Arnold Strong: Why The Arnold Press Seriously Works Shoulder Strength

single arm shoulder press

Get boulder shoulders like Schwarzenegger himself with his popular shoulder exercise.

For those looking to get into bodybuilding, or even those who just appreciate the commitment a bodybuilder has towards the sport, there is no better role model to look towards than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bodybuilding icon has paved the way for the future of bodybuilding with seven Mr. Olympia titles and a name that most everyone recognizes.

His hard work in the gym and dedication to the sport has offered so much to competitions and aspiring athletes, but the Arnold press shoulder exercise has revolutionized how aspiring bodybuilders and gym-goers work to get boulder shoulders.

A simple yet unique variation on the traditional overhead dumbbell press, the Arnold press varies ever so slightly with a slight twist of the dumbbells as you raise over your head. Schwarzenegger’s effective spin-off of this traditional shoulder exercise has come to be a staple in many bodybuilders’ training books as they seek to be just like Arnold himself.

As a monster exercise for building strength and size, it will promote explosiveness and power, allow you to use increased weight, and improve your ability to remain tight with great tension.

As you look to hit your strength-training and weight loss goals, many exercises will work for your overall benefit. For those looking to get muscular shoulders and strong, powerful arms, the Arnold press is a must to work your delts and get mountains instead of mole hills.

Muscles Worked

The Arnold press is a great all-around shoulder exercise because it hits all three parts of your shoulders. By hitting the deltoid, it offers that rounded physique that everyone looks for to really make their arms pop and get their front looking great. The medial head will promote strength, thickness, and width and serve as a solid middle muscle for physique but also shoulder stabilization.

To hit the posterior head on the backside, this will promote many solid functions that your body relies on including joint stabilization, posture, and overall strength and functionality for big lifts. Since this exercise has great range motion and more time under tension, all of these muscles really feel the burn and your overall performance will shine through (1).

Shoulder Workout

Arnold Press Vs. Overhead Shoulder Press

These two exercises are very close in nature when it comes to the main intended goal of each. The Arnold press and overhead shoulder press can both be done either standing or sitting, but each require lifting dumbbells over your head in efforts to get those boulder shoulders. The difference is slight in the way you rotate the dumbbells over your head as you perform the Arnold press. The overhead press has your palms facing forward and in one motion you lift the weight from your shoulders over your head in one stride.

The Arnold press requires you to start with your palms facing towards you and as you lift the dumbbells overhead, there is a slight rotation so your palms face outward as you perform the continuous stride to the top. As your elbows drop in front of your body, it requires more work on the anterior delts, very similar to that of a front raise. Although it is a slight difference in movement, that rotation makes all the difference when it comes to muscle activation, range of motion, and time under tension (2).

Pros & Cons of the Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a unique exercise in that it will act as a combination of two shoulder exercises simultaneously as one. With elements of both the shoulder press and the lateral raise, this will offer an exercise for greater range of motion giving you a great stretch that other shoulder exercises do not provide. With greater range of motion, muscle gains become easier to achieve because the muscle is stretched to a longer length allowing for more room for the muscle to grow.

shoulder press

Since the Arnold press requires more activation from your forearms, the strain put on by the exercise requires lighter weight to be used, which actually isn’t a bad thing. Using lighter weights will allow you to focus more on mind-muscle connection and improve overall form so when those heavy weights do come calling, you will be more than ready.

While the overhead shoulder press does allow for heavier weight, the Arnold press will force you to nail down the basics and really work the foundations of muscle building so your growth can become a reality.

While this exercise is great, it is taxing on your shoulders and can lead to increase risk of injury down the road. Since this requires a rotation on each rep, that internal muscle rotation can be something to avoid when possible (3). Using lighter weight and making sure you do not over rotate the weights is a great place to start to keep the integrity of your shoulder joints and muscles intact.

How to Perform the Arnold Press

Sit on a 90-degree incline bench with your feet planted and back against the pad. Grab two dumbbells and have your palms face in as you hold them at shoulder height. Engage your core and lift the weights overhead. As you start to lift, rotate your palms so they face away from you. Pause at the top and gently lower back to the starting position rotating your palms back to facing you as you do.

Wrap Up

The Arnold press was a staple in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoulder routine and it can be in yours too. As a great shoulder exercise for overall size and strength, this will work your range of motion, explosiveness and power, and work to target all three heads of the shoulder. A unique variation of the overhead shoulder press, this exercise is one to highly consider when looking for overall shoulder growth. Safety is key so it is important to start light and not over rotate to keep the integrity of your shoulders healthy, but all in all the Arnold press is one of those exercises to really promote boulder shoulders.

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*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Carmichael, Stephen W.; Hart, Dennis L. (1985). “Anatomy of the Shoulder Joint”. (source)
  2. Waller, Mike; Piper, Tim; Miller, Jason (2009). “Overhead Pressing Power/Strength Movements”. (source)
  3. Eichinger, Josef K.; Rao, Meghana V.; Lin, Jackie J.; Goodloe, Jonathan B.; Kothandaraman, Venkatraman; Barfield, William R.; Parada, Stephen A.; Roche, Christopher; Friedman, Richard J. (2020). “The Effect of BMI on Internal Rotation and Function Following Anatomic and Reverse Total Shoulder Arthroplasty”. (source)
Austin Letorney
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.