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February 15, 2022 9 min read

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

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

While it might be considered a relatively simple exercise, keeping correct form during the overhead dumbbell press can be difficult. Mastering this exercise can be beneficial for your upper body strength and mass. 

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're trying to get shredded as a beginner or a seasoned athlete.

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

This can save you from developing imbalances and using your stronger side to compensate for the weaker. 

Also called the shoulder press, the overhead dumbbell press targets the triceps, shoulders, glutes, traps, and lower back muscles.

The overhead dumbbell press is a major upper-body strength-training exercise that helps to build upper body strength and shoulder stability.

Muscles Worked In Overhead Dumbbell Press

The overhead dumbbell press works the upper body muscles, but primarily targets the shoulders.  


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

The deltoid partners with the rotator cuff muscles to aid in shoulder elevation during the overhead dumbbell press. Together, all three parts of the deltoid 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. It also helps to stabilize your arm when you lift heavy loads. 

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 helps to move the arms backward.

While each part of the deltoid might serve different functions, together they ensure the mobility and stability of the arms.

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 or triceps brachii is the large muscle on the back of the upper arm. It's 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 they're all engaged during the overhead dumbbell press.


To a lesser degree, the overhead press targets the chest. The pectorals make up the bulk of the chest muscles, and 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 upper pecs, but not a significant amount. 


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.


The overhead dumbbell press also helps to hone your core muscles for stability. In the standing overhead dumbbell press, your ab muscles help provide the balance needed to execute the exercise.

When done correctly, your core muscles remain engaged throughout the exercise. 


As a plus, your glutes can receive some love from the overhead dumbbell press too, although it might be to a slightly lower degree than the rest of the muscles. The glutes help to stabilize the body when performing this exercise, and it's especially evident when you squeeze your glutes throughout your reps. 

How To Do The Overhead Dumbbell Press

Although the overhead dumbbell press might be considered less challenging than its barbell variation due to the smaller weights, it could be considered even more difficult because of the stability required from using dumbbells.

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 overhead movements. Without sufficient strength and motion in your shoulder joint and muscles, you can put yourself at risk for injuries. 

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 tearing a muscle, focus on holding proper form during the overhead press.

How to do the Overhead Dumbbell Press:

  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  • Keep your posture tall with your chest forward, and your shoulder blades pinned back.
  • Pre-tension your shoulders and engage your core
  • Raise the dumbbells slightly above your shoulders. 
  • Keep your palms facing forward and your elbows pointing straight at the floor. This is your starting position.
  • 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.
  • Initiate the downward phase by bending your elbows.
  • At the end of the movement, the dumbbells should remain slightly above shoulder level.

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 core muscles as much.

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 Seated 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.


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. 

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. 
  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. 
  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 slumping over at a desk. This might lead your back muscles and other supporting muscles to become weaker. The overhead dumbbell press works and strengthens these muscles to offset the effects of sitting on your behind all day.  
  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. 
  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 can be perfect for everyone, including people who suffer from injuries to the lower extremities. 
  6. Improve stability: Your core muscles are big contributors to your stability and muscle coordination. Stability helps take away the risks of injuries in and outside the gym. 
  7. Shoulder joint mobility: Completing the full range of motion during the overhead press can increase mobility in your shoulder joint. This can improve 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. 

Below are some tips to help:

  • 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 can be easier to lift and put less strain on your shoulder joints. This can make it easier to pay attention to your form while ensuring that you're at a lower risk of injury. The heavier your dumbbell is, the more difficult it can be to execute the overhead dumbbell press. .
  • 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.  
  • 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 can behelpful to start with the seated variation before working your way up to the standing one. The seated variation is of a lesser intensity and would help you to prepare your form, posture, and lifting technique. 
  • Unilateral is good for you: As a beginner, it is advisable to start your journey with bilateral overhead dumbbell raises with shorter reps. This can 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. 
  • Engage your core: The overhead dumbbell press relies on your core for stability. Engaging your core can strengthen your abdominal muscles, helping to improve 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, you want to leave your shoulders unlocked. This could save you from injuries and keep the tension in your shoulders as opposed to your joints. 
  • 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 can 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.

The Overhead Dumbbell Press Is Worth It

The overhead dumbbell press is a splendid exercise that just might be what's missing in your workout routine. With this exercise, you can train many of the major muscle groups in your upper body while inducing growth and strengthening them along the way. This can be a beneficial 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.