How to master the Arnold Press and grow shoulder muscles as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger's

The Arnold Press hits more muscles in the shoulder bigger delt gains

How to do the Arnold press: Pictured here, Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his enormous biceps
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Arnold Press, popularised by the Austrian Oak himself, adds a rotation into a typical overhead dumbbell press and, as a result, hits all three sections of the deltoids. But it's something that must be approached with caution. The shoulders are tricky to bulk up, as they can be susceptible to impingement injuries and other damage caused by overworking, rendering their owner pretty damned useless if crocked.

Despite the Governator proving that this exercise can lead to gigantic, impressively thick shoulders, it also increases the load on shoulder joints and increases the risk of injury. And while the Terminator "will be back", you might not be if you flange this up. So read on... But before you do, you might want to know what exercise Arnie used to build his chest and which Schwarzy move helped him sculpt his colossal back. You can also follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's Blueprint to Mass to pack on muscle if that's what you want. Fair warning: it's not for the faint-hearted!

How to do the Arnold press

While mastering this exercise, make sure you start with a lighter weight, slowly building up the weight as the form is perfected and the shoulder joints and supporting back muscles get stronger.

You can use a weights bench or seat during this early stage, but if you perform the Arnie press whilst standing up, you can engage your abs and core, getting a rock-solid foundation in the process. With two light dumbbells, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the dumbbells at shoulder height with palms facing you.

Press up and out, keeping the shoulders squeezed back and down towards your butt, smoothly rotating the dumbbells 180 degrees through the movement, so palms are facing outwards when they are pressed overhead. 

Get a full extension of the arms at the top of the movement, pause for a moment - keeping everything tight - now rotate the dumbbells back towards you as you lower to the starting position. On the way down, keep the elbows tight into the body at the finishing position, almost as if you were in a standing plank, with the core and glutes tight. Pause for a moment, and that is one rep. 

Best Arnold Press alternatives

As well as gradually adding the number of repetitions and increasing the weight of the dumbbells over time, you can stimulate muscle growth in the shoulders and other parts of the body with a few simple variations.

Swapping the dumbbells for a single kettlebell incorporates many stabilising muscles to assist with balance. Hold the kettlebell in the rack position, close to the sternum, thumb towards you, and then press upwards with a 180-degree rotation. This variation will have the opposite glute, obliques and fellow ab muscles working overtime to keep everything balanced and in check.

Similarly, carrying out the Arnold Press while in a kneeling or split-kneel position encourages other stabilising muscles to get involved. Remember to keep the weights light here and don't hyper-extend the back to avoid injury.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.