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Overhead Dumbbell Press

The overhead dumbbell press can be a POWERFUL addition to your shoulder routine – if done correctly.

I’ve actually changed the way I do it myself in recent times.

This change has meant that I can lift:

  • Heavier loads, and
  • Complete more reps

Which results in bigger, fuller shoulders! 😀

The 2 differences in form lie in:

  1. Wrist position
  2. Range of motion

Watch the video and I’ll discuss this in more detail after.

How To Do Overhead Dumbbell Presses

(1) I used to start with my palms turned in towards my head and turn them to face outwards (pronated) as I pushed the dumbbells up.

The problem with this is that it is just not the way the hands want to naturally move throughout this range of motion.

I find that the most natural position for the wrists is to be pretty much pronated (hands facing out) throughout the whole movement.

And as I’ve stated multiple times before, the position where you are most comfortable in any lift is the position where you’ll be at your strongest.

(2) Secondly, a full range of motion on the overhead dumbbell press is NOT a desirable thing in my opinion.

Lowering the weight too far towards the chest will significantly reduce the amount of weight you can use.

What I recommend is that you lower to a point at, or just below, where your UPPER arms are parallel to the floor (as I’m demonstrating in the vid).

Lowering any further doesn’t recruit any extra deltoid muscle fibers, but will reduce the weight and reps completed. So for the purposes of stimulating growth, it’s just not desirable.


You’ll see that I’m pushing the weight faster than I’m lowering it. By now you know that this is standard THT practice. A 1 second lift, 2 seconds lowering cadence has been demonstrated to increase strength by at least 10% more than other cadences.

I personally prefer the seated overhead dumbbell press because of the extra stability it creates. More Stability = Higher Force Output.

Try out this modified form for the overhead dumbbell press ASAP and see how much extra weight YOU can shift!

If you’ve any further questions about this exercise, leave a comment below.

Train With Intensity!

Mark (on Facebook? Click ‘like’ below or I’ll put you in a Figure-4 Leg Lock!)

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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andi September 19, 2012, 1:17 pm

    Thank you so much, Mark! Shoulders is the most difficult part of exercising for me. Tomorrow is Shoulders-day again so I can try out your form! Very looking forward to that! :)


  • Zac September 19, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Looks good and it makes sense and I will be doing this on my next shoulder workout. I’ve been lowering the weight til the dumbbell is level with my shoulder so the video is hugely helpful for describing good form. Thanks a lot Mark. You look in awesome shape at the moment.

  • Adi Cutts September 19, 2012, 1:52 pm

    wow, talk about timing. I’ve been doing seated overhead dumbbell press for a few weeks now and was just talking yesterday to my brother, who I train with, about looking round the net to see if we were doing them correctly to achieve max results, and while I’ve been getting the range of motion spot on as you describe, I’ve been lifting with my palms in facing each other. While my shoulders are one of the most noticeable areas of muscle gains over the last 20 weeks, I will defo be altering my hand positioning this week on this exercise to continue getting max results from my time in the gym. I also love the stability you feel when doing these seated which certainly encourages me to lift a lot more weight. Cheers Mark.

  • Lourcey September 19, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Gettin a shoulder like a boulder! I hbababe a question for you though, would you recommend this to replace the military press or simply follow it? Shoulders are a weak point of mine, and I’ve been trying to get them to keep up with the rest of my body. It’s no good when you stop short on the bech because of muscle failure in the shoulders.

  • Pedro September 19, 2012, 3:03 pm

    Hi, Mark thank you so much for this. Saludos desde Panama

  • John A Davis September 19, 2012, 5:12 pm

    Ha! I’ve been doing that for the last year or more. I use a seated cable contraption for 3 reasons:
    1–no one else uses it and I don’t have to fight for weights
    2–I can change the weight with a pin, and I don’t have to fight for weights.
    3–Because the pulleys on the ground are a couple feet out from the peak of my shoulders my bones don’t stack at the top of the movement. Continued tension at the top, where dumbells rest on stacked bones, not muscles.

  • JaSoN September 19, 2012, 5:55 pm

    They don’t allow these shoulder exercise’s at the gym I go to cause to many people are getting injured with shoulder impingement. I still do them though with the hands facing in through the movement. they say the problem is when you have your hands facing forward with your elbows out, that external rotation of the humerus and a heavy load is puts the rotator cuff muscles in a vulnerable position. I say it’s because of bad form. what say you mark?

  • stickupkid September 19, 2012, 6:12 pm

    Would you use the same style for seated barbell overhead press as well Mark?

  • Mark McManus September 19, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Thanks, everyone :)
    @Lourcey – This would be in addition to a barbell overhead press.
    @John. Good points, bud.
    @Jason. ONLY if you lower the weight right down to your chest while keeping your wrists fully pronated. The form I’m demonstrating is absolutely fine :)
    @stickupkid. Yes but I’m not a fan of free barbell seated overhead press. Try sitting at smith machine for that and use this form, it’s MUCH better!

  • Josefina September 19, 2012, 8:53 pm

    Great timing! Doing shoulders tomorrow and will definately give this a try!

  • mikey September 19, 2012, 8:57 pm

    Mark.. i was taught that during a shoulder press that you dont lock out at the top..motion should stop just before to keep the tension on the shoulder..let me know what u think..

  • Sean Brown September 19, 2012, 11:12 pm

    I have shoulders on Friday, so I shall put this to good use!!! :) Thanks for the tip!!!!

  • Sam September 20, 2012, 3:11 am

    Hey Mark,
    does doing this type of exercise stunts your growth of height…???
    i am 18 years old and i don’t want my height to be affected by this….
    please reply….:^)

  • John A Davis September 20, 2012, 5:12 am

    One must “adduct” their shoulder blades (down and back) on anything the shoulders are involved. in

  • Mark McManus September 20, 2012, 2:49 pm

    @mickey. Yes generally you don’t lock out. However, towards the end of a set if I think it will help me squeeze out an extra rep or 2, I’ll lock out for a second and take a breather and go again.
    @Sam. No it doesn’t. It’s a myth. In fact the growth hormone secretions will help if anything.

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