In this guide I am going to teach you how to do dumbbell shoulder press the correct way without pain.
The dumbbell shoulder press is a true staple in any strength training routine, and rightfully so.
It is one of the best upper strength and muscle building exercises you are going to find in all of exercise land.
The only downside is so many people have been taught the wrong way to do them, which can lead to serious injury and pain.
Hopefully I can catch you before you have learned the wrong way, but even if not, you will learn now how to do dumbbell shoulder press correctly.
All while maximizing your strength and muscle gains while minimizing your risk of injury.
All I require from you is to be sure to read every paragraph, watch every video, and look over every technique tip I give here.
I don’t want you missing any of this.
Sounds like a fair trade to me, what do you think?
Well if you are still reading this, you probably think so too, which I am glad. Let’s hop right into it.
How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press : Step By Step Guide
Let’s first cover how a correct dumbbell shoulder press is supposed to go, then we can cover the most common mistakes.
I am going to put a video here below quickly covering the correct form, as well as written out step by step instructions!
I am going to demonstrate how to do dumbbell shoulder press from a standing position, but pretty much all of the same principles would apply if you were seated.
The two main muscles you are working during a shoulder press are going to be your front deltoid and triceps.
Step 1 – Brace Your Core & Squeeze Your Butt
When talking about the standing dumbbell shoulder press in particular, you want to make sue you core is braced first.
I will put a quick video on how to do that HERE.
Yet essentially I want you to think about one of two things.
First, think about me sucker punching you as hard as I can in the stomach.
You are going to brace for impact right?
You aren’t going to suck your stomach in, you are actually going to push it out.
That is what I want you to be like the entire time you are doing this movement. This will protect your lower back as you press above your head.
The second thing you could also think about is if you have been a bit backed up lately… and you go to sit down on the toilet.
And you really have to push one out… That same push is how I want you to brace your core.
Just, don’t poop your pants. It isn’t fun. ( Not that I have done that while lifting before or anything….).
You also want to be sure you squeeze your butt simultaneously.
Again, this will help protect your lower back.
Think about putting a $100 bill between your butt cheeks.
I am not 100% sure why you are doing that, but none the less, you are!
When you put it there you don’t want it to fall out, so you have to squeeze your butt hard.
This, in combination with bracing your core, are the first two steps in how to do dumbbell shoulder press correctly.
They may be a bit odd, but I guarantee you won’t forget how to do them right?!
Step 2 – Have Your Elbows @ A 45 Degree Angle
Once you are set up with your core bracing, you want to be sure you set your elbows up in the right position.
Try to have your elbows slightly in front of you, at a 45 degree angle, with your hands in line with your wrists.
Think about you are trying to show your armpits to the wall in front of you.
Notice how this looks quite different than if you had you elbows flared out to the side?
Don’t worry, we will cover that soon enough below.
Also, notice how my hands aren’t too low in the starting position?
I am not rounding my shoulders forward.
My shoulders are down and away from my ears, shoved into my back pockets, and my hands are right around my ear / chin level.
Yours should be as well!
Step 3 – Press Dumbbells Above Your Head
This one is a shocker, right?
No really, let’s go over it.
You want to make sure you are pressing the dumbbells overhead.
I want you to think about your front delt, this right here.
Think about your front delt coming to your ear.
Also, do not use your legs to push the weight up.
There is an exercise called the push press, that is not what we are doing here.
We are doing a strict shoulder press to work our shoulders, so be sure to use minimum momentum from your legs to press the weight overhead.
Step 4 – Have A Slight Bend In Your Arms At The Top
When you get to the top of the shoulder press, you do not want to fully lock your elbows out.
This can put a lot of unnecessary strain on your elbows.
Be sure to extend your arms at the top, but stop just shy of full lockout with your elbows.
Step 5 – Lower The Weight With Control
Here is the step most people forget.
We must remember, when it comes to how to do dumbbell shoulder press or any other exercise really, there are two parts to the movement.
There is a concentric phase and an eccentric phase.
The concentric phase is the pushing part, think pushing the weight up in a shoulder press or curling the weight up in a bicep curl.
Then, there is the eccentric phase, which is lowering the weight in a bicep curl or shoulder press.
This is still a critical part of the movement!
Just because you lifted the dumbbells up over your head does NOT mean that the work is done!
You now have to work to control them on the way down as you lower them back to your starting position.
Keeping your core engaged and butt squeezed, I like to tell my clients to try and go at least 1-3 second Mississippi on the way down.
This will allow you to properly lower the weight, put maximum tension on your muscles, and avoid injury.
How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press : Most Common Mistakes
Now that you know how to do the movement correctly, let’s cover a few most common mistakes and how to correct them if they are happening to you.
Elbows Out Too Wide
By far the most common mistake when looking at how to do dumbbell shoulder press is people having their elbows out entirely too wide.
You may think this is the “correct” way to do it because that is how you were taught or how you have seen people do it in the gym, on social media, etc.
This is also probably why so many people struggle with shoulder pain. ( BTW, I wrote an entire article on shoulder pain, if you are experiencing any of that, feel free to check it out HERE ).
I am here to break it to you, this could not be worse off for your shoulders.
When your elbows are out that far wide, you are asking for a shoulder impingement or other icky stuff to happen to your shoulder, rotator cuff, etc.
Your elbows should NOT be at a 90 degree angle, rather, they should be angled more towards a 45 degree angle.
Try keep your shoulders away from your ears, shoved down into your back pockets to start.
Then make sure you are bringing your elbows slightly in front of your body.
You can also turn your wrist at an angle as well, this won’t inherently fix the movement, this needs to come from your upper arm.
Yet if you twist your wrist to more of a 45 degree angle, you will influence the upper arm to do so as well.
Long story short, stop having your elbows flared out super wide to the side.
Bring them in, put a ton less strain on your shoulders, and get stronger without getting injured.
Over Extending At Top
I mentioned above how you should be thinking about your front delt getting pushed to your ear when it comes to a shoulder press.
Yet I want to be very clear, this does NOT mean shrug your shoulders up towards your ear.
Your scapula, this thing right here.
Will move throughout the shoulder press, but, you should not intentionally shrug your shoulders up to your ears when doing this movement.
That is once again going to create shoulder impingement and wonky shoulder pain.
Be sure to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears to start, and allow the scapula to move freely as you press.
Just be sure to not over extend at the top, shrugging your shoulders towards your ears, creating a lot of tension and pain in your shoulders / upper back.
Slamming DB Together At Top
Another common mistake made when looking at how to do dumbbell shoulder press is slamming the dumbbells together at the top.
If you recall from earlier in this guide we talked about how you should stop the movement right before you lock your elbows out and you should control the weight.
I can assure you if you are slamming the dumbbells together at the top, you are not controlling the weight.
You want to use your strength and power to press up, but you don’t want to over do it.
Find that balance of using power to press the weight up, but doing so in a controlled fashion to where you don’t need to slam the dumbbells together.
This is only going to lead to shoulder pain over the long run.
Arching Your Back
There should be some arch of your back as you press up because if not you wouldn’t be able to get the dumbbells above your head fully.
Yet where most people experience back and shoulder pain is when they over arch their lower back, like the picture shown above.
This position creates a ton of pressure on your lower back.
To fix this, just be sure to do what we talked about above in regards to bracing your core and squeeing your butt.
If you do those two things, there will be rigidity throughout your body, forcing your spine to stay in a safe position.
Pressing Forward and Out, Not Up
Another common mistake when talking about how to do dumbbell shoulder press is people tend to forward and not up, as shown here above.
You want to make sure that you are pressing up in a vertical pattern, as opposed to pressing forward in a vertical pattern.
Allow your body to have a slight arch through your thoracic spine ( upper back ) as you press the dumbbells overhead.
Otherwise it will be hard to get the dumbbells in the correct pressing pattern.
Do not think about pressing out or forward, think about pushing your hands up and your shoulders pressing towards your ears.
Not Controlling Weight Down
We mentioned this above so I won’t touch on it too much, yet just be sure to control the weight down.
The movement is not done when you press it above your head.
The way down is still 50% of the movement.
If you fail to do this, it could result in lack of strength gains as well as potential injury.
If you can’t control the weight, you may need to drop down in weight to control it, which is totally okay.
Remember if you do less weight but control it better, you will not only stay injury free but you will get better results because you are completing the entire movement, not just 50% of it.
How To Do Dumbbell Should Press : Variations
Now that you have seen how to do and not to do a dumbbell shoulder press, let’s talk about some variations you can throw in with this movement.
All of the same principles will apply.
1.5 Shoulder Press
Description: All of the same cues apply for this variation, you are just ramping up the intensity! Instead of doing one rep, you are doing 1 and 1 half reps! Just be sure to NOT rush the movement, don’t bounce the weight. Control it the entire time and your shoulders will be burning! Cuss me out now, thank me later!
Straight Leg Shoulder Press
Description: This variation completely takes the leg drive out of the movement. You have nowhere to hide! Your shoulders will have to do all of the work and then some. Be sure to keep your chest up high and not arch your back.
1/2 Kneeling Shoulder Press
Description: This is a great in between movement to allow your body to be challenged from a core perspective while also crushing your shoulders. Be sure to keep your butt squeezed and core braced so you don’t move side to side as you press up!
How To Do A Barbell Shoulder Press
You might ask “Okay, but what about if we are using a barbell!?”.
Truthfully speaking, all of the same principles apply once again. This is why I started this guide talking about the dumbbell shoulder press because if you get the basic mechanics down from a dumbbell shoulder press, it transfers right over to the barbell.
Now there are certain things you might not be able to do with the barbell, like change your wrist angle like you would with a dumbbell.
Yet you still should be having your armpits face the wall in front of you, trying to get a 45 degree angle with you elbows as much as you can, keeping your shoulders un shrugged up.
I can attach a quick video for the barbell shoulder press here below!
How To Do Dumbbell Shoulder Press : Final Word
Welp, there you have it.
Hopefully everything you need to know about how to do dumbbell shoulder press.
The most common mistakes, how to fix them, the correct form, some killer variations.
What more could you ask for?!
Well, if you do have anything you want to ask for, drop a question below I would be glad to help how I can.
Or if you think you might want some more in depth coaching, you want head HERE to fill out my application form to see if we might be a good fit!
Hope this guide at least helped in the slightest, and look to chat soon.