The Arnold press is a move designed to smash all three heads of the shoulder named after a muscle-building legend. The exercise is iconic—but are you sure you’re even doing it correctly?
For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it targets such a potentially delicate part of your body. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the Arnold press’ subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you pick up your dumbbells and start rotating your shoulders, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the movement here. Your positioning and posture are essential to recruiting the right muscles and keeping your shoulders safe—so let’s break down everything you need to know.
Eb says: The Arnold press is a great move for hitting the shoulder all-around, but, as its generally done, it does place your shoulder at slight injury risk. You’re rotating into the internal rotation as you press up, a combination that can potentially limit the joint space between humerus and clavicle.
To avoid this, but still get the full benefit of the Arnold, stop just short of finishing that rotation. Rotate only until your palms are at about a 45-degree angle with your torso, essentially rotating into a standard shoulder press position, then finish pressing up. You’ll be exhibiting more overall control over the rotation phase of the Arnold, and then get to drive up with your delts aggressively and naturally.
Kneel and Deliver
Eb says: Arnolds, like all shoulder presses, can be done seated or standing. There’s also another alternative: The tall kneeling position. And this position may be the best for shoulder-pressing in general.
Why? Because it’s going to keep you from one of the key flaws in all shoulder presses, a tendency to shift stress to the lower back. Normally, when we shoulder press, especially as we work with larger weights, we arch either from the lower back or through the mid-back, especially if we lack true overhead mobility. That lets us move more weight.
By getting in a tall kneeling position, you’ll be forced to more aggressively squeeze your glutes and abs. That’ll take the strain off your lower back and help you organize your spine better. You may need to work with a lighter weight, but you’ll get a better overall press out of it.
Take Your Time
Eb says: Don’t rush through Arnold press reps. The strength of the Arnold is how it lets you blend rotation and hit every part of your delts. Rushing or being overly explosive through the motion detracts from that. Then you wind up using momentum and the initial energy you create to power through the rest of the motion, missing the phase where you rotate and rely on the lateral heads of your shoulder, for example.
You also risk dropping too low as you return to the start or landing in poor shoulder blade positioning. Think two seconds up, two seconds down on every rep. You may need to go slightly lighter, but your body will thank you for the time-under-tension.
Use The Kettlebell Option
Eb says: Kettlebells are a great way to get an Arnold press effect in ultra-safe fashion. If you have access to them, use them. The classic front rack is actually essentially the start position of an Arnold.
But the best part happens at the end. When using a kettlebell, you can rotate higher, partly because the center of gravity of a kettlebell essentially guides your shoulders into optimal positioning and helps you find true shoulder flexion. Give it a try if you have the access.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.