How to Do the Dumbbell Overhead Press

Workout for the Shoulders and Triceps

The dumbbell overhead press increases strength throughout the shoulders and engages the core for stability. It can be done in either a sitting or standing position, and with dumbbells held horizontally at the shoulders or rotated in a hammer grip. A sitting position helps stabilize the back.

This description uses a standing position and a horizontal and overhand grip.

Find out more about weight training terminology and exercise description if you need background information before you try this exercise. Print a formatted copy of this exercise. See more dumbbell exercises.

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Performing the Dumbbell Overhead Press

A Dumbbell overhead press
Ben Goldstein
  1. Stand upright or sit on a bench (one with a back support is preferable) and keep the back straight.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the shoulders with an overhand grip. Thumbs should be on the inside and knuckles facing up.
  3. Raise the weights above the head in a controlled motion, ensuring that you do not slam the arms upward and stress the elbow joint. Pause at the top of the motion.
  4. Exhale as you push upward.
  5. Return dumbbells to the shoulders.

Option: Alternate arms, pressing up with one and then the other, instead of both arms at once.

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Points to Note

A Dumbbell overhead press
Ben Goldstein
  • The exercise can be done sitting, standing, with alternating arms or with a hammer grip in which the palms are turned in toward your face.
  • Performing the dumbbell overhead press in the standing position promotes stability by requiring more balancing to execute.
  • Using a barbell is an additional option.
  • Keep the back straight at all times, and don't arch your lower back excessively while raising the dumbbells overhead. Excessive arching in the lower back can be a sign that your weight is too heavy. Shift to a lighter weight to practice holding your back in a safe position and build up to the greater weight.
  • For added stability, keep the shoulder blades down and back during the press.
  • Don't push up explosively and crash the elbow joint. (It's OK to lock out, just be gentle.)
  • Control the motion of the weights, and don't allow them to stray too far forward or back during the push. Try to keep them slotted in a path above the head.

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