What Muscles Does an Arnold Press Work?

If you've ever seen someone doing shoulder presses at the gym in a seated position while rotating their arms back and forth when transitioning from the bottom to the top of the motion, this is known as the Arnold press.

The Arnold Press has become a staple in the bodybuilding world, and of course, it was popularized by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.

So, what muscles does Arnold press work, how do you do one properly, and what are its benefits?


What Is an Arnold Press?

The Arnold press is a variation of the dumbbell shoulder press. Unlike a regular shoulder press, here you start with the dumbbells infront of you with your palms facing your chest. You then rotate your arms out and press like a regualr shoulder press.

This helps to engage a wider range of muscles in your shoulders and arms to deliver a more comprehensive exercise.

We will take a closer look at exactly how to perform an Arnold press further below, just so you know what you're getting into.


What Muscles Does Arnold Press Muscles Work?

Arnold Press Muscles Worked

To help you decide when to incorporate Arnold press into your workouts, it's a good idea to fully understand the muscles worked by the movement.

So we will now have a look at the main muscle groups engaged when performing this exercise.



Arnold press is primarily a shoulder exercise so your deltoids take most of the load.

The deltoid muscle has three different heads, the posterior or rear, the middle or lateral, and the front or anterior heads.

Each of these muscle parts is responsible for helping you to lift your arm and rotate it at the shoulder.

The Arnold press is effective at targeting all three of these deltoid heads because of that rotational movement.

Your posterior and lateral deltoids are activated mainly during the rotation, whereas your anterior deltoid is engaged heavily during the pressing phase. Of course, having strong shoulders is important for a variety of reasons.

Related Post: 8 Rear Delt Exercise Ideas


Upper Back

The upper back, particularly your trapezius muscles, are also engaged to a high degree when doing the Arnold press.

This is because trapezius muscles help to stabilize your upper back and move your shoulder blades. They also help to support your arms.

These muscles are required to keep your arms and shoulder blades stable during the Arnold press.

Overall, having strong trapezius muscles helps to improve your posture and reduce the risk of suffering shoulder injuries.

Related Post: 4 Trap Exercises to Build a Strong Back and Shoulders



Your triceps, otherwise known as the triceps brachii, are also engaged to a high degree when doing the Arnold press.

Your triceps are required to extend your elbow to push up and forward.

When you press the weights upward during the don't press, it's your triceps doing a lot of the work. As far as pushing movements are concerned, your triceps are vital.


Rotator Cuff

There are four main muscles in your rotator cuff, and they help to stabilize your shoulder joint. They also help with arm rotation.

When you are doing the rotational action during the Arnold press, it engages all four sections of your rotator cuff muscles.

The point here is that they help you stabilize your shoulder during the movement. Having strong rotator cuff muscles is important for a variety of reasons, with reducing the risk of shoulder injuries being one of them.



Although it might not be the first muscle that people think of the Arnold press working, the biceps do play a certain role here.

Your biceps are required for forearm supination and elbow flexion, both of which happen during the initial lifting phase of the Arnold press, as well as during the rotational movement.


The Core

Whenever you do some kind of overhead press, you also need to engage your core to keep your upper back and lower back straight.

Your core, including your transverse abdominis, your obliques, and your rectus abdominis, help to keep you well supported.

This is especially the case if you happen to do standing Arnold presses, where you engage your core to a much higher degree.


The Benefits of Doing the Arnold Press

Now that we know what all of the different muscles are that are worked out by the Arnold press, let's take a closer look at what the various benefits of doing so are.


Shoulder Growth

Shoulder Growth

Perhaps the biggest benefit of doing the Arnold press regularly is that it helps to develop your shoulders and is why it's a popular exercise amongst bodybuilders. 

Like we said before, the Arnold press targets all three heads of the deltoid, therefore allowing for a balanced shoulder development.

If you have balanced shoulders, not only do you reduce the risk of injuries, but you also look much better and more rounded at the same time.

In fact, the Arnold press is one of the best possible exercises if you want to workout all three heads of your deltoids at once.

Related Post: What Muscles Does Overhead Press Work?


Improving Shoulder Stability

The next benefit that you get from doing the Arnold press on a regular basis is that it helps to engage your rotator cuffs.

As we mentioned above, your rotator cuff muscles are very important for keeping your shoulder joints stable.

Without strong rotator cuff muscles, you run the risk of injury. Your rotator cuff muscles are also important for everyday movements.


Building Strength and Fitness

Building Strength and Fitness

By far one of the biggest benefits of doing the Arnold press is that it helps to strengthen your upper body, and to a very high degree.

Your trapezius muscles, deltoids, triceps, and biceps all take part in the Arnold press and therefore get worked out.

Having a strong upper body is important for a variety of reasons, both in sports and for functional everyday movements.

The fact of the matter is that the Arnold press actually mimics several different movement patterns that you perform in your everyday life, and therefore this exercise helps to improve your overall functional fitness.


Building a Stronger Core

The next benefit that you get from doing the Arnold press is that it engages your core muscles to a high degree, and therefore helps build your core strength.

Although many people don't like to admit this, having a strong core is essential for many different types of lifts. This is especially the case as far as injury reduction and prevention are concerned.


How to do The Arnold Press: Step-by-Step

How to do The Arnold Press: Step-by-Step

Now that you know what all of the benefits of doing an Arnold press are, let's go over a step by step tutorial on how to do one properly.

  1. Start by putting a bench in an upright position to provide you with ample back support. Also choose dumbbells of an ideal weight for your fitness level.
  2. To start the Arnold press, sit against the bench while pressing your back firmly against it.
  3. Place one dumbbell in each hand with the dumbbells in front of your shoulders and your palms facing your body. It should look like you are at the topmost position of a bicep curl.
  4. Before you start the lift, make sure to tighten your core to help support your spine.
  5. To perform the Arnold press, start pressing the dumbbells upwards while rotating your palms simultaneously so that they end up facing forward when you get to the top of the lift.
  6. At the top of the lift, make sure that your elbows are fully extended, but don't lock them out, as this can be dangerous. For maximum muscle engagement, pause at the top of the position for a few seconds.
  7. You then want to lower the dumbbells back down in the same way that you raised them, rotating your palms so that they end up facing you at the bottom of the lift.


Tips for Doing the Arnold Press the Right Way

To help keep you safe and to make sure that you get the best results out of your Arnold press, let's go over a few quick tips.

  • Always maintain a neutral spine during this exercise. Do not arch your lower back.
  • To prevent injury, make sure that the rotational action is very controlled and smooth.
  • Make sure to inhale before lifting and then exhale while you press the dumbbells over your head.
  • Make sure to do a variety of warm up exercises, particularly for your rotator cuffs.
  • It's always better to master form before you start tacking on the weight, so start with some pretty small dumbbells.
  • When you are at the top of the lift, it's important that you don't hyperextend your lower back. You also don't want to lock out your elbows.


Rounding Up

What Muscles Does an Arnold Press Work?

At the end of the day, the Arnold press is a fantastic exercise to do to strengthen a variety of muscles in your upper body, with your trapezius, lats, biceps, and triceps all being at the forefront.

If you do the Arnold press properly, not only will you build stronger shoulders, but bigger and more well-rounded ones too.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.