5 Shoulder Press Variations for Well Rounded Shoulders

Dustin Myers


One of the most basic upper body strengtheners that young weight lifters learn soon after the bench press is the Shoulder Press.  It’s a simple movement - pick up a bar or a set of dumbbells and press them over head.  Despite its simplistic nature and easy entry point skill wise, most experienced lifters get enough anterior felt work by doing other pressing movements - bench, incline, dips, etc.  But does that mean you should eliminate over head pressing from your workout regimen?  Since you may not need over head pressing strictly for front felt strength and mass, try using these different variations to incorporate more secondary muscles and get added bang for your buck:

Standing DB Press

What - a dumbbell press variation done standing with no back support

How - Stand with your feet at shoulder width and a set of dumbbells over top of your shoulders.  Press the weights up and gradually in, touching them together lightly at the top.  Lower under control back to your ears.  Athletes with shoulder issues should hold the weights in a neutral (palms facing ears) grip.  To perform an iso press keep one DB extended over head while you press the other one, alternating sides with each rep.

When - on a pushing (chest) day, a separate shoulder workout, or paired with a lower body movement that doesn’t stress the spine such as lunges or step ups.

Why - By eliminating the back support of a seated variation, standing presses will force you to engage your entire core (anterior and posterior) plus develop lateral stability as you press.

Arnold Press

What  - a dumbbell press with a twist popularized - and named after - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

How - start with a basic dumbbell press, but as you lower the weights you will begin rotating the dumbbells inward, until your palms are facing your face.  The bottom position should be similar to a supinated dumbbell curl with the weights directly in front of your anterior deltoids and your elbows down at your sides.

When - since you may already have to use a little less weight than a standard dumbbell press these are perfect to throw in after your next chest workout.

Why - the process of rotating the weights in and then sweeping them back out will involve the other two heads of the deltoids (medial and posterior) and require more trap activation, resulting in a more complete shoulder builder than a standard dumbbell press.

DB Iso-Press

What - a standing dumbbell press that alternates sides with each rep while you hold the other side in a static extended position.

How - Start by pressing two dumbbells up over head.  Keep one extended as you press the other side.  Alternate sides with each rep.

When - these are perfect to include at the beginning of your next shoulder workout as your main pressing exercise.

Why - Without the dumbbells moving at the same time, they do not “cancel each other out” balance wise.  By isolating one side as you press, your body becomes unbalanced requiring core activation, particularly in the lower back and the obliques.

Serrano Press

What  - a prone press done chest supported on an incline bench set at 45 degrees.

How - hold a light set of dumbbells or plates as you lay face down on an incline bench.  Row your elbows up and rotate your shoulders until your arms are in line with your body.  Extend your arms and keep them at the same angle as the bench.  Keep one arm extended as you press the other side.  Alternate sides.

When - I like to use this movement on a back (pulling) or leg day or as a prehab movement with any workout.

Why - This “press” variation focus on the medial and posterior delts, but actually has the biggest strength benefits to the small stabilizing muscles of the upper back and rotator cuff.  This is pound for pound the toughest exercise in the gym so start light (5-10lb DBs).

Stability Press

What  - a single arm dumbbell press.

How - In a seated position, press a single dumbbell over head as you place the other arm across your stomach.  Press the DB as you keep your shoulders square and level.  Do not lean to one side.

When - this is great as a warm up before benching.

Why - This movement will help strengthen the posterior shoulder stabilizers and alleviate shoulder pain and prevent injury from bench pressing.

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