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How to Do the Dumbbell Shoulder Press

8 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Weight Training

The dumbbell shoulder press exercise targets your shoulders, placing some emphasis on your triceps and upper back. Use caution if you have lower-back, neck, or elbow problems.

Performing the dumbbell shoulder press

Follow these steps to perform this exercise:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on a bench with back support.

  2. Plant your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart.

  3. Bend your elbows and raise your upper arms to shoulder height so the dumbbells are at ear level.

  4. Pull your abdominals in so there is a slight gap between the small of your back and the bench.

  5. Place the back of your head against the pad.

  6. Push the dumbbells up and in until the ends of the dumbbells touch lightly, directly over your head, and then lower the dumbbells back to ear level.

    The dumbbell shoulder press works out your shoulders, triceps, and upper back. [Credit: Photograph
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    The dumbbell shoulder press works out your shoulders, triceps, and upper back.

Tips for doing the dumbbell shoulder press

Keep these tips in mind as you perform shoulder presses:

  • Keep your elbows rigid without locking them at the top of the movement.

  • Press your back against the back support without flattening out the curve in your back.

  • Bring your arms and elbows down, keeping your elbow joints in line with your shoulders.

  • If the bench is tall enough, keep your head against the back rest.

  • Don’t wiggle or squirm in an effort to press the weights up.

Gym alternative: Shoulder-press machine

Use the shoulder-press machine at your gym as an alternative to using dumbbells for this exercise. Follow these steps to use the shoulder-press machine:

  1. Set your seat height so that the shoulder-press machine’s pulley is even with the middle of your shoulder.

  2. Hold onto each of the front handles.

  3. Pull your abdominals in tight, but allow a slight natural gap to remain between the small of your back and the back pad.

  4. Press the handles up without locking your elbows.

  5. Lower your arms until your elbows are slightly lower than your shoulders.

    Try the shoulder-press machine as an alternative to the dumbbell shoulder press. [Credit: Photograp
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Try the shoulder-press machine as an alternative to the dumbbell shoulder press.
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