The seated dumbbell shoulder press is a very effective exercise for shoulders, and more suitable, simple and user-friendly for lots of us compared with its standing equivalent. The seated option offers more stability, less strain on the lower back and knees, more weight and better technique, whereas the standing option can be awkward and not advisable for many.
The dumbbell press hits mainly the medial head of the shoulder, but will activate the front and rear heads of the shoulder too. The triceps are also a secondary muscle in this movement, extending the elbow joint at the peak of the movement.
Although this is a seated movement, we shouldn’t take the set up and posture lightly, as with the bench press. If you create a more solid base, we can achieve better technique, and a more comfortable, greater range of motion with each rep.
For greater depth, with less tension and discomfort through the shoulder, this upper body stretching routine will help. Complete it several times a week.
How to Dumbbell Shoulder Press:
- Set the bench 1-2 notches off vertical, and the seated tipped toward the bench.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, take a seat and rest them on the ends on the thighs (closer to the knees than the hips). Now slide the hands down the handles, and position the feet outside shoulder width with the heels directly below the knees.
- Hammer curl the weights into position (shoulder height), before retracting the shoulders back and down to allow a small arch in the lower back and less tension through the shoulders/traps.
- With the palms facing away from you, drive the hands overhead, before letting the dumbbells move together.
- Pause briefly to balance, before descending in the same arc; with the dumbbells moving away from each other and then smoothly downward over 1-3 seconds.
- When the dumbbell handles are the same height as the chin, drive back up, ensuring you push back toward the bench with the feet throughout.
- For heavier sets, draw the knee toward the shoulder as you hammer curl the weight into position. This will save energy otherwise wasted wrestling the dumbbells into position.
- Breathe in at the peak of each rep, and out as you extend the elbow (as with the breathing on the back squat). This helps maintain good posture and drive.
- Keep the dumbbells tilted toward each other throughout the movement (especially at the base of each rep). This tilt and the initial sliding down the handle before means the dumbbells naturally arc up and inward, making each rep more efficient (allowing you to get stronger at a faster rate).
- Keep pushing toward the bench with the feet. This keeps the hips still, and spine stable, allowing minimal corrections to be carried out by the shoulders due to instability from tap dancing feet.
- Taking the bench two notches off upright – as this reduces discomfort where the shoulder and collar bone meet – means we can use more weight, and more effectively arch and brace the back against the bench.
- Focus on depth as a priority, and extending the elbows at the peak of each rep. This will result in better muscle contractions, and less elbow strain (associated with poor depth and heavy weight, where the tricep takes too much load during directional change).
- If you have wrist issues, our LDNM lifting supports help prevent the wrists flexing, by keeping them neutral throughout each rep.
The seated dumbbell shoulder press is a great move when done correctly. If you can nail and maintain the set up position, and achieve good/consistent depth with each rep, then you will be halfway to mastering this movement. After that all the small improvements like the angle of the dumbbells, symmetry, timing and so on will only add to the amount of weight you can use whilst maintaining good technique (and range of motion).