seconds of rest.

RECOMMENDED: The Dumbbell Shoulder Workout to Build Cannonball Shoulders

Arnold Press Variations

Seated Arnold press

As well as hitting all three sections of your delts, the standing Arnold press recruits a number of stabilising muscles in your back, which is one reason why it’s such a good exercise. The seated Arnold press doesn’t have this same bonus, but its advantage is that sitting against a bench does help to ensure good form – and it can work your shoulder muscles even harder as a result. Make sure your back is flat against an exercise bench throughout the movement to ensure it’s your arms and shoulders doing all the work.

Dumbbell overhead press

The magic of the Arnold press is that it works so many different muscles in the shoulders – but because of the rotation it requires, it can be a riskier exercise to perform than a standard press if you have any shoulder niggles. Of course any kind of overhead press is unwise if you’re you recovering from a shoulder injury, but if you’re simply worried about the risk to your shoulders of the Arnold press, sticking with the dumbbell overhead press is a solid alternative.

Hold the dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing forwards, upper arms pointing out to the sides and your elbows bent at a 90° angle. Press the weights overhead, then bring them back down. By not rotating you can also lift slightly heavier weights than in Arnold’s variation.

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.