When working towards a hulking physique, or just a slightly stronger upper body, it’s vital to give the shoulders their fair share of attention. Even the bulkiest arms will struggle to impress if they’re hanging off coat-hanger shoulders. Fortunately, the road to broad, strong shoulders is a simple one to start along: here’s the dumbbell shoulder press (also known as the dumbbell overhead press).

Building bigger shoulders is the shoulder press’s business, and business is good. It also helps develop general upper body strength, and will rapidly turn you into the guy that everyone else on the aeroplane asks to help them load the overhead lockers, which admittedly isn’t necessarily a benefit. Using dumbbells rather than a barbell also ensures each side of your body grows equally strong, as you can’t just rely on one shoulder to push up the weight.

RECOMMENDED: Get Big, Broad Shoulders

How To Do It

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Don’t go wild when making your pick from the weights rack, pressing things over your head is tiring. Hold the dumbbells up by your shoulders, with your elbows out at a 90-degree angle. Without leaning back, extend through your elbow and raise the weights directly above your head. Then slowly return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Variation: Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Seated dumbbell shoulder press

Shoulder pressing dumbbells from a seated position – always on a bench with an upright back for complete support – allows you to lift heavier than the standing version. Why’s that? Your small, stabilising muscles do not have to work as hard to support your torso because it’s supported by the bench, which means your shoulder muscles are enabled to really push as hard as possible to move and manage the weights. As a result you get to grow bigger and broader shoulders. Here’s how to do it.

Sit on an upright bench holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing away from you. Keep your chest up and your core braced, and look straight forward throughout the move. Press the weights directly upwards until your arms are straight and the weights touch above your head. Slowly lower the weights back to the start position under control, pause, then start the next rep. Bouncing back up from the bottom position places greater strain on your shoulders and means you’re using momentum to move the weights instead of your muscles.

Always remember to warm up thoroughly when attempting any heavy lifts with your shoulders because the shoulder joint is one of the most intricate and mobile in the human body, which makes it more susceptible to injury.

Variation: Dumbbell Push Press

For a more dynamic shoulder move, you can try the push press. Once again begin with your dumbbells held up by your shoulders, but instead of pushing them straight up you start by slowly lowering into a quarter squat. From there push up through your heels and press the weights above your head. The slowly lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders and repeat. Make sure you don’t drop too low with your squat, just enough to allow you to power up and get the momentum to push the weights above your head. This extra momentum in the push press should allow you to lift more weight than the standard shoulder press, though holding the dumbbells up while squatting is still no easy feat.


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