Make The Arnold Press Better

Make The Arnold Press Better

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


The Arnold press is an incredibly effective shoulder exercise developed several decades ago by the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.  While it can provide a very strong stimulus for producing functional strength and hypertrophy throughout the deltoids and arms, there are common form mistakes that many lifters make that not only shortchange the benefits of this exercise but can also lead to joint issues and inflammation.  Some of these common pitfalls include the following 12 technique errors.

1. Using excessive range of motion and extreme depth in the bottom position by allowing the dumbbells to collapse.

2. Allowing the weight to free-fall on the eccentric phase rather than using a controlled negative.

3. Rotating into an excessively supinated position in the bottom.  The natural motion involves supinating approximately 75% rather than moving fully into an underhand position.

4. Moving too far into internal rotation at the bottom which can crowd the shoulders.

5. Allowing the arms to move too close to each other in the bottom position. The arms should remain in-line with the shoulders not narrower or inside them.

6. Making the movement, especially the rotational components, too robotic rather than allowing the rotational motions to occur in a smooth, seamless, and continuous fashion.

7. Allowing the shoulders to protract in the bottom position rather than keeping them packed.

8. Neglecting to achieve optimal shoulder retraction, depression, and t-spine extension in the bottom position.

9. Not fully pronating or locking the motion out in the top position by stopping several inches short.

10. Failing to keep the core tight and braced throughout.

11. Allowing the shoulders to excessively elevate particularly in the top position. Mild and natural elevation should occur but this is fairly subtle and much less extreme than what most coaches suggest.

12. Failing to keep a tight grip on the dumbbells and simply letting them sit in a relaxed fashion in the hands. This ultimately leads to loose mechanics and lack of full body tension, which causes the movement to break down and lack motor control.

The Fix

While the Arnold press is traditionally performed with dumbbells I’ve found that incorporating bottoms-up variations and other unstable loading protocols into the Arnold press helps to eliminate these aforementioned form mistakes and clean up movement mechanics. 

Although understanding how to properly cue the Arnold press using the previous tips is half the battle, I’ve found that the following variations literally force the lifter to rely on proper technique and perform the movement with near perfect mechanics.

Bottoms-Up Arnold Press Variations

If I could only chose one variation for improving Arnold press technique it would be the use of bottoms-up protocols with plates or kettlebells as shown in the video.  Besides being some of the most challenging overhead pressing variations you’ll ever perform, these are guaranteed to lock in both your Arnold press and other overhead pressing movements to another level. 

In addition, the level of intramuscular tension, metabolic stress, muscular pump and overall burn you’ll create with these is through the roof making them highly effective for building functional mass and strength throughout your shoulders and arms.  Just be prepared to focus your mind like a master Jedi or these simply won’t happen. Read more about bottoms-up exercises here

Javelin Arnold Press with Barbell (Helicopter Press)

If you really want to up the ante, you can also perform the Arnold press unilaterally using the Javelin press method with an Olympic barbell (a.k.a. the helicopter press).  Besides requiring the highest level of motor control, shoulder stability, kinesthetic awareness, and core activation you’ll also have to resist extreme rotational forces at the top and bottom of the movement (both in the shoulders and core) as you decelerate the rotating barbell. 

This not only has huge transfer to overhead athletes but it does wonders for teaching the lifter to pack their glenohumeral joint into the most biomechanically sound position.  Just make sure there's no one close by or you may take a few gym members out in the process of building cannonball delts.  With that said this is also a great self defense movement to perform if you’re surrounded by multiple assassins and hitmen.  Just make sure they have turtle-like reflexes before you incapacitate them with this lethal maneuver.

Practical Application

The bottoms-up and javelin Arnold presses can be employed in several fashions.  First it can be used as a warm-up and preparation drill before heavy pressing movements.  Second it can be used as a primary movement for the shoulders.  Third it can be used as a finishing movement for the upper body.  I suggest keeping the reps low since the movement will be performed with unusually slow tempos.  I also suggest using eccentric isometric protocols during each repetition to help dial in mechanics.  Several sets of 3-6 reps should do the job for most individuals.

If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates at