What is an Arnold Press? (A bodybuilding guide)

What is an Arnold press?

What is an Arnold Press?

The Arnold press, named after legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger,  is a resistance exercise that primarily targets the anterior deltoids. 

The triceps are a secondary target and the lateral deltoids are also activated to a higher degree than with a standard shoulder press or front raise. The movement has become fairly common among the bodybuilding community over the past few years.

What do I need to perform an Arnold Press?

An Arnold Press is a simple movement and only requires a pair of dumbbells and a dumbbell bench. Due to the nature of the movement, it is not really possible to use a barbell, cables, machines or kettlebells. 

If you do not have access to dumbbells, you will have to settle for shoulder presses or front raises as an alternative.

How do I perform an Arnold Press?

Arnold press instruction

  1. Select your dumbbells. Start with a weight that you would find fairly easy to lift with a standard, overhead press.
  2. Sit on the bench with the dumbbells supported in front of you at shoulder height with palms facing you (as you would at the top of a dumbbell bicep curl).
  3. As you begin to press the weight upwards, flare the elbows and dumbbells out to the side and twist throughout the movement.
  4. At the top of the movement, your palms should have rotated 180 degrees and be facing away from you. 
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps and sets. 
Focus on strict form with slow, controlled movement and lighter weights rather than going as heavy as possible. Time under tension is the key to success with an Arnold press. 

What is the point of using an Arnold Press?

Some people view the Arnold press as a gimmicky exercise, but it does have many advantages over a standard press. A military press or any other overhead press primarily targets the anterior deltoids, whereas the Arnold press brings the lateral and posterior deltoids into action as well as the surrounding stabiliser muscles. 

Adding Arnold presses into your shoulder routine will lead to a wider and a more rounded shoulder, which in turn leads to better posture, strength and aesthetics. 

Arnold Press vs. Shoulder Press

The Arnold Press was made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger- which makes it even more popular. Some people might be hesitant to try the movement though because they are not aware of what exactly it is or how it works. 

The Arnold Press is an isolation exercise that specifically focuses on the shoulders. It involves raising weights from an overhead position to your shoulders and back down again in a continuous motion. 

This compound movement will tone the entire shoulder muscle group as well as help to shape, tone and strengthen the deltoids and triceps

The standard shoulder press is great for developing mass in the anterior deltoids and to a lesser extent, the lateral deltoids but too much overhead pressing without accessory movements will lead to uneven shoulders. 

The best shoulder workout will include heavy overhead pressing combined with Arnold presses, lateral raises and rear delt flys. By hitting all three deltoids with a combination of heavy load and isolation movements, you will get a fuller, rounder shoulder. 

Variations of the Arnold Press

Single-arm Arnold Press

The Arnold press is typically done with a dumbbell in each hand. It is possible to perform a single-arm Arnold press if you really want to connect with the target muscle and isolate it.

Set up as you would with a standard Arnold press but with just one dumbbell. With the unused arm at rest along the body, start pressing one dumbbell up with the same motion remembering to turn the dumbbell as you press.

The single-arm Arnold press primarily works the shoulders, with a secondary focus on the chest, triceps and anterior deltoids. 

It can also be effectively done using a cable machine with a stirrup attachment but it is a little trickier. Ensure that your back remains straight and there’s no excessive leaning to take pressure off your back.

If you find that standard Arnold presses are not very effective for you, give a single-arm Arnold press a go and see if you can feel more of a connection with the lateral delts. 

Just adding that slight sideways lean that a single-arm Arnold press allows you may make a difference.


The Arnold press is a great way to work your shoulders and get some serious gains. If you have not tried it before and you're looking for a new shoulder exercise to add to your routine, give the Arnold press a try.

We hope that you have found this article useful and that we have answered the question - what is an Arnold press? 

If you are looking for a hypertrophy program for bodybuilding, please check out our HyperGrowth strategy. 

HyperGrowth is a totally free bodybuilding program that uses a scientific approach to workout frequency and muscle repair. 

Click on the link below to check it out!

HyperGrowth bodybuilding split for hypertrophy

What is an Arnold press alternative?

Shoulder Press

Upright Row

Lateral Raises

Front Raises


Gymenix offers a selection of free training programs to suit all abilities and goals. Click on the links below for FREE access. 

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