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How to do Dumbbell Shoulder Press Better

If you want bigger, wider shoulders, you do shoulder presses, right? And the standard Dumbell Shoulder Press is one of the most common shoulder exercises you see done in the gym.

The only problem is, it’s also an exercise that can be very easily done wrong…not necessarily wrong in a way that’s going to hurt you…wrong in a way that turns it into a tricep exercise with the shoulders being involved to a far lesser degree than you think they are.
So let’s get started with optimizing your form for the Dumbell Shoulder Press…

Tip #1 – Lighten Up The Weight

Get a pair of dumbells that are about 25% lighter than what you normally use for a set of 8 to 10 reps.

It’s easier to shorten the range of motion and try to use as much weight as you can in an effort to to load the shoulders.

That reasoning, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up when it comes to shoulder MUSCLE development. The deltoids don’t respond well to that kind of training. Like the biceps, they respond best to tight form and more moderate weights.

I know this speaking from experience…my shoulders are one my toughest bodyparts to develop and build strength in. When I step back the weight and focus on form, I always get better results.

Tip #2 – Use a Preacher Bench

Get yourself to the Preacher Bench. You’re going to use THAT instead of the normal shoulder press bench that has a vertical back. Set the pad of the preacher bench so that it contacts you in the mid-back area when you sit on the bench facing away from the pad. This is going to be your back support.

I find this works MUCH better than using a vertical back bench because this gives you lower back support where and when you need it. It allows for a more natural spinal position during the movement, which will automatically help you perform the exercise better.

If you don’t have a Preacher bench, there are ways around it (such bracing back against a bar set in the power rack and up against the rack uprights).

Tip #3 – Getting the Dumbells Into Position

To get the dumbells into position for the press, there are a few ways to do it. I find for me, the best way is to start with the dumbells on the floor in front of the bench, lean forward and grab both, coming up off the seat.

Then in one powerful movement, I pull the dumbells off the floor and up and back into the bottom position of the press. This is shown best in the video.

When you get the dumbells up and into position, make sure you have a slight arch in your lower back and your core is tight. This is the best position for your lower back to be in as it means the lumbar muscles are tight and engaged and able to protect your lower back.

Tip #4 – Dig Your Heels In

Keep your core tight and actively dig your feet/heels into the floor and push your hips backwards using power from the legs. This helps engage the core and solidify your base of support.

If your legs aren’t locked in, you will be losing power and core stability so keep that tension on at all times and DO NOT flail your feet around in attempt to fight a hard rep – it won’t work.

Full range of motion in the dumbell shoulder press is with the dumbells touching the shoulders (not resting, touching). The reason most people don’t like to go down this far is that it’s hard…which means they can’t use as much weight to impress other people at the gym.

You can always tell how serious people are about shoulder development by the range of motion they use on dumbell shoulder presses.

Tip #5 – Range of Motion

This is the BIGGEST single error people make on the dumbell shoulder press…short range of motion.

If your range motion starts here…

…you will NEVER achieve the shoulder development you want. Your triceps will get bigger and stronger but your shoulders, not so much.

That is a picture of the HALFWAY point of the range of motion of the Dumbell Shoulder Press and should NOT be your start position.

Tip #6 – Tilt The Dumbells Down and In

Imagine as though the dumbells are pitchers and you’re pouring water on your head, especially as you come to the top of the movement. This will help keep tension on the deltoids.

Tip #7 – Don’t Bang The Dumbells Together

This will immediately take tension of the shoulder muscles and put it on the shoulder joints. Also, it’s annoying. If you want to draw attention to yourself, just scream really loud.

Tip #8 – Meet The Dumbells on the Way Down

This is one is a KEY tip to maximizing the tension on the shoulders. As you’re lowering the dumbells, imagine as though you’re trying to get your shoulders to meet the dumbells as they’re coming down.

You can also accomplish this by breathing IN deeply and puffing your chest out to meet the dumbells as well.

This helps keep tension on the shoulder muscles during the negative phase of the movement when the body’s tendency is to take the tension on the triceps.

It’s similar to a shrug…and it’s important that you do this only on the way DOWN, not on the way up. If you do it on the way up, you actually take tension off the shoulders and put more on the traps and triceps.

Once the dumbells get to the bottom, then let your shoulders come down from the shrug. At that point, you’ll be starting from a dead stop, delts under tension.

Tip #9 – Breathing

Hold your breath briefly at the bottom, to maximize core stability. As you pass the sticking point, then you can exhale. Breathe in on the way down, puffing out the chest and bringing the shoulders up to meet the dumbells.

The End

When you’ve completed your set, let the dumbells down to arms-length then set them down on the floor in front of you so you’re ready for the next set.

Put all the these tips together into your next set of dumbell shoulder presses and I guarantee you will get more out of them than you ever have previously.

You will build wider, stronger, more developed shoulders faster when you put these tips to work.


I’ve also got a video where you can see all these tips in action…

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