Must-Do Physique Shoulder Workout

For shapely delts, use this traditional muscle-sculpting move and workout.

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT | March 09, 2017

Want a more balanced physique? Rounder glutes? The illusion of a smaller waist? Fully developing your shoulders can work this magic, and incorporating compound moves such as this Arnold overhead dumbbell press are imperative for facilitating this development.

As opposed to a standard overhead press that relies mostly on the anterior (front) delts, Arnold’s version calls on all three heads of the shoulder muscles to play a role in performing the lift.

(Bonus: This move also calls your triceps into play.) Here’s the play-by-play.

Arnold Overhead Dumbbell Press

  • Sit on a bench with a back with your feet flat on the floor. This allows you to focus exclusively on your shoulders as you perform the lift. It’s helpful to imagine the floor as the initiation point for your power: As you execute the lift, actively press through your feet to send energy from the floor through your torso and up to the weights.
  • Hold a set of dumbbells at your shoulders with your palms facing rearward. This lower starting point offers a longer range of motion, which translates into more time under tension and faster gains.
  • Your forearms should be perpendicular to the ground. This stabilizes the dumbbells. 
  • Inhale to create stability in your core and spine, then start to extend your arms, driving the weights upward and rotating your wrists so that at the top, your hands face forward. Your elbows might flare out a little bit as you extend, which is natural.
  • At full extension, your arms should be straight up over your shoulders, elbows by your ears. 
  • Slowly reverse the steps to return to the start and, without bouncing or using momentum, repeat right away.
  • This move can be done standing: Place your feet hip-width apart, knees soft, and tuck your tailbone to prevent overarching your back. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes as you press the weights to keep your spine in the optimal position.


  • If you feel unsteady with the weights overhead, you may be overarching your back, throwing your pelvis and spine out of alignment, and breaking the upward energy transfer from your feet to the weights. Reposition your body so your core is braced, your spine is neutral and your torso is solid.
  • Don’t whack the weights together over your head like cymbals; you could drop them on yourself or someone else. 

Note: If you are new to training, build up your strength with a standard overhead press first before attempting this move. 

About the Author

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT

Oxygen Fitness Editor Lara McGlashan has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, who specializes in health, fitness, and nutrition. 

Lara is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Her sports background includes skiing, snowboarding, flying trapeze, yoga, competitive beach volleyball, dance, mountain biking, hiking and running, to name a few endeavors. She is currently exploring the world of CrossFit in her home base of Connecticut, where she lives with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

You can follow her on Facebook at LaraFitnessEditor.