The Arnold Press is a very effective exercise that builds the deltoid muscles. It’s a unique variation of the dumbbell overhead press and was named after the one and only iconic figure Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The technique allows you to maximize the activation of both the lateral and front deltoids so it’s a great two-in-one movement.
The Arnold Press is appropriate for most exercisers and poses little risk of injury unless you have limited shoulder mobility. It makes a great addition to any shoulder routine and can be utilized during any portion of your workout as it’s a compound exercise.
Keep reading to learn how to do it with tips, variations, and more.
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Anterior Deltoid
- Type: Hypertrophy, strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Dumbbells
- Difficulty: Beginner/intermediate
The Arnold press works a few different muscles of the arm. Here’s a short description of each one involved in this exercise.
The deltoid anterior or front deltoid is one of the three shoulder heads. It works with the deltoid posterior or rear delts to stabilize the arm while the deltoid lateral abducts (moves away from the midline of the body) the arm.
It also works with the pec muscles to flex the arm while walking.
The deltoid lateral is one of the three shoulder heads. It gives width to the upper body and is responsible for abducting the arm from 15-100 degrees.
If you want impressive shoulders, you must do exercises that maximize the recruitment of this deltoid head.
The serratus anterior is that cool-looking muscle located over the ribs and shaped like a fan. It’s primarily responsible for the protraction of the scapula and is commonly called the boxer’s muscle as a result.
It also works with the trapezius muscle to assist in lifting objects overhead.
The triceps brachii or triceps for short is a three-headed muscle as you probably guessed. It has a lateral (outer), medial (middle), and long (inner) head.
The triceps function primarily to extend the forearm at the elbow and is typically responsible for 2/3 of upper arm mass, whereas the biceps usually make up about 1/3.
All pressing exercises involve the triceps muscles.
The Arnold press may be a shoulder-focused exercise. However, any overhead press also includes the chest muscles, and more specifically, it emphasizes the upper portion by the clavicle.
This part of the chest is highly activated when the arms are pressed upward in front of the body.
How To Do The Arnold Press
Here are step-by-step instructions for how to perform this exercise.
- Sit upright on a bench or stand and hold two dumbbells shoulder level with palms facing you.
- Press both dumbbells overhead and halfway through, rotate your wrists until they are facing away from you, and continue until both arms are locked out or close to it.
- Lower the dumbbells back down and halfway through, twist your wrists until they are facing you, and bring the dumbbells to the original starting position.
- Complete the exercise for the desired number of reps.
Here’s a video example…
Dumbbell Arnold Press Tips:
- Start light and practice good form before progressing to heavier dumbbells. You want to control the movement and not press wildly. This will throw off the form and is not ideal for maximizing muscle development.
- Make sure to keep your torso upright to protect your lower back during the movement.
- If doing the standing variation, you can use your legs for momentum to press heavy weight. This is only recommended for more advanced exercisers.
Here are three variations that’ll work just as well as the Arnold Press for building the deltoids.
Dumbbell shoulder press
If you don’t have the mobility or prefer to keep things simple, you can never go wrong with the basic overhead dumbbell shoulder press.
It’ll no doubt allow you to handle more weight overall and is a classic.
Single-arm Arnold press
Want to really challenge your core and total-body stability, try the exercise using one arm at a time. You may even find that you prefer this variation over the conventional two-arm version.
Kettlebell Arnold Press
Want to make this a more functional exercise? We recommend the kettlebell Arnold Press.
But what makes it more functional?
First off, as with most kettlebell exercises, you’ll start by swinging the bell through your legs before transitioning into the press. This is simply good practice for training the hip hinge movement.
Learning to properly hip hinge is important for athletic and everyday movements. We also suggest you include the kettlebell swing and its variations in your workouts if you haven’t already as there are so many amazing benefits.
The next advantage of using a kettlebell/s is that it helps to improve shoulder mobility and stability more so than if you were to use dumbbells. That’s because the bulk of the kettlebell rotates around the hand.
Learn more about kettlebell training here and check out the video below for how to do this variation.
How To Incorporate The Dumbbell Arnold Press Into Your Training Routine
The dumbbell Arnold press is a great exercise to include regularly or mix things up in your shoulder training workouts.
It’s a viable variation for working the lateral and anterior heads at once and consequently is the perfect movement if you’re short on time.
You probably won’t be able to move as much weight as you could using other variations however, that’s not the point. Not to mention, it could help to improve overhead shoulder mobility.
An ideal shoulder workout that includes this exercise would look something like the following.
- Barbell or machine overhead press 2 sets x 10-12 reps
- Arnold press 2 sets x 10-12 reps
- Dumbbell lateral raise 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell rear delt raise 2 sets x 10-15 reps
- Face pulls 2 sets x 12-15 reps
This ensures that you hit all heads and are able to handle various weights to optimally stimulate your delts.
We recommend 2-3 sets for the Arnold press and anywhere from 7-20 reps. This ensures you’re not training too light or too heavy.
The dumbbell Arnold Press is a classic from a legend. Arnold Schwarzenegger clearly knew what he was doing hence the iconic physique and the 7 Mr. Olympia title.
Whether or not he came up with the idea, well, we don’t know but we get to benefit from a great variation.
It’s a viable option for working a large part of the deltoid muscles and we hope that this guide helps you to maximize its use to improve your muscle development.