People are often looking for high impact workouts with a relatively small time and energy investment compared to large amounts of gains and unfortunately, tend to make some mistakes along the way. Some typical examples of lifts that give you a big bang for your buck, so to speak, are barbell squats, bench presses, and deadlifts since these lifts engage multiple muscle groups at the same time. But there is another lift that deserves a place on this list: the dumbbell push press.
The dumbbell push press is a simple workout with tons of benefits for both beginners, intermediate, and expert lifters. While people often separate out their upper body workouts from their lower body workouts, the dumbbell push press does a great job of targeting both upper and lower body muscles in a single motion, making it the ideal exercise for big-shoulder seekers, core-fanatics, and lower-body lifters alike.
The dumbbell push press also has a number of advantages over its cousin, the barbell push press. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about this great exercise: what muscles it works, the benefits of the lift, how to do it, and so on. By the end, you should be an expert on the dumbbell push press, a likely fixture of your future workout routines.
Simply put, the dumbbell push press is a standing overhead press which utilizes the strength and momentum of the lower body. Unlike a standing military press, in which you utilize various shoulder, back, and arm muscles to do an overhead press with the dumbbells while keeping your lower body firmly still and in place, the dumbbell push press primarily utilizes the momentum generated by the lower body to achieve the overhead press, ultimately incorporating more muscles from both the upper body and lower body into the workout and adding cardio benefits. You achieve the dumbbell push press by holding dumbbells at your shoulders, then quickly dipping, then extending your hips and knees to rocket the dumbells upward, after which you lock out your elbows with a pressing motion. We will give a more in-depth tutorial later in the article but for now, let’s talk about all the muscles that this lift incorporates.
It is hard not to be amazed at the number of muscles worked in the simple lift that is the dumbbell push press:
Glutes: The glutes (the Minimus, Medius, and Maximus) are actually the largest and strongest muscles in your body. Among other tasks, the three muscles work together to extend the hip. When doing a dumbbell push press, it’s the glutes that are doing a large portion of the work, especially during the quarter squat movement of the exercise in which the glutes play a large role in flexing and extending the hips to generate the momentum that pushes the dumbbells upward.
Strengthening the glutes with a lift like a dumbbell push press can have wide-ranging benefits, such as improvement in athletic performance and injury prevention. Strong glutes are essential for accelerating, decelerating, and changing directions, so athletes and lifters with stronger glutes will be faster, more efficient, and more explosive than those with weaker ones. In addition to being essential to optimal performance, strong glutes can help decrease your risk of injury to your knees, lower back, hamstrings, and groin.
The development of strong and explosive glutes is just one of the many reasons that the dumbbell push press is such an effective exercise.
Hamstrings: Strong hamstrings help you run faster and improve lower body explosiveness and power, as well as improving posture and preventing leg injuries. Like the glutes, the hamstrings are worked during the quarter-squat portion of the exercise since the hamstrings help bend the knees in a controlled manner as you dip and work together with the glutes and your quads for the explosion upwards.
Quads: There is a reason why strong quads are one of the central goals of any leg day work out and it goes beyond the aesthetic benefits of toned legs. Four muscles on the front of the thigh make up the quadriceps. The Vastus Medialis, Lateralis and Intermedius attach to the thighbones and shin bones, and the Rectus Femoris starts at the pelvis and lies across the hip joint.
The quadriceps are involved in almost every movement of your legs since their primary function is to bend and strengthen your knee, and the rectus femoris is also a primary muscle for the rotation of your hip, meaning that strong quads are essential for effective and explosive movement. Additionally, strong quads bring stability to the knee joints, which are inherently unstable and dependent on ligaments and muscles to protect them from injury.
Core:One of the best aspects of the dumbbell push press is the way that it engages the core. During the entire movement of the lift, from the dip down to the explosion upward and even as you hold the dumbells above your head in the completed overhead press position, the abdominals, the obliques, and the spinal erectors are all engaged to stabilize the spine and keep it in a safe, neutral position.
Of course, having a strong core is one of the most important goals of just about any exercise with numerous athletic, lifting, and real-world benefits including improved mobility, a healthier back, improved balance and stability, and better posture.
Deltoids: The delts are responsible for the flexion and rotation of the shoulder joints, and anyone who wants great-looking shoulders will want to pay these muscles a lot of attention. During the dumbbell push press, the deltoids are the primary upper body muscles engaged in when you are driving the weights above your head. If you are doing the push press with lighter weights, then the legs will be doing most of the work here, and the deltoids become secondary. But the higher the weight, the greater the role that the deltoids play.
Triceps: The triceps help to stabilize your shoulder joint and act as an extensor of the elbow and shoulder so that the stronger your triceps are, the greater the strength and stability of your shoulders and elbows. During the push press, these muscles work together with the deltoids to extend the arms overhead and stabilize your shoulders and elbows as you hold the dumbbells above your head in a locked position.
Trapezius: During the lift, the trapezius pulls your shoulders back and helps stabilize your neck and upper back. Strong trapezius muscles make movements such as lifting, reaching, bending, and even sitting are more efficient and safer. Of course, strong trapezius muscles can also make you look yoked.
Forearms: The forearms are engaged throughout the entire lift since, as you are grasping the dumbbell, the wrist flexors and extensors are engaged to stabilize the wrist.
Now that we see how many muscles the dumbbell push press engages, it is easy to understand why it is considered such an efficient and “high bang for your buck” lift that is great for many different workout routines. Of course, like a lot of the high impact workouts such as the bench press and the deadlift, making sure that you have the right form when you do a dumbbell push press is extremely important. The fact that it engages so many muscles means that you will have to pay close attention to various parts of your body simultaneously. But do not worry: once you master the fairly simple form, the benefits are there for the taking.
Step 1: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold the dumbbells at your shoulders with the back end of each dumbbell resting on your shoulders. Make sure your palms are facing together and that your forearms are vertically upright under the dumbbells. The dumbells should be parallel to the floor.
At this point, you will want to make sure that your core is tight, that you are maintaining a straight back with an upright posture, and that you are looking straight ahead.
Step 2: Keeping your core engaged to keep you back in an upright posture, dip down slightly into a quarter squat position by bending your hips and your knees. As you reach the quarter squat position, immediately extend your hips, your knees, and your ankles to create upward momentum with your body. As your body is moving upwards from the extension of your hips, knees, and ankles, push the dumbbells with your arms until your elbows are locked straight above your head. You will briefly hold the dumbbells overhead in this position.
Step 3: Still making sure that your core is engaged, lower the dumbbells in a controlled motion with your arms back to the starting position. From here, you can repeat the lift as you see fit.
1. Slow Reps: Some people will do the whole process of dipping into the quarter-squat and extending upward slowly, but this is not the correct way to do the exercise. When you dip down, you want to do so quickly and then, as if bouncing off of something, quickly extend your legs upward to create a significant amount of momentum. If the extension of your legs upward is not creating much momentum or you find that you are not able to quickly transition from dipping down into the quarter-squat to the extension of your legs upwards, then you may be using too much weight. The whole motion should be fluid and powerful: a quick dip to an explosion upwards.
2. Holding Dumbbells too Far in Front: When you get into the starting position, the side of the dumbbells closest to you should be resting on your shoulders. When you go down into the dip, the dumbbells should remain propped up on your shoulders until they are lifted by the momentum produced by your legs and the strength of your arms during the explosion upwards. If you do not have the dumbbells in the position of resting on your shoulders for the starting position and the dip down, then your arms will have to fully support the weight of the dumbbells themselves, and this will severely limit the weight that you are able to lift with.
3. Arching the Lower Back: One of the most common mistakes that occur during any overhead exercise is arching the lower back, and it is no different for the dumbbell push press. Arching the lower back when doing this exercise puts you at risk for injury, so you will want to make sure that you focus on keeping your core tight and the ribs down as you thrust the dumbbells overhead. If you find that you cannot help but arch your lower back, you may want to consider using less weight.
The two major benefits of adding the dumbbell push press into your workout routine are (1) that is increased upper body strength and power by engaging a large number of muscles from both the upper body and lower body and (2) that it improves conditioning by engaging these various muscles in a motion that stresses quick and powerful bursts of strength.
There are also a number of benefits that the dumbbell push press has over the classic barbell push press which entails the same motions as described for the dumbbell push press but utilizes a barbell instead. With the barbell push press, you will likely be able to lift with heavier weights than if you do the dumbbell variation. However, the dumbbell push press has these advantages:
1. Safer and More Joint-friendly: With dumbbells, your arms and shoulders have more freedom of movement than if they were fixed to the path of the barbell when you lift it, thus allowing you and your joints to find the range of motion that feels best for them. Additionally, the dumbbells allow you do use a neutral grip (your palms facing inward towards each other), which reduces the amount of stress placed on your shoulders. These factors make the dumbbell push press the safer option that is kinder to your joints.
2. Builds Single Arm Strength: When you do barbell exercises, you risk compensating for the weakness of one arm with the strength of another arm, which only leads to further imbalances in the strength of the left and right sides. Like other dumbbell exercises, this variation on the push press helps eliminate these imbalances.
3. Greater Engagement of Stabilizer Muscles: This is another difference that you will find between most barbell exercises and their dumbbell variations. The use of a barbell in lifts reduces the amount of effort you have to put into stabilizing the weight. When you use dumbbells instead, the stabilizer muscles in each arm have to work harder, and thus, dumbbell variations of this kind are great for engaging these sometimes under-trained muscles.
As we said before, there are two main benefits and goals that someone will have when they introduce the dumbbell push press into their workout: (1) increasing strength and power, and (2) improving conditioning. The typical reps of this kind of this will differ depending on where you wish to place the emphasis.
Typically, if you are looking to build strength and power, you will want to do a relatively high number of sets combined with a low number of reps. You might want to begin your workout with about 6 to 7 sets of the dumbbell push press with a number of reps ranging from 2 to 4.
If your goal is greater conditioning and even some cardio benefits, or you are a beginner lifter who is not yet ready to take on the heavier weights, then dumbbell push presses can be a great injection of heart-pumping activity into a largely anaerobic workout routine or fit perfectly at home in a largely aerobic workout routine. For these purposes, you could do roughly 3 sets of 15-25 reps for the optimal mix of strength training and cardio benefits.
Additionally, you may just want to have the dumbbell push press in your back pocket to add on those extra reps to your strict overhead presses. Toward the end of your overhead press set, when you feel like you cannot do anymore, you can simply rest the dumbbells on your shoulders in the starting position for the dumbbell push press, and then use the momentum and strength of your lower body to keep your shoulders and arms pumping until you’ve squeezed out all the reps possible.
Getting your body whipped into shape is all about choosing the right workouts and getting the right nutrition into your body to fuel your muscles and help them recover and build. When it comes to great “bang for your buck” workouts, the dumbbell push press should be on anyone’s list since it engages important lower body muscles like the glutes, the hamstrings, and the quads while also engaging important upper body muscles like the core, the deltoids, and the triceps in workouts that are great for both power and strength building and workouts for conditioning.
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