How to Do the Dumbbell Overhead Press

The dumbbell overhead press increases strength throughout the shoulders and engages the core for stability. It can be done in either a sitting or standing position, and with dumbbells held horizontally at the shoulders or rotated in a hammer grip. A sitting position helps stabilize the back, while a standing position works a wider range of muscles.


Benefits of Dumbbells

Dumbbells on a towel
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Many people swear by Nautilus and similar machines for their strength training. And why not? These machines isolate individual muscles and encourage proper form. So why do gyms bother to offer free weights and dumbbells in addition to machines?

Dumbbells offer some unique benefits. For one thing, they are affordable for individuals who enjoy working out at home, either instead of or in addition to gyms. In addition, Dumbbells are versatile: they can be used for a wide range of different strength training moves. Finally, dumbbells require strength trainers to learn proper training.


Performing the Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press

A Dumbbell overhead press
Ben Goldstein
  1. Stand upright and keep the back straight.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the shoulders with an overhand grip. Thumbs should be on the inside and knuckles facing up.
  3. Raise the weights above the head in a controlled motion, ensuring that you do not slam the arms upward and stress the elbow joint. Pause at the top of the motion.
  4. Exhale as you push upward.
  5. Return dumbbells to the shoulders.

Option: Alternate arms, pressing up with one and then the other, instead of both arms at once.


Performing the Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

Seated dumbbell
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While the standing overhead press is a classic move, you can perform an almost identical move while seated. A seated dumbbell overhead press offers more core stability, making it a better option for individuals who are getting started in strength training. It can also be a good option for people with back issues or injuries.

To complete the exercise, simply sit on a bench (one with a back support is preferable). Then follow steps 2-5 above, or choose the alternative one-arm-at-a-time option.


What to Know About the Dumbbell Overhead Press

A Dumbbell overhead press
Ben Goldstein

This exercise can be done sitting, standing, with alternating arms or with a hammer grip in which the palms are turned in toward your face. Performing the dumbbell overhead press in the standing position promotes stability by requiring more balancing to execute. Using a barbell is an additional option.

For safety, keep your back straight at all times, and don't arch your lower back excessively while raising the dumbbells overhead. Excessive arching in the lower back can be a sign that your weight is too heavy. Shift to a lighter weight to practice holding your back in a safe position and build up to the greater weight.

These tips may help you stay safe while building strength:

  • For added stability, keep the shoulder blades down and back during the press.
  • Don't push up explosively and crash the elbow joint. (It's OK to lock out; just be gentle.)
  • Control the motion of the weights, and don't allow them to stray too far forward or back during the push. Try to keep them slotted in a path above the head.
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