Multiple-time bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger shot to fame with the help of his perfectly-sculpted physique, and Hollywood stardom followed soon after. His success in movies inspired many to take up the sport of bodybuilding and follow in his footsteps, especially through his unique workouts as well as the series of gymnasiums that bore his name.

Everyone in their lifetime has wanted to train like him at least once. Going beyond the conventional, Arnold introduced new workouts of his own that included the Arnold press, which is a variation of the basic overhead press (shoulder press) by making a slight modification to the conventional movement.

If making your shoulders look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's wasn't enough, bodybuilding itself requires a lot of hard work and patience. But with few exercises like the Arnold press, you may be able to see results in a shorter period of time.

The overhead press, sometimes also called the military press, is great to add muscle definition to the shoulders, but the additional 'rotational' movement in the Arnold press enables impacts the muscles in the chest as well.

  1. Types of Arnold press
  2. Benefits of Arnold press
  3. How to perform Arnold press correctly
  4. Precautions before doing Arnold press
  5. Takeaways

Any form of shoulder presses can be performed either seated or while standing up, and it applies to the Arnold press as well, making it two different types of this particular exercise:

  • Standing Arnold press
  • Seated Arnold press
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The Arnold press stimulates the shoulders, biceps as well as the chest which makes it a compound exercise. Keeping your shoulders in shape helps you in many ways, especially while performing real world duties of lifting things, especially doing household chores. 

An Arnold press can benefit you by strengthening the deltoids and trapezoid muscles within the shoulder structure. Compared to other shoulder press exercises, the Arnold press targets the front deltoids in the best possible way. The added benefit of regularly training the shoulder muscles is that it allows you to lift heavier in other exercises such as the bench press and the bicep curl.

The Arnold press is an intense exercise that must be performed after one has mastered the basic shoulder or overhead press movement. Exercises that involve the use of external weights must be performed carefully to avoid muscle strain or workout injuries. To prevent any kind of injury, always warm-up your body with some specific exercises with less weight for your shoulders such as the lateral raise, front raise and overhead press.

Muscle worked

  • Primary: Shoulders
  • Secondary: Biceps, triceps and chest

Equipment required

  • A pair of dumbbells and a bench


  • Intermediate (trainee)

Sets and reps

  • 3 sets of 15 reps each

How to do the Arnold press

  • Either stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, or sit on a bench with a backrest to keep the back straight.
  • Hold dumbbells with elbows touching the body and hands reversed with palms facing you.
  • Elbows should be folded and the dumbells right in front of your shoulders.
  • Twist your wrists outwards and turn the direction of your palms, and lift the dumbbells above your shoulders by straightening the elbows.
  • Hold the position at the top of the movement for a second or two.
  • Bring the dumbbells down slowly and turn the wrists again to return to the starting position. This is one rep.

Tip: Standing stance can be tougher than the seated one, thus try to lift lighter weights to get used to the movement.

It is advisable to not perform this exercise if you’re new to a gym atmosphere. The Arnold press is an improvised variation of the overhead press that targets the shoulder muscles with more intensity. With less experience, an individual can get injured. To prevent such injuries, lift according to your strength, perform under the supervision of a fitness trainer and first practice the movement without weights.

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Much like many gym-based exercises, even the Arnold press has developed by the tinkering mind of a fitness professional looking to make the most out of an exercise. This exercise can be performed at the gym or at home with the help of dumbbells. If you’re looking to add a new exercise to your shoulder routine, the Arnold press can be the best you can go for in your bid to develop your shoulder muscles.


  1. Raizada S. et al Comparison among the EMG Activity of the Anterior Deltoid and Medial Deltoid During Two Variations of Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise Indian Journal of Public Health Research and Development 8(4):653
  2. Luczak J. et al Shoulder Muscle Activation of Novice and Resistance Trained Women during Variations of Dumbbell Press Exercises. J Sports Med (Hindawi Publ Corp). 2013;2013:612650. doi: 10.1155/2013/612650. Epub 2013 May 15.
  3. Mckean M.R. et al Overhead shoulder press – In-front of the head or behind the head? Journal of Sport and Health Science Volume 4, Issue 3, September 2015, Pages 250-257
  4. Saeterbakken AH. et al Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul;27(7):1824-31 PMID: 23096062
  5. Paoli A. et al Influence of different ranges of motion on selective recruitment of shoulder muscles in the sitting military press: an electromyographic study. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jun;24(6):1578-83 PMID: 20508462
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