Single Arm Push Press Exercise Guide — How to, Muscles Worked, & Alternatives

single arm shoulder press

The single arm push press improves unilateral power. 

The push press is a dynamic exercise that enhances power and strength by engaging the upper and lower body muscles. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research highlights its efficiency, revealing that it rivals the jump squat in building lower-body power and upper-body strength effectively and time-efficiently (1). This versatile exercise can be executed using barbells, kettlebells, or dumbbells.

A specialized variant, the single arm push press, focuses on unilateral movement, intensifying the exercise by isolating the effort to one side of the body at a time. This approach offers a rigorous conditioning workout and promotes balanced upper- and lower-body muscle development.

This analysis delves into the single arm push press, exploring the unique advantages of incorporating this variation into your fitness regimen. It details the specific muscle groups the exercise targets and provides insights into how it fosters muscle hypertrophy. Continue reading for a comprehensive understanding of this exercise, including effective alternatives to complement or enhance your routine.

Techniques & Muscles Worked

The single arm push press works on your delts, triceps, glutes, abs, obliques, hamstrings, and quads. When doing this routine, your legs provide the power and support as you lift the weight with your upper body. Fitness enthusiasts, CrossFit athletes, strongman competitors, and Olympic lifters can benefit from this movement. 

While you can use a barbell or kettlebell for this movement, this guide will focus on the dumbbell option. First, you do the clean to lift the dumbbell to your shoulders. Then, you can do a clean for each rep or continue the push press from the dumbbell at shoulder level. Below is a step-by-step guide for the latter. 

  1. Grab a dumbbell and clean it to your shoulder by extending it through your hips and legs as you raise it. At the end of the movement, rotate your wrists so your palms face forward. This is your starting position.
  2. Dip into a squat by bending your knees while keeping your torso upright. 
  3. Pushing through your hips and heels, explode upwards while pressing the dumbbell overhead. Use your body’s momentum to lift the weight to lockout. 
  4. Pause, keep the dumbbell steady, and slowly lower it to return to the starting position and complete the rep.
  5. Repeat for multiple reps


The single arm push press effectively targets your entire body by combining upper body strength, core stability, and leg drive. Below are the benefits of adding this exercise to your routine. 

Greater Upper Body Hypertrophy & Strength

With the single arm push press, you have greater overload on one side since your entire lower body supports just one arm. This produces significant levels of hypertrophy in your arms and shoulders. A study of 43 participants points to progressive overload as a viable strategy for muscle growth (2).

Build Your Core

Pressing the dumbbell overhead after an explosive movement causes your core to work overtime to stabilize you. This exercise, which feels like a mix between a Pallof press and a side plank, will greatly build your core muscles. It will also teach you to lock your core, improving your posture and form for other routines.

Increased Stability & Shoulder Mobility

Learning to stabilize the load in the overhead position helps your full body stability. The single arm push press also increases the range of motion at your shoulders. This improves your shoulder mobility and can help prevent shoulder injuries. 

Find & Fix Imbalances

Unilateral routines are great for finding and fixing imbalances between your sides. You can easily add extra reps or load the weaker side heavier to bring it up to par. Over time, you can use the single arm push press to fix any asymmetries and bulletproof your overall strength. 

Carryover to Other Exercises

The single arm push press teaches you to control the load in the overhead position. Mastering this technique can significantly transfer to the clean, snatch, and jerk. This exercise can also improve your form and loading capacity for the regular push press. 

Single Arm Push Press Alternatives

The single arm push press is a great total-body routine. But here are some other routines you can use to train your Olympic lifting abilities while building muscle and strength. 

Overhead Press

The overhead press works on your chest, shoulders, and arms. This routine also builds your shoulder mobility and stability. Like the single-arm push press, it can teach you to stabilize the load overhead.

Snatch Pull

The snatch pull works on explosive power and efficiency. It’s also significantly related to the Olympic snatch and jerk. This movement builds muscles in both the upper and lower body.

Muscle Clean

The muscle clean is another exercise that trains Olympic lifts. Research shows that including cleans in your training can significantly boost your power development (3). Muscle cleans also target upper and lower body muscles, including calves and adductors. 


What does the single arm push press work?

The single arm push press improves shoulder mobility and total body stability. It’s simple to learn and can be used to train for Olympic movements like the snatch and jerk. For more on this routine, read the exercise guide above. 

What does the single arm press target?

The single arm press targets your upper and lower body muscles uniquely. Due to its unilateral nature, it can help you find and fix any muscle imbalances or asymmetries you might have.

What is the push press exercise?

The push press exercise is a power and strength movement that works on your lower and upper body muscles. You can do this movement with multiple equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells.  

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  1. Lake, J. P., Mundy, P. D., & Comfort, P. (2014). Power and impulse applied during push press exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(9), 2552–2559.
  2. Plotkin, D., Coleman, M., Van Every, D., Maldonado, J., Oberlin, D., Israetel, M., Feather, J., Alto, A., Vigotsky, A. D., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2022). Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ, 10, e14142.
  3. James, L. P., Comfort, P., Suchomel, T. J., Kelly, V. G., Beckman, E. M., & Haff, G. G. (2019). Influence of Power Clean Ability and Training Age on Adaptations to Weightlifting-Style Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 33(11), 2936–2944.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.