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How to Execute the Perfect Dumbbell Overhead Press

Strength training can be crazy intimidating—so many moves, so much equipment, so many mansplaining bros in the way. (It's honestly no wonder so many women are afraid of the weight room.)

But the good news is that you don't need to know everything, spend hours in the gym, or dedicate an entire day to every body part to reap the benefits. If you incorporate moves that hit tons of muscle at once, you can make your workout way more effective. Enter: the overhead press, a hard-hitting upper-body move that'll strengthen basically everything above your waist, demonstrated here by Equinox trainer Rachel Mariotti. (And don't forget to reach for the big dumbbells: Lifting heavy weights comes with tons of benefits.)

Overhead Press Variations & Benefits

You can perform an overhead press while seated, but doing it while standing calls your core and legs to stabilize too: "Overhead pressing in the standing position requires you to stabilize an incredible amount—which translates to epic core strength," says Clay Ardoin, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., cofounder of SculptU, a medical fitness training facility in Houston. 

You can do presses with a barbell (often referred to as a military press) or with dumbbells. The latter helps identify any asymmetrical stability issues and decreases the likelihood that you'll compensate with other muscles, says Ardoin. It's great for building overall upper-body strength, but really targets the anterior (front) deltoid. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted research on the best shoulder exercises and found that the dumbbell overhead press resulted in significantly higher muscle activation in the anterior (front) deltoid than any other shoulder exercise they tested. ACE recommends combining it with bent-arm lateral raises and seated rear lateral raises for a shoulder workout that hits every inch of the muscle.

How to Do a Dumbbell Overhead Press

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees soft, and core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, just outside of shoulders with palms facing forward, and elbows pointing down.
B. Exhale while pressing dumbbells directly overhead (not forward), so wrists stack directly over shoulders and biceps are next to ears. Keep core engaged.
C. Reverse the movement so the dumbbells follow the same path to return to starting position.

Try 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Dumbbell Overhead Press Form Mistakes & Tips:

  • Keep shoulder blades locked in (think: down and back) throughout the movement for additional shoulder stability.
  • Keep spine neutral and avoid extending the lower back.

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