Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternatives (1)

The 15 Best Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternatives (2023)

The Dumbbell Shoulder Press should be a staple in anyone’s training program. It’s a big compound movement, meaning it uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously, it’s done on the feet and the core has to work to stabilize the torso through the movement.

However, sometimes you may find yourself needing an alternative for Dumbbell Shoulder Presses.

Maybe you don’t have dumbbells or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your workouts.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an exercise to substitute for DB Shoulder Press then you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 15 of my favorite overhead press alternatives including a few different dumbbell press variations and lifts using different equipment.

Variations for Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Before we get into alternatives, here are a couple of simple dumbbell press variations you can implement easily by just making a few slight tweaks.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Seated DB Shoulder Press

The simplest variation to Dumbbell Shoulder Presses is to merely sit down. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press is the same basic pressing motion, but sitting takes the lower body out of the equation putting all the emphasis on the shoulders.

On the downside, sitting down also will utilize the core less as well because there is less of a need for stabilization while seated.


  • Grab two dumbbells and grab a bench.
  • You have two options on the setup for the bench.
  • If you have an adjustable bench, you can choose to adjust the bench up to 90 degrees. This will allow you to lean and brace yourself against the bench as you press.
  • If you don’t have an adjustable bench (or even if you do), simply sit tall with good posture on the bench. This will force you to utilize your core to maintain your posture as you press.


  • Once you’re set up and ready, raise the dumbbells to your shoulders, palms facing forward or slightly towards one another (whichever is more comfortable).
  • Press the dumbbells straight overhead. Dumbbells should come close to one another at full lockout overhead, but should not touch.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down until hands are about ear height and repeat.
  • Continue until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

If you do use an adjustable bench to brace against as you press, make sure not to overarch. There should not be an excessive amount of daylight between your back and the bench.

If there is, there is a good chance you are overarching too much which will place unnecessary stress on the low back.

Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Perhaps even simpler than sitting down is to just use one dumbbell at a time instead of two.

Single Arm Shoulder Press increases the amount of core involvement because you’re pressing an unbalanced load. And technically speaking, you could say that doing a seated single-arm shoulder press would be yet another variation, but that seems a bit unnecessary.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Start standing with a single dumbbell in hand.
  • I recommend palms facing away or toward you (whichever feels more comfortable).
  • Brace the abdominal muscles and engage the upper back.
  • Press the dumbbell directly overhead. (The dumbbell should not track forward.)
  • Lock the reps out and pause for a quick second with each repetition.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position to prepare for the next repetition.
  • Once all reps are completed on one arm, switch to the opposite arm and repeat.

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.

Alternatives for Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The first few alternatives listed also use dumbbells. The rest of the exercises incorporate different pieces of equipment like a barbell, landmine and even just your body weight.

Curl and Press

Curl and Press turns Dumbbell Shoulder Presses into a combo movement with Dumbbell Curls.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab dumbbells that you can perform at least 8 perfect reps with here.
  • Standing nice and tall, hammer curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  • From here, press the dumbbells straight up overhead to lockout.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbells back and down to shoulder height.
  • From here, slowly return the dumbbells to your side.

Coaching Points

Go slow! Time under tension is key here. Feel the burn, especially on the way back down.

The biggest thing to be mindful of is to not swing the dumbbells at the bottom. Stay in control of the weight and don’t let your technique get sloppy.

Dumbbell Z Press

The Dumbbell Z Press is one of my favorite alternatives for standing Dumbbell Presses for a few reasons.

First, the overhead pressing motion doesn’t change. You’re still bringing the dumbbells down to your shoulders and pressing overhead. However, it completely takes the legs out of the equation. No cheating to help get up reps.

It also makes the core have to work incredibly hard to keep yourself upright. With nothing to brace your back against and no legs available for balance, it’s all on your core to keep yourself upright. And this is something you’ll realize immediately on rep number one.

How To

  • Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front.
  • Brace the core and raise dumbbells to shoulder level (or have a partner hand them to you).
  • Make sure your posture is good and your core is tight before trying to press.
  • Press the dumbbells to full extension overhead.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down to the shoulders and repeat until all reps are completed.

Arnold Press

Arnold Press is a popular dumbbell overhead press variation made popular by, you guessed it, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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

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!

Kneeling Single Arm Press

The Kneeling Single Arm Dumbbell Press works pretty much as it sounds. Take a kneeling position on one knee, with a dumbbell in the opposite hand.

This pressing variation has some of the same benefits as the Floor Overhead Press. The legs are removed from the lift in the kneeling position and balance plays an important role being a single arm movement.

Front Press

If you don’t have dumbbells, but you do have a barbell, the most obvious alternative is the Front Press, or barbell overhead press.

It’s still done in a standing starting position and it’s still an overhead press. The only real difference is the equipment being used. From a performance standpoint, most lifters will be able to use more total weight with a barbell which can help with packing on mass.

Push Press

Push Press (1)

I’ve been a college sports performance coach for almost 20 years and my next alternative is one that turns the overhead press into a power movement.

The Push Press is essentially a Front Press that involves generating power from the hips and legs to help drive the barbell (although can also be done with dumbbells) overhead. This changes the movement from simply a shoulder strength-building exercise to more of a total body power development exercise.

The Push Press can also work as the first movement in a progression of overhead power movements like Power Jerk and Split Jerk.

Bench Press

Bench Press

Bench Press isn’t a vertical pressing movement like most of the other shoulder press alternatives I have listed, but it doesn’t make any sense to not include it.

If we’re talking about building upper body mass and developing pressing strength Bench Press is still the number one draft pick. Improve your Bench Press and there is a good chance your overhead strength will follow along.

Incline Bench Press

It’s hard to mention Bench Press and not also include Incline Bench Press, especially since Incline Bench is closer to being a vertical press and gets the shoulder muscles more involved than flat bench.

This probably goes without saying, but I’ll go ahead and mention it anyway. Don’t forget that both Bench Press and Incline Bench Press can also both be done with dumbbells if you don’t have a barbell available to you.

Landmine Press

The Landmine Press is another overhead press alternative that uses the barbell but in a much different way. Before you scroll right past this one because you don’t have a landmine attachment, here’s how you can create your own landmine press with just a tennis ball.

Load your barbell on the open end, bring the bar up to your shoulder and then – using a single arm – press the bar overhead.

If variety is what you came here looking for, the Landmine Press is definitely one of the best overhead press alternatives.

Handstand Push Up

Handstand Push-Up

Easily one of the hardest bodyweight exercises to perform, Handstand Push-Ups will test your shoulder strength, shoulder stability, core and coordination all in one movement. Because it’s a bodyweight movement, it has the advantage of being able to be done anywhere without the need for equipment.

Find a sturdy wall, place your hands a few inches away and then kick your feet up over your head against the wall. From here, lower yourself down until you almost touch the floor with your head and then press yourself back up.

Note: Handstand Push-ups are an ADVANCED movement. I would not suggest this for beginners as it can be dangerous if you don’t have sufficient shoulder and core strength.

Machine Shoulder Press

Machine Shoulder Press
Photo Credit: Halfpoint / shutterstock.com

If you’re working out in a commercial gym or college weight room and you have access to machines, a Machine Shoulder Press can be a solid overhead press alternative.

My favorite machine for this is the Hammer Strength Iso Shoulder Press. It’s plate-loaded so it works more like a free weight and less like a cable machine. Both shoulders also work independently of one another too, so like with dumbbells, if you have any strength imbalances they’ll show themselves.

Dumbbell Side Raise

Dumbbell Side Raise

Admittedly, Dumbbell Side Raises, or Dumbbell Lateral Raise, would not be my first choice for a Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternative. It’s not a pressing movement, but it is an exercise that will work the shoulders.

If you find yourself in an environment (I’m thinking a hotel gym here) where you’re limited in equipment to light dumbbells, Dumbbell Side Raises may work perfectly in that kind of situation.

Pro Tip: Do NOT lock your arms out while doing Side Raises. Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep unnecessary strain off of the elbow joint.

Med Ball Power Jerk

Let’s finish with another power-focused alternative to Dumbbell Shoulder Presses. This is similar to the Push Press where you’ll utilize your hips and legs to dip and drive the medicine ball up.

The biggest difference with Med Ball Power Jerks though is that you’ll drive all the way through the movement releasing the ball in the air at the top. No need to worry about staying under control as with a barbell which is one of the biggest benefits of using a med ball that you can throw into the air.

Final Thoughts

The Dumbbell Shoulder Press is an excellent exercise for developing strong shoulders, but sometimes Dumbbell Presses just aren’t an option. You may not have the proper equipment available to you or at other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your dumbbell overhead press routine.

In these situations, you’ll need an overhead press alternative and I hope that one of the exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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