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Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

How To Do A Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press And The 4 Best Alternatives If You Experience Pain

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1


seated dumbbell shoulder press muscles worked

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is an awesome exercise to help gain strength and muscles in the shoulder region.

Depending on your shoulder mobility, one variation might be better for you than another.  Also, if you experience any pain in your shoulders, make sure to find an alternative.


Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

The primary muscles being worked during a seated dumbbell shoulder press are the medial deltoid, the front deltoid, and the upper trapezius.

If you are looking to build bigger, broader shoulders or want to have them toned and defined, this movement is great for that.

The deltoid is the area that connects at your shoulder blades and the humerus (the side of your arm).

how to do seated dumbbell shoulder press

How To Do A Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench.  Once seated, get your back straight and pull your shoulder blades back.


  • Keep your core engaged by slightly lowering your rib cage and crunching your abs. This will help you from overarching during the movement.


  • Lift the dumbbells overhead and have a few inch gap between the two dumbbells.  This is your start and end position.  The dumbbells should never touch each other.


  • Slowly start lowering the weight until the dumbbells are about one inch away from the top of your shoulder.  It should take you about 2-3 seconds to lower the weight.


  • Once you’ve reached this point, press the dumbbells up to the starting position.


  • That’s one rep!

4 Alternatives To Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

With the classic seated dumbbell shoulder press, there are 3 variations of wrist position you can do.  Make sure to check out the video above to see what works best for you.

If you experience pain or want to try other alternatives, give these a go.

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This movement is the exact same as the seated variation but from a standing position.  The benefit of doing it this way is the extra core engagement that is required.  If you lift a pair of heavy dumbbells and don’t engage your abs, you’re likely to overarch your back and get hurt.

For this alternative, feel free to do it in a traditional position, Arnold presses, or neutral grip.

Personally, I prefer neutral as it’s a safer position for your shoulders.  For a fun standing variation, try the alternating dumbbell shoulder press.

One Arm Dumbbell Push Press

To make this a more dynamic movement from a standing position, and also to be able to lift heavier, turn your shoulder press into a push press.

To do this movement, slightly bend your knees and then explode out of it as your push the dumbbell overhead.

The biggest mistake I see people make on this is they bend their knees way too much.  You’re not squatting here!

Just a quick bend and snap!

Seated One Arm Dumbbell Push Press

From a seated position, use one dumbbell instead of two for extra core activation.

I like the one arm alternatives to seated dumbbell shoulder presses because it allows you to focus on your form on that specific arm.

When you’re lifting with two dumbbells and going heavy, it’s easy to lose track of form and just press the dumbbells.

Using one arm allows all your focus on that working arm so you can perfect the movement.

Split Stance One Arm Shoulder Press

To wrap up the seated dumbbell shoulder press alternatives, ditch the bench and put one knee on the ground for this exercise.

You’ll get the added core work and also a nice stretch on your hip flexor.  This muscle gets tight on a lot of people who sit all day so it’s a nice added benefit.


Does Shoulder Press Work All 3 Heads?

Depending on the variation, most shoulder press exercises target your front deltoid and your medial deltoid.  

To target your rear deltoids, pair your shoulder press movements with exercises like dumbbell bent over rear delt flys or band pull-aparts so you target all 3 heads.

How Many Sets And Reps Of Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press?

Guidelines for seated dumbbell shoulder press sets and reps for beginners and advanced trainees.

  • Choose a variation that you feel comfortable with and that you can perform with perfect form.  Full range of motion and pain free lifting is always more important than weight.
  • Perform 3 sets of 6 - 15 reps.
  • Rest 2 minutes after each set.
  • Find a weight that you leaves 1 - 2 reps in reserve.  This means that if you decide to do 12 reps, you should pick a weight that you can MAYBE squeeze out 13 - 14 reps but no more.

Are Dumbbell Shoulder Presses Safe To Do?

As long as you have good shoulder mobility and no pain while performing a shoulder press, they are safe to do.

Many people have desk jobs where they are rounded forward all day, leading to tightness and pain in their upper back, shoulders, and neck.

This tightness can lead to poor mobility with your overhead pressing that may lead to you compensating with other muscles and eventually getting injured.  

If this sounds like you, focus your shoulder work with more lateral raises like these variations.

Is Arnold Press Or Shoulder Press Better?

Between the Arnold press and shoulder press, the better variation is the one that feels good on your shoulders and the one you can do with perfect, pain free form.

If they both feel good, I recommend your classic shoulder press with a neutral grip position as this will be a safer movement pattern as you get older.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Recap

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is an excellent exercise to target your shoulders and upper traps. 

There’s a reason why it’s been a staple for many of the great bodybuilders over the last few decades.

When performed correctly, it can build your shoulders better than most exercises.

As always, be aware of your mobility and make sure to choose one of the alternatives if you can’t perform the classic movement with full range of motion.