The Arnold Press strengthens the deltoids like no other shoulder exercise. Here's how to do it like its namesake.
Any lift named after a broad-shouldered bodybuilder who won seven Mr. Olympia titles and launched an epic film career that took him to the California governor's mansion has instant credibility. Arnold Schwarzenegger invented the Arnold Press to work all three heads of the deltoids in one movement for better muscle development, strength and efficiency in his workouts.
Essentially a variation of the dumbbell press that takes you through a wider range of motion, the move has stood the test of time nearly half a century later.
Advantages of the Arnold Press
Lateral raises can only get you so far. Rather than doing three different shoulder exercises that would take longer and likely lead to asymmetrical muscle growth, this three-in-one move hits everything equally and simultaneously.
Schwarzenegger was ahead of the curve when he invented this exercise. It came before compound movements became the norm — saving time and increasing workout efficiency.
Because the Dumbbell Arnold Press strengthens and stabilizes the shoulders, it helps you perform better on other lifts and builds the muscle to look better in a t-shirt. Anyone who came across one of Schwarzenegger's many bodybuilding books in the 1980s would undoubtedly have benefited from this staple.
What does an Arnold press do?
The Arnold Press targets all three heads of the deltoids: anterior, mediolateral, posterior. Shoulder press is less likely to impinge than overhead press. This is important at a time when most of us spend hours hunched over the wheel and computer, which rounds our shoulders and can cause the rotator cuff to catch on nearby tissue and bone when you raise your arm.
By guiding the shoulders through all three planes of motion, the Arnold Press improves shoulder stability and reduces the risk of injury. Although the Arnold press is a shoulder exercise, the upper back and biceps play a minor role in the movement.
How to Make an Arnold Press
- Sit upright on either the end of a flat bench or lean against the back of an incline bench and hold dumbbells in each hand on your thighs, palms in. You can also stand (see above).
- When seated, kick your knees up to bring the weights to the starting position: arms bent 90 degrees, palms facing you, as if you're at the end of a bicep curl. When standing, curl the dumbbells.
- Inhale and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the beginning of the lift to ensure proper alignment and posture.
- Exhale as you push the dumbbells up while rotating your palms outward. Your elbows should move sideways to move the weights in one continuous motion.
- Once the weights are above you, stop before your arms are fully extended, biceps close to your ears.
- Pause at the top, then reverse the movement downwards.
How to add an Arnold press to a workout
As an upper body push, the Arnold Press blends seamlessly into chest and back workouts. Its efficient three-in-one structure gives you great bang for your buck. Because of its role in stabilizing the shoulders, it's also an effective warm-up exercise with little or no weight to help restore your posture, especially if you've already spent much of the day in the car or behind a desk.
How to make an Arnold press easier
The seated Arnold press is easier than the standing version because the back muscles are not needed for stabilization when seated. However, by sitting on an incline bench, this variation tends to put more stress on the shoulders. Use lighter weights and slowly increase the weight to focus on proper form and shoulder stabilization.
How to Make an Arnold Press Harder
To make it more difficult, try a one-arm press (aka an Arnold alternate press). Although the standing Arnold Press variation is more challenging than the seated one, some consider the standing version to be the classic method and not technically a variation.