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February 15, 2022 13 min read

EDIT: Needs proofreading and editing for clarity. I'm finding myself back to deleting entire paragraphs to make these articles more  easily understood.


The overhead dumbbell press is one of the many exercises that work the arm and shoulder muscles.

If you are trying to build massive shoulders and bigger arms, the overhead dumbbell press belongs on your arm routine.

While it might be considered a relatively simple exercise, keeping correct form during the overhead dumbbell press is tougher than imagined. Below, we have broken the overhead dumbbell press down to help you become an expert in no time.

Young woman doing overhead dumbbell presses in gym

What Is The Overhead Dumbbell Press?

The overhead dumbbell press is one of those exercises that can be done regardless of your fitness level. It doesn't matter if you are trying to get shredded arms as a beginner or a veteran athlete.

Dumbbell exercises are great options due to the equal distribution of the weight amongst each arm.

This saves you from overtraining your leading arm (your stronger arm?) like in other variations like the barbell press. Dumbbell exercises also help to train both arms equally, preventing muscle imbalances which is a common occurrence in the gym.

Also called the shoulder press, the overhead dumbbell press makes use of a different range of motion to target the triceps, shoulders, glutes, traps, and lower back muscles.

The overhead dumbbell press is a major upper-body strength-training workout. (it's an exercise) It can be performed while standing or sitting to provide the same muscle response to a varying degree. To do the overhead dumbbell press, you simply need to press the dumbbells overhead while stabilizing your shoulder joints. 

While this might not sound like much, do not be deceived. The overhead dumbbell press would make your muscles burn.

Muscles Worked In Overhead Dumbbell Press

The overhead dumbbell press works the upper body muscles and even some posterior chain muscles depending on the modification you decide to try out. The muscles are activated and to what intensity depends on what method you carry out the overhead press. 

If stronger and bigger arms are top on your list, the overhead dumbbell press is designed to help you reach your goals.

It does this by targeting the major muscle groups of your upper body. The standing overhead dumbbell press is a great option if you are looking to get jacked quickly.

When doing the standing overhead dumbbell press, you have to pay extra attention to your form and work to stabilize your arms. Standing requires balance and recruiting your stabilizer and core muscles. This enables you to engage most of the larger muscles of the upper body like the deltoids of the shoulders, triceps of the arms, pectorals of the chest, and trapezius of the upper back. All these muscles contribute to the health and state of your upper body.


The deltoids make up the bulk muscles of the shoulders. It is the main shoulder muscle, and it is divided into three parts or heads, namely the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid.  

The deltoid partners with the rotator cuff muscles to aid shoulder elevation during the overhead dumbbell press. Together, all three parts help to make arm movements possible but separately, they enable finer and more intrinsic movements. 

The anterior or frontal deltoid is connected to your collarbone. This part of the deltoid helps to move your arm forward. It is an important part of daily activities that involve lifting boxes or taking things off shelves. The lateral or side deltoid on the other hand is the middle part of your shoulder. It points out sideways, and unsurprisingly, its objective is to move the arm outward and sideways. 

Other than this, the lateral deltoid also helps to stabilize your arm when you lift heavy loads. The lateral deltoid is a big part of your workout routines as, without a strong lateral deltoid, your arm risks popping out of its socket whenever you lift a dumbbell. Lastly, the posterior or rear deltoid, located at the back of the shoulder, helps to extend, externally rotate, horizontally abduct the arms. The posterior deltoid connects to the shoulder blades and help to move the arms backward.

While each part of the deltoid might serve different functions, together they ensure the mobility of the arms and other small connected muscles.

There are isolation exercises that target different parts of the deltoid; however, the overhead dumbbell press activates all three parts of the deltoids at once, providing an awesome shoulder workout for a more buffed-up look.


The triceps are not left out too. The triceps or triceps brachii is the large muscle on the back of the upper limb. It is split into the medial head, lateral head, and long head. Like the deltoid,  each head of the tricep muscle plays a role in elbow extension.

Altogether, all three heads are responsible for extending the arm at the elbow joint. The medial head, which is the smallest part of the tricep, is involved in all forms of low force and forearm extension movements.

The lateral head of the tricep is used in more movements that require higher intensity, precisely movements like the overhead dumbbell press. The long head works with the deltoid and aids the extension and adduction of the arm at the shoulder joint.

All three heads work to stabilize the arms and shoulder, and all three heads are engaged during the overhead dumbbell press.


The overhead dumbbell press also works the pectorals to provide a bigger and wider chest. The pectorals make up the bulk of the chest muscles. Other than providing a look of size and contributing to upper body strength, the pecs also help to adduct and rotate the arms.

The overhead press is often used to target the more significant part of the pecs known as the pectoralis muscle.


The trapezius muscles are the final major muscle groups that are engaged during the overhead shoulder press. The upper traps run from the base of the neck to the upper back and often receive a larger percentage of the stimulation of the overhead press. The lower traps are equally stimulated, but to a lesser degree especially in the sitting overhead dumbbell press. This is a big deal because the traps help with the mobility of the head, neck, arms, shoulders, and torso.


Other than these muscles, the overhead dumbbell press also helps to hone your core and abdominal muscles. In the standing overhead dumbbell press, your core and ab muscles help to compensate for the balance needed to execute the exercise.

When done correctly, your core and abdominal muscles remain engaged throughout the exercise, leading them to get strengthened in the long run. 


As a plus, your glutes receive love from the overhead dumbbell press. Although it might be to a slightly lower degree than the rest of the muscles. The glutes help to stabilize the body when performing the overhead dumbbell press. This is especially evident when you squeeze your glutes throughout your reps. 

Essentially, the overhead dumbbell press might not look like much at first glance, but it is a great way to target all the major muscles of your body.

How To Do The Overhead Dumbbell Press


Although the overhead dumbbell press might be considered easier than its barbell variation due to the small weights of the resistance, it is still a very difficult variation to perform.

One major problem many gym goers face when performing this exercise is shoulder stability and mobility.

Like in other weighted exercises, shoulder stability and mobility is a big part of the overhead dumbbell press. Without sufficient strength and motion in your shoulder joint and muscles, you risk securing minor or major injuries during the exercise. 

While many gym enthusiasts might resort to starting the overhead dumbbell press with light weights in order to build momentum and strength to scale up on the weights, it is important to strengthen your arms and shoulder joints first. This would play a big role in reducing the risks of injuries.

Like with any other exercise, the overhead dumbbell raise requires a strict following of the rules and regulations. To get the most of your exercises, target the correct muscle groups, and avoid spraining or worse still tearing a muscle, focus on holding proper form during the overhead press. As a beginner, you might have no idea what the proper form is and how to start.

Below, we have broken the overhead dumbbell press to help you along the way:

  • Start with equally weighted light weight dumbbells.
  • Hold each dumbbell in one hand with a private grip.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  • Keep your posture tall with your chest forward with your shoulder blades pinned back and your shoulders directly over your hip.
  • Straighten your back and keep your neck neutral.
  • Tuck your chin as if you are holding an egg underneath your chin. Hold this position throughout the movements.
  • Keep your arms at your sides and evenly distribute the weight.
  • Grip the floor firmly with your feet.
  • Pre-tension your shoulders and  engage your core
  • Raise the dumbbells slightly above your shoulders. 
  • Squeeze your glutes.
  • Keep your palms facing forward and your elbows pointing straight at the floor. This is your starting position.
  • Exhale.
  • Maintain your position and keep your wrists neutral as you press the dumbbells towards the ceiling. Keep the movements of your arms in sync.
  • At the peak of your movements, your arms should be straight overhead, and your elbows should be bent slightly.
  • Pause with your palms facing forward.
  • Inhale and initiate the downward phase by bending your elbows.
  • At the end of the movement, the dumbbells should remain slightly above shoulder level.
  • This is one repetition. Complete as many reps as you can in a set.

The standing on overhead dumbbell press is a higher intensity exercise than the seated dumbbell press. It requires more strength and focus than the seated variation.

To get the most out of your exercise, pair your overhead dumbbell press routine with PRE for active energy, better muscle tolerance, and better mind-body focus. 

Unlike its counterpart, the seated dumbbell press does not recruit your abdominal and core muscles. This is because sitting does not require the degree of balance that standing does so your core and stabilizer muscles are taken out of the equation. Your delts, triceps, traps, and pecs remain engaged throughout the seated overhead dumbbell press.


To do the overhead dumbbell press: 

  • Sit erect on the edge of a chair. You can also choose to rest against the back support while keeping your back straight.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral or pronated grip.
  • Pre-tension your shoulders.
  • Raise the dumbbells slightly above your shoulders with your palms turned out.
  • Exhale and press the dumbbell straight to the ceiling. 
  • Shrug as you lift the dumbbells to put more pressure on your shoulders.
  • Pause at the top of the movements.
  • Intake and lower the dumbbells.
  • This is one rep. Complete as many reps as possible.

While the overhead dumbbell press is often done as a unilateral exercise by working both arms at once, many gym-goers who are just getting the hang of it prefer to work one arm at a time. This helps to strengthen each arm equally and dismisses the risks of overtraining or under training an arm. 

When doing the overhead dumbbell press as a unilateral workout, always focus on one arm before moving to the other. Perform equal numbers of sets and do on each arm for the best results.

Benefits of Overhead Dumbbell Presses

The most evident benefit of the overhead dumbbell press is its ability to work major muscle groups of the upper body.

This is a big deal for athletes and bodybuilders alike. In addition to this, the overhead dumbbell press is a splendid exercise for hitting the core and stabilizer muscles. This might seem like a lot but the benefits of this astoundingly simple exercise extends past this threshold.

Some benefits of the overhead dumbbell press include: 

  1. Upper body strength: The overhead dumbbell press strengthens the muscles of the arms, shoulders, chest, core, and abs, all which contribute to upper body strength. This exercise does more than just strengthen the arms. It hones other muscles, grows them, and makes them all stronger. This is important because upper body strength is a big part of daily activities and your athletic performance. You need upper body strength to be able to scale up more intense weighted exercises that will aid your bulking journey. The overhead dumbbell press is the perfect stepping stone you need to begin your fitness journey.
  2. Better physique: The overhead dumbbell press is a great exercise for bulking up on the shoulders and arms. It also helps to broaden and increase the chest size, contributing to the v-taper structure of your physique. If your goal is to achieve a shredded fitness model physique, the overhead dumbbell press is a great way to start.
  3. Improve posture: The overhead dumbbell press engages major muscles like the traps, abs, and core muscles that influence your posture. The average adult spends several hours a day doing desk-jobs. This might lead your back muscles and other supporting muscles to get weak in the long run. The overhead dumbbell press works and strengthens these muscles to offset the effects of sitting on your behind all day. This helps with a healthier back that is free from soreness. 
  4. Muscle symmetry: Muscle imbalances not only make your arms look awkward but can also become a severe limiting factor to your mobility. Dumbbells help you to focus on muscle asymmetries and imbalances that you might have missed while performing other weighted exercises. 
  5. Versatility: The overhead dumbbell press is a versatile exercise that can be tuned up or down depending on your fitness goal and level. This exercise and its modifications are perfect for everyone, including people who suffer from injuries to the lower extremities. Have fun exploring your different options without having to get stuck in one boring routine.
  6. Improve stability: Your core muscles are big contributors to your stability and muscle coordination. Stability is an important factor that is necessary to scale up on your fitness level. Stability takes away the risks of injuries in and outside the gym. If you want to improve your stability, the overhead dumbbell press is a great way to start.
  7. Shoulder joint mobility: Completing the full range of motion during the overhead press increases mobility in your shoulder joint. This improves the overall health if your jint while simultaneously increasing your performance in other arm exercises.

Tip To Help You Perfect Your Overhead Dumbbell Press

Doing the overhead dumbbell press might seem like a piece of cake to the experts but the newbies need all the support they can get. After all, new beginnings start small. To attain the status of expert in the overhead dumbbell press, you must know how to execute it in perfect form. Holding the correct form throughout your workout is no easy feat. This is why we listed someone's to help you keep your form in check.

  • Start light: The most important tip newbies need to learn is to start small. Pressing a dumbbell overhead depends more on strength and form than it does on the weight of the dumbbell that you choose. Lightweight dumbbells are easier to lift and put less strain on your shoulder joints. This makes it easier to pay attention to your form while enduring that you are at no risk of injury. The heavier your dumbbell is, the more difficult it will be to execute the overhead dumbbell press. Pick dumbbells that you can lift comfortably throughout your sets without hitting fatigue early.
  • Keep your back straight: Resist the urge to give in to the reflex of rounding your shoulders. Rounded shoulders place more tension on the back and can result in back pain or other major injuries. To remedy this, keep your spine straight and your shoulder blades pinned together. This would automatically push your chest outwards and help you catch any change in your shoulder positions. When performing the seated overhead press, ensure that your lower back remains in constant contact with the backrest. 
  • Start with seated overhead presses: You are less likely to perform cheat reps while performing the seated overhead dumbbell press. As a newbie who is still learning the tricks of the trade, it is helpful to start with the seated variation before working your way up to the standing overhead dumbbell press. The seated variation is of a lesser intensity and would help you to prepare your form, posture, and lifting technique. This would make it easy for you to adapt easily to performing the overhead dumbbell press without back support.
  • Unilateral is good for you: As a beginner, it is advisable to start your journey with bilateral overhead dumbbell raises with shorter reps. This will help you to strengthen the muscles of each arm sufficiently enough to proceed to higher reps of the unilateral version. Intermediate gym-goers also benefit from unilateral overhead dumbbell raises as it helps to correct any muscle imbalance. This is guaranteed to help you build unilateral strength.
  • Engage your core: The overhead dumbbell press is useless with engaging your core. Engaging your core will strengthen your core stabilizer muscles, improving your balance and muscle coordination.
  • Don't lock your elbows. While it is recommended that you pre-tension your shoulders for the rising and falling movements, we recommend that you leave your shoulders unlocked. This would save you from injuries and keep the tension in your shoulders as opposed to your joints. Don't flare your elbows out. Keep them in place at all times during your workout.
  • Don't use momentum: Momentum steals the work out of your routine. It takes the tension from the primary muscles and places it on the wrong muscle groups. Avoid swinging when doing the overhead dumbbell raise. Keep your movements smooth, controlled, and in a constant path that follows your range of motion. This will help you to make the most of the contractions in your muscle.
  • Recovery is essential: Recovery is as important as the exercise itself. The overhead dumbbell raise works major muscles in the body, tearing them down from muscle fiber to muscle fiber. While this sounds scary, the breaking down of these fibers is what triggers their strengthening and growth. To do this, your muscle fibers must heal properly. This means you need to get enough rest between sets, between exercises, and get enough sleep after your routine. This also means that your muscles get enough macronutrients to help along with its healing process. Pair your workout routine with ADALoad for fast-absorbing carbs and macronutrients for extra muscle pump, better muscle endurance, and faster muscle recovery. 

Variations of Overhead Dumbbell Press

The overhead dumbbell press can be performed in various modifications. These modifications aim to target the major muscle groups to varying degrees of intensity. To modify the overhead dumbbell press, you simply need to tweak minor parts of your exercises like your equipment, grip or range of motion. 

The alternating overhead dumbbell press is one variation of the conventional overhead dumbbell press. In this method, instead of raising both dumbbells in sync, you alternate your arms. This means you press one arm overhead first, lower it, and then press the next arm. This is done in equal numbers to complete your sets. The alternating overhead dumbbell press is a splendid choice for firing up the arms and core muscles, especially when done while standing.

Another common variation is the hammer grip overhead dumbbell press. This variation makes use of the same range of motion and technique of its conventional counterpart; however, the grip on the dumbbell is different. In the hammer grip variation, you hold the dumbbells with your palms facing each other. This activates the same muscles but tweaks the engagement of the muscles of the shoulder.

The dumbbell squat to overhead modification is a full-body exercise that takes the overhead dumbbell squat to a different level. It combines the conventional overhead dumbbell exercise with the squats to give birth to an exercise that works the upper and lower body muscle groups at once. To perform this variation, get into the starting position of the conventional overhead dumbbell press, press the dumbbell, lower the dumbbell, perform a squat, and return to the starting position. It is a great way to cut fat and build muscle at once.

The Overhead Dumbbell Press Is Worth It

Regardless of the variation you decide to go with, the overhead dumbbell press is a splendid exercise that belongs in your workout routine. With this exercise, you can train all major muscle groups, inducing growth and strengthening them along the way. This is a splendid way to improve your performance in the gym and achieve your fitness goal faster.

Combine the overhead dumbbell press with our list of  best dumbbell exercises for better muscle response.