Overhead Press With Dumbbells – Benefits, Variations And Tips

Overhead press with dumbbells is an upper body exercise used to build bigger and rounder shoulders and also strengthen the core. This exercise can be done seated or standing either with a horizontal grip or rotated in a hammer grip. The sitting position helps to stabilize the back, while the standing position works a wide range of muscles. Beginners should start with a light weight, increase it until you get a weight that you can lift with a good form for 10 repetitions. Women can start with 5kg dumbbells and men with 10kg weights.


This exercise applies to all aspects of the deltoid muscle of the shoulder. While you can do an overhead press with an exercise machine or a barbell, using dumbbells also offers some unique benefits.

Using a dumbbell as opposed to a barbell has its own benefit, you can identify when you have an imbalance in your shoulder strength. When doing it standing you will be challenging your core muscles to stabilize you during pressing.

In everyday life, you may need to put things on the shelves above your head (or your luggage in the upper room of the plane) and this activity will build strength to do it safely.

Overhead press with dumbbells

Completing a standing overhead press with dumbbells is similar to completing a seated press.

  1. Bend down to pick the dumbbells.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lift the dumbbells at shoulder height. The palms of your hands can face forward or toward your body.
  3. Once you have taken the correct position, start pressing the dumbbells above your head until your arms fully extend. Hold this position for a moment, then return the dumbbells back to shoulder height.
  4. Complete the required number of reps.
Tips on form

In addition to the basics of how to do a dumbbell military press, it is important to understand the correct form involved;

  • Tighten your abs and glutes

To prevent injuries to your neck and lower back, keep your glutes and brace your core when you complete the dumbbell press.

  • Try different hand positions

Some people keep their palms forward all the time while lifting, while others prefer the palms facing their body.

You can also start with the palms of your hands facing your body and rotate your arms slightly as you press the dumbbells overhead, so that your palms are facing forward. It is important to extend your arms fully without locking your elbows.

  • Look forward and keep your neck straight

You can also avoid injury by keeping your head and neck straight while you exercise.

  • Let the bench support you

Using an incline bench helps prevent injury while completing a dumbbell military press. The bench supports the lower back, keeping it straight. Do not complete this exercise on a chair that doesn’t have a back rest.

  • Proper breathing

Proper breathing is also important. It can increase circulation as you exercise and improve your performance.

When performing a seated or standing overhead press with dumbbells, inhale as you pull the weight to your body and exhale as you push the weight above your head.

  • Use a light weight to master technique

Some people make the mistake of rounding their lower back when lifting weights. This puts a lot of pressure on the lower back and can cause injury. To avoid rounding your back, do not use too much weight.

You should also avoid rocking or swaying your body while lifting dumbbells above your head. Too much rocking indicates that the weight is too heavy, which can lead to injury.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Variations

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

overhead press with dumbbells

Pressing the dumbbells while sitting – always on a bench with a straight back for full support – allows you to lift more than the standing version. Why is that? Your small stabilizing muscles do not need to work hard to support your torso because it is supported by a bench. As a result, you grow bigger and broader shoulders.

Here’s how to do it:
  • Sit on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing away from you.
  • Keep your chest up and tighten your core, look forward throughout the movement.
  • Push the dumbbells up until your arms are straight, then slowly lower the weights back to the original position in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Bouncing back up from the bottom position places lot of strain on your shoulders and means you are using momentum to move the weights instead of your muscles.
  • Always remember to warm up when attempting any heavy lifting with your shoulders because shoulder joint is one of the most intricate and mobile in the human body, which makes it more susceptible to injury.
Dumbbell Push Press

overhead press with dumbbells

For a more powerful shoulder movement, you can try a push press. Start again with your dumbbells held by your shoulders, but instead of pressing them straight up you start by slowly lowering into a quarter squat. From there push through your heels and press the weights over your head. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells in a slow and controlled manner.

Make sure you do not drop too low into a squat, just enough to allow you to power up and gain momentum to press the weights above your head. This extra momentum in the push press should allow you to lift more weight than the standard shoulder press, although holding the dumbbells up while squatting is still not an easy task.

Hammer’s shoulder press

For this variation, adjust your grip so that the palms of your hands are facing each other while lifting the dumbbells. This change in grip recruits different muscles in the shoulders and can put less pressure on the joint than the traditional method, so if you are looking to reduce the stress on your shoulders while still strengthening, a hammer variation is a consideration.

Dumbbell thruster

overhead press with dumbbell

This variation is almost similar to a push press but with just a slight difference, with the push press you go into a quarter squat position before you press the weights overhead while in the thruster variation you drop all the way down into a full squat. This is an amazing exercise that works all the muscles throughout the body – hard.

How to do it:
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold the weights by your shoulders in each arm
  • Now go into a squat position until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Once you are down as low as possible, drive through your heels and push the dumbbell overhead.
  • It’s vital to maintain good form when doing this exercise, thruster is a complete workout to include in a HIIT workout.

Common Mistakes

To get the most out of this activity, avoid these mistakes;

  • Flared elbows

Do not point your elbows directly to your sides as this will compress your rotator cuff muscles.

  • Locked elbows

Locking your elbows when you get to the top of your lift will transfer tension from your deltoid to your triceps, which is not the muscle you are targeting.

  • Shoulder Position

For maximum stability, keep the shoulder blades down and back during the press.

  • Pressing too fast

Do not push up explosively. Press slowly and smoothly. Control the movement of the weights, and do not allow them to stray too far back or forward during Push.

  • Round back

For safety, keep your back straight at all times and avoid bending your lower back too much while lifting dumbbells overhead. Excessive rounding of your back over your lower back can be a sign that your weight is too heavy. Switch to light weight to get used to keeping your back straight, then progress to bigger weight with good form.

  • Lowering Dumbbells Too Far

During exercise, lower only the dumbbells only to your shoulders before pressing again. If you lower them too much you increase the risk of straining your shoulders.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a shoulder, neck, or back injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out if this exercise is appropriate. It is possible to injure your shoulders when performing this exercise, especially if you are using heavy equipment or poor form. If you experience any pain during this exercise, slowly lower the weights and end the exercise. Use only the weight you can press with a good form of 10 repetitions.

Make the overhead press harder

If you feel that your seated or standing dumbbell press is becoming too easy, you can make it a challenging by increasing weight. Don’t go too heavy too fast. Gradually increase your weight to build endurance, strength, and muscle mass.

If you only complete the seated version, switching to a standing variation can also make the exercise challenging due to more muscles required for stability. In addition, instead of raising both arms over your head at the same time, try to raise one arm at a time. On the other hand, if the exercise is too hard, you can make it easier by using a light weight.

Overhead press without dumbbells

You don’t always need dumbbells. You can use also use resistance bands too.

Begin by standing on the center of the resistance band shoulder width apart. While holding one end of the band in each hand, bring the end you are holding to shoulder height with your arms at a 90-degree angle. From here, raise your hands above your head until your arms are fully stretched.

If you like, you can also do this with a barbell. Both of these types of weights help increase muscle size, but a barbell can make it easier to lift heavier weights than a dumbbell. Heavy weights help to build muscle faster.


The overhead press is an excellent exercise when looking to increase muscle and strength in the arms, shoulders, back and chest. As with any exercise, the right techniques and form are essential for good results and injury prevention.

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