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Getting the Most From the Arnold Press

7207-nathuge1Q: When I do Arnold presses, should I use less weight than I do on dumbbell presses? I use 70 pounds on dumbbell presses and about 55 on Arnold presses.

A: The Arnold press is a great exercise for developing both the side and front heads of the deltoid. It’s named, of course, for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who invented it as a way of building bigger delts when he was competing.

The shoulders were a challenging bodypart for Arnold. Although he had massive arms, his deltoids were what he called “sloping.” Arnold felt that when he stood relaxed to the front, his delts were not wide enough and they sloped down instead of standing out wide. Bodybuilders like Don Howorth and Steve Reeves were lauded for their wide shoulders. When they stood relaxed to the front, they looked so much bigger because of their spectacular deltoids.

Pressing exercises will develop more mass in the delts, particularly in the front heads, but Arnold needed more size in his side—a.k.a. lateral—heads in order to appear wider from the front.

The best exercise for building up the side deltoids are lateral raises, which specifically target the medial-delt heads. Because lateral raises are an isolation exercise, though, it’s difficult to use a lot of resistance and still do them with good form.

The Arnold press combines a lateral raise with an overhead press in a single movement. That lets you use more resistance, which equates to more muscle.

You begin in the finished position of a dumbbell curl, with your arms in front of your body. Rotate the dumbbells outward as you press them up and out until your arms are at the halfway point of a dumbbell press. From there, press the dumbbells up until the weights touch at the top.

The first part of the exercise is the lateral raise, and the second part is the pressing movement. After a couple of sets of Arnold presses, you will feel a great pump in both the front- and side-delt heads.

Although you will definitely be able to use more weight on Arnold presses than on traditional lateral raises, you will not be able to use quite as much as you can on dumbbell presses. The most important point for the Arnold press is to use good form. If you start going too heavy and you can’t do the lateral-raise portion correctly, the exercise loses its effectiveness. You don’t want to turn it into a sloppy dumbbell press.

I like to start off by using a moderate weight for 12 reps on the first set. That gets blood into the delts and gives me a good pump. I gradually increase the weight on each successive set until I’m using my poundage weight on the last two sets. I have my partner spot me on the pressing portion of the movement because that’s where I usually get stuck.

After performing four sets of Arnold presses, I move on to lateral raises for the medial deltoids. By following up with the isolation move, I give the side delts a great pump, and they get much more work than they would get if I started with a standard pressing movement. That stimulates them to grow more. If it worked for Arnold, it will work for you too!


Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a three-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse,  IM


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