Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press

Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press (Differences, Pros, Cons)

When it comes to building strong and defined shoulders, two popular exercises are the Arnold Press and the Dumbbell Shoulder Press. Both exercises target the shoulders, but they have slight differences in their movement pattern.

The Arnold press is named after bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a variation of the traditional shoulder press.

Meanwhile, the Shoulder Press is a classic exercise that has been used for decades to develop the shoulders.

In this article, I will compare the Arnold press and the Dumbbell Shoulder Press, looking at their benefits, how to perform them, and which exercise may be better for your training goals.

Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press: What’s the Difference

Because they’re such similar variations, it can be difficult (especially for beginners) to see the difference between the two movements and therefore easy to confuse them.

So, before we deep dive into both exercises, let me clear up any potential confusion.

Both exercises involve pressing dumbbells overhead, but the difference comes at the bottom of the rep.

On a regular Dumbbell Shoulder Press, the dumbbells are lowered straight down to the shoulders and then pressed back up again.

However, on an Arnold Press, the dumbbells are rotated so that the palms are facing you and the dumbbells are lowered down to in front of the chest – just below the chin.

Now, let’s discuss the Arnold Press more in-depth.

Arnold Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench (If you prefer doing the Arnold press seated but you can do the exercise standing as well)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Stand* with the dumbbells next to you.
  • Hinge and the waist and bend the knees until you can grab the dumbbells.
  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbells into your pressing position.
  • You will start with the palms facing you.
  • As you press the dumbbells up, rotate the dumbbells as you press, and at the top of the movement, your palms will be facing away.
  • As you lower the dumbbells back to the start, rotate the dumbbells until your palms are facing you.

Coaching Points

*Can also be done seated as in the video above.

This is an exercise that is programmed for hypertrophy. Control the weight and focus on time under tension. This one is going to burn, so grit your teeth, and enjoy it!

Keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.


This exercise is primarily used to strengthen the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and upper back. Some of the potential benefits of the Arnold Press include increased upper body strength, improved posture, and increased muscular hypertrophy.

Additionally, because the Arnold Press is a compound exercise that involves multiple joints and muscle groups, it can also help to improve overall coordination and balance.

Need an alternative for Arnold Presses? Here are 13 Arnold Press alternatives you can try instead.

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Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Stand with the dumbbells next to you.
  • Hinge and the waist and bend the knees until you can grab the dumbbells.
  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbells into your pressing position.
  • I recommend palms face away or toward each other (whichever feels more comfortable).
  • Brace the abdominal muscles and engage the upper back.
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead. The dumbbells should not track forward.
  • Lock the reps out and pause for about 1 second with each repetition.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

Keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.

Remember this is not a push press. This is a purely upper-body pressing movement. If you are using your legs, even slightly, this would be called a Push Press.

The Push Press is a great movement (one of my favorite Shoulder Press alternatives) as well BUT a shoulder press should be focused on the shoulders, no cheating.

Arnold Press vs Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Is One Better?

Now, let’s take a look at the two exercises side-by-side and discuss if one is better than the other for some specific training goals.

Better For Developing Strength: Toss Up

Saying Arnold Press or Dumbbell Shoulder Press is more effective than the other at building strength and hypertrophy would really be splitting hairs.

They both have their pros and cons, but even the differences between the two exercises are pretty slight.

Because of the extra front to back movement the Arnold Press will get the anterior and posterior delts more involved. However, the because of the extra range of motion, the overall amount of weight that can be used is usually less.

On the other hand, Dumbbell Shoulder Presses is a simpler movement that allows the lifter to focus on moving heavier weight. Shoulder Presses will target the medial delts more, but are potentially better are developing strength because of the additional weight that can be moved.

Ultimately, my suggestion would be to incorporate both shoulder pressing variations into your workouts.

Both the Arnold Press and regular Shoulder Presses are great movements for strengthening the shoulders and utilizing both movements can add variety to your strength program.

Variety not only will keep your progress well-rounded, but it will also keep your workouts from getting boring.

Better For Beginners: Toss Up

When I select exercises for beginners I like to take three things into consideration:

Is the exercise safe? Is it easy to learn? Is it easy to execute?

I think both exercises are easy for a beginner to learn and execute quickly. There also isn’t much risk for either movement, even for someone without a lot of lifting experience.

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Final Thoughts

I just spent the last section of this article comparing which exercise is better, Arnold Press or Dumbbell Shoulder Presses.

But, as you should now be aware, both exercises are excellent shoulder movements and there isn’t actually a whole lot of difference between the two.

My suggestion is to figure out how to include both Arnold Presses and Dumbbell Shoulder Presses into your strength program.

More Links and Info

Check out how Shoulder Press compares to some other popular shoulder exercises.

Shoulder Press vs Dumbbell Front Raise

Shoulder Press vs Incline Bench

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