Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press (How To, Muscles Worked)


Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press is a great movement for upper body strength. The dumbbell implement allows the shoulders to move very naturally and engages the stabilizing musculature to keep the shoulders healthy.

Pressing with only one arm at a time involves more core recruitment as it keeps the body stabilized and upright during the movement.

In this guide, I will go over how to do the dumbbell overhead press, coaching points, common mistakes, muscles worked, and more.


How To Do Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Presses


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Stand with the dumbbell next to you.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend the knees until you can grab the dumbbell.
  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbell into your pressing position.
  • 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.

Remember this is not a push press. This is purely an 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 as well BUT a shoulder press should be focused on the shoulders, no cheating.


Muscles Worked


The Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press engages more muscles than you think and for different reasons.

  • Anterior delts (Primary concentric movers)
  • Medial and rear delts (Primary eccentric and isometric stabilizers)
  • Lats and biceps (Secondary eccentric and isometric stabilizers)
  • Triceps (Lockout)
  • Abdominal and lower back muscles (Stabilizers in most compound movements)

Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations


Here are a few Single Arm DB Shoulder Press variations that only require a slight tweak and can all work perfectly to add a little variation to your workout program.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Most would actually consider Single Arm DB Press to be a variation of the more standard Dumbbell Shoulder Press. Either way, the simplest way to make a slight change to the single-arm version of the exercise is to press both dumbbells at once.

You will lose some of the core stability that comes with pressing with one arm at a time, but pressing with both arms at the same time will save you time and make your workout plan more efficient.

Seated DB Shoulder Press

Seated DB Shoulder Press

The simplest variation to the Dumbbell Shoulder Press is to turn it into a seated movement – Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press. This could be sitting freely on a bench or box or with a bench adjusted up to 90 degrees allowing the lift then brace against.

Pressing from a seated position helps eliminate the ability to cheat reps by using the legs and it works as a great alternative for anyone with a lower-body injury that prevents them from standing easily.

Obviously, this variation can also be done one arm at a time as well as a single-arm movement.

Alternating DB Shoulder Press

For this variation, press both dumbbells overhead. Leave one dumbbell overhead while you lower down and press the other. Continue alternating back and forth like this until all reps are completed – always leaving one dumbbell in the pressed-out position.

This variation works great because it creates a lot of time under tension and forces the shoulder to stabilize the weight in the overhead position.


Dumbbell Shoulder Press Alternatives


Looking to change up your workout a bit? Here are some great alternatives to try out.

Front Press

Push Press (1)

If you don’t have dumbbells but you have a barbell then I would suggest giving Front Press a try.

Front Press, also known as Standing Shoulder Press, is a barbell shoulder press from a standing position. It’s one of the best upper body movements for building mass and strength.

Landmine Single Arm Press

Push one end of your barbell into a corner or stable surface. Load the other end with some weight. I would recommend starting very light at first as you get used to this movement that is most likely new.  Standing in an athletic position, perform single-arm presses with the “landmine”.

Kneeling Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Put one knee down and keep the other up. If your right knee is up, put the dumbbell in your left hand and knock out your presses. The Kneeling DB Shoulder Press is a great movement for novice lifters that need to progress their way through overhead pressing movements.


More Info and Links


Looking for some more great supplemental work for your pressing day? Head over to our exercise library to find step-by-step exercises to help you reach your athletic potential.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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