How to Do the Dumbbell Shoulder Press to Target Your Delts and Triceps

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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If you’re looking to work the small-but-mighty muscles in the front of your upper body, the dumbbell shoulder press is a great way to do so. The simple-yet-effective exercise can help you build strength, sure, but it’ll also help set the stage for healthier joints, too.

You use your shoulder muscles in tons of everyday scenarios—think: lifting a heavy grocery bag, retrieving an object from a high shelf, sitting or standing up tall, placing a suitcase in an overhead bin, and playing sports. The stronger and healthier your shoulders are, the more effectively and safely you’ll be able to perform these movements. And exercises like the dumbbell shoulder press can help you achieve those gains. So let’s get pressing, shall we?

What muscles does the dumbbell shoulder press work?

The dumbbell overhead press is a pushing exercise that primarily works your anterior deltoids, or anterior delts, which are your front shoulder muscles, Evan Williams, CSCS, CPT, founder of E2G Performance, tells SELF. It also engages your lateral deltoids (side shoulder muscles), triceps (a muscle group on the backside of your upper arm), and trapezius (upper back and neck muscles), he adds. So while it’s considered a “shoulder exercise,” it does double-duty by challenging other upper-body muscles, too.

What are the benefits of the dumbbell shoulder press?

Do this exercise regularly and you’ll reap some pretty awesome perks, including two major ones: better shoulder health and reduced risk of injury to that area, says Williams. That’s because it engages your shoulder stabilizer muscles, helping them become stronger and more efficient at supporting movement there—and thus lowering your chances of injury when you’re pushing or doing other similar motions.

The dumbbell press can also help build upper-body strength and power, as well as make your core stronger and more stable, he adds. Plus, it can improve your posture, since executing the move correctly requires you to stand up tall, helping you practice that habit for carryover into your daily life.

What are some common mistakes with the dumbbell shoulder press?

People often flare out their ribs and overextend their lower back when overhead pressing, which can cause strain, Williams says. Another common mistake is pressing the weight forward instead of directly overhead. That can cause shoulder impingement (a painful condition when the top of your shoulder blade rubs your rotator cuff), says Williams.

To prevent the former, think about engaging your core and maintaining a neutral spine (not arched or rounded) as you perform reps, he advises. To avoid the latter, focus on pressing the weight all the way up in a straight line so that your biceps are parallel to your ears. Important caveat: If you feel pain or tightness when trying to push the weight overhead, you may want to see a fitness pro (like a certified personal trainer or physical therapist) to understand the root of the issue—for example, if it’s muscle or joint weakness, caused by overuse, or perhaps a form error. They may recommend corrective exercises to help address the issue—for example, these four upper-body exercises are ideal for folks with sensitive deltoid muscles.

How can you make the dumbbell shoulder press harder or easier?

A modified version that’s especially ideal for beginners and people with restricted shoulder mobility is the landmine shoulder press. This involves pressing an angled barbell up and away from your body, and “is a great way to get familiar with the shoulder press movement while finding a comfortable range of motion,” says Williams.


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