The Arnold Press: What It Is, Benefits & How To Do It Safely

The Arnold Press: What It Is, Benefits & How To Do It Safely

clock-circular-outlinePosted 14 Apr 2023

Named after world-renowned Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Dumbell Press is a unique but simple twist (literally) on the standard overhead dumbbell press.

By adding the rotatory element to your traditional shoulder press that encourages a water-like flow to your shoulder-busting routine, you’ll soon be putting The Rock to shame with your newly-formed boulders (delts).

Give Your Delts The Push They Deserve

If, like most of us, your shoulder day consists of sitting and standing variations of the standard shoulder press with the added shrug here and there, then the Arnold Dumbell Press will be a welcomed addition to your routine. 

Not only is it a compound exercise that molds your upper trunk, but when adhered to strictly, you’ll soon find yourself able to execute pull days with far more ease as if you’ve been reincarnated into the GOAT himself. Let’s dive deeper into the inspiration behind the Arnold Press and how it’s popularised itself as a staple part of any shoulder day.

History of the Arnold Press

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a seven-time Mr Olympia winner turned Governer of California. However, aside from his Robocop performance, it can be argued that his greatest accomplishment was introducing the Arnold Press to the bodybuilding world. 

In an attempt to simultaneously stimulate all three heads of the deltoid muscle, Arnold fused a rotatory motion to the standard dumbbell overhead press. By adding this small adjustment, Arnold was met with a smoother and fuller range of motion that allowed him to fully stack his strength and size without adding strain onto his rotator cuff. 

What is the Arnold Press?

If you’re still asking yourself “What is an Arnold Press?”, then think of it this way: the Arnold Press is a variation of the standard overhead dumbbell press. However, instead of linearly lifting the dumbbell up and down, you’re incorporating a twist and adding depth to your range of motion. 

It’s this natural wrist rotation that starts with your fists facing inwards and ends with your palms facing out at the top of the press that activates all of the targeted muscles and improves your range of motion.

Arnold Press: Muscles Worked

The shoulder is a particularly complex joint responsible for a plethora of different motions. Its most visible muscle, the three-headed deltoid, is one of the main Arnold Press muscles worked. 

Unlike your other shoulder press variations, such as the military press and overhead press, which focus more on the anterior and lateral deltoid heads, the Arnold Dumbbell Press activates all three deltoid muscle heads: 

  • Anterior (front)

  • Lateral (outer)

  • Posterior (rear)

By engaging all three muscle heads, you’ll find yourself being able to execute a deeper and heavier push thanks to your big anterior delts, maximize the involvement of your posterior deltoid to make those pull days a little easier, and promote joint stability in the lateral deltoid so that your arm doesn’t jolt out of its socket when carrying things awkwardly. (1) 

But remember, the Arnold Press is a compound exercise, meaning that you’re sharing the growth with other parts of your upper trunk. Your chest, arms – particularly your triceps – and your traps too feel the benefits of the Arnold Press, meaning that other exercises using those muscles become relatively easier to perform. 

Next time your gym buddy decides to question your unique approach to a shoulder press and asks “What muscles does Arnold Press work?”, you can simply point to your swole upper trunk and say: “all of this”.

Benefits of the Arnold Press

Aside from sculpting you to look like your favorite childhood poster of Arnie, having an immaculate Arnold Press form can do wonders for your size, range of motion, and definition.

The many benefits of the Arnold Press are listed below;

  1. Maximize Your Mass Gain

  2. Increase Range Of Motion

1. Maximize your mass gain

Because the Arnold Press utilizes a fuller range of motion, you’re increasing demand on your rear delts, in addition to the lateral and anterior delts activated by the traditional shoulder press movement. By horizontally abducting your shoulder during the initial Arnold Press motion, you’re accentuating the effects of the exercise across all three heads of the deltoid. The result? Boulder-like shoulders.

2. Increased range of motion

By doing a traditional shoulder press, whether you’re seated or standing, your range of motion is limited from having your hands starting by your chin or just under your shoulders, followed by a straight up-and-down movement. Instead, when you incorporate the twist motion of the Arnold Press, you’re lowering your starting point and twisting your wrists, so that your palms are facing your chest. This increased range of motion will not only ease the tension on your rotatory cuff but will also allow you to hit more muscles and have a more effective workout without going overboard on heavy weights.

3. Overall wellness

When doing the Arnold Press, you aren’t just working on bettering your shoulders. You’re instead working up more muscles and using more energy, thereby burning more calories than your traditional shoulder press. 

4. Posture

There’s just one thing more irritating than tearing your bicep when going for your one rep max, and that’s having to deal with consistent neck and back pain because of your bad posture. By putting more emphasis on your rear delts, the Arnold Press helps you build the strength to draw back your shoulders and stand up straight. 

How to Do the Arnold Press Exercise

We know what you’re thinking. You’re asking yourself What? Does Arnold Press work? Well, yes. And here’s the fun part – the ‘how to do’ Arnold Press step-by-step masterclass.

Firstly, you should know that there are two main ways to do the Arnold Press: seated or standing. We’re going to assume you’re seated for the following ‘how-to’ guide, though just be wary of the lack of back support if you’re fancying a standing adventure.

And, before you delve right into it, we do advise you to ask a friend or someone around to spot you for your first few reps – just so you don’t injure yourself.

  1. Adjust the bench upright - the seated Arnold Press requires you to have your bench around 70 degrees upright, giving you some more range of motion than an otherwise rigid 90-degree setting.

  2. Grab your dumbbells - start with a weight that’s around 20% lower than your go-to for a shoulder press, just to be safe. Once ready, hold the dumbbells in both hands just above your pectoral muscles, with your hands facing your chest. Tuck your elbows in and make sure they’re pointing down. You should look like you’ve reached the end-point of a bicep curl, minus the flex.

  3. Keep your chin tucked - pretend you’re holding an egg with your chin. Keeping your chin tucked in can help reduce strain on your neck and keep movements strict.

  4. The twist- whilst making sure your spine is neutral and your feet are firmly planted onto the floor, gently press the dumbbells up whilst rotating your arms out so that your palms are facing away from you.

  5. The press - push the dumbbells up above your shoulders in the same way you would a traditional overhead press, with your palms facing away from you as you lock out your rep.

  6. The twist on the way down - once you’ve held the rep for a couple of seconds, bring the dumbbells back down slowly, rotating your arms inwards, tucking your elbows in, and twisting your wrists so that your palms are once again facing your body.

  7. Pause and repeat - have a one-second rest, and do it all over again for 12-15 more reps.

You can use this same step-by-step process to execute various other variations of the Arnold Press, such as the one-handed and standing Arnold Press exercises. Just be careful when standing as you’re putting yourself under greater instability. (2)

This exercise is intended to help you build strength but is not recommended for pure pressing power. Use a lighter weight to avoid internal muscle rotation where possible to help keep the integrity of your shoulder intact. (3)

Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press: What’s the Difference?

The standard dumbbell shoulder press is pretty much identical to the Arnold Press, with the one difference being the lack of rotatory movement involved. So, instead of moving your wrists from a palm-to-chest to a palm-to-front motion as you push your weight during an Arnold Press, you’re limiting your movement to your standard up-and-down with your palms facing out.

This isn’t all bad, it just means you’re only targeting the anterior and lateral delts. And, as we all know, the fewer muscle groups you target, the more you can focus on lifting heavier weights and building pure strength. Master the Arnold Press, and you’ll slowly start to notice an improvement in your strict shoulder press. Likewise, build your strength with the shoulder press, and your rear delts will thank you for it.

The bottom line

It turns out that just about anyone can work out like seven-time Mr Olympia himself. By adding a twisting motion to your traditional shoulder press, you can target a wider range of muscles to promote those broad shoulders and better your posture. 

When it comes to your next shoulder day, you shouldn’t be questioning yourself on whether you should do the Arnold Press or the shoulder press, instead, you should be debating which one you’ll be doing first.

. . .

Hassan is a word-savvy clinical pharmacist turned health content marketing writer. He combines his medical knowledge, admiration of all things fitness, and weird obsession of dystopian novels to shine a creative light on the necessities to longevity. More of his written work can be found here. . . .


  1. Carmichael SW, Hart DL. Anatomy of the shoulder joint. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1985;6(4):225–8.

  2. Saeterbakken AH, Fimland MS. Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013;27(7):1824–31.

  3. Eichinger JK, Rao MV, Lin JJ, Goodloe JB, Kothandaraman V, Barfield WR, et al. The effect of body mass index on internal rotation and function following anatomic and reverse total shoulder arthroplasty. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. 2021;30(2):265–72.

Hassan ThwainiBy Hassan Thwaini

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