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Shoulder press vs Arnold press: Which is better for strengthening the shoulders?
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Shoulder press vs Arnold press: Which is better for strengthening the shoulders?

While both exercises strengthen the deltoid muscles in the shoulder, choosing between the two depends on the injury risk associated with them
Arnold and shoulder press strengthen the deltoid muscles. However, the chances of injury are higher in the case of Arnold press due to its high range of motion
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Most fitness activities, ranging from power exercises such as the bench press and dumbbell pullover to sports such as basketball, swimming or cricket, involve extensive engagement of the shoulder muscles. When it comes to overhead hand movements, the deltoid muscles located in the shoulder compartment play an important role. Although they help in arm movement and stabilize the shoulder joint, they are also the least used upper limb muscles in day-to-day activities. They get activated only when people do overhead movements, which are extensively involved in sports and exercise.

The shoulder press is the go-to exercise for strengthening the delts; however, it has a variation called the Arnold press, named after the bodybuilding legend and Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While both exercises are effective in strengthening the delts, most gym-goers prefer the former. Nevertheless, experts say that the debate can be settled by considering their injury risks rather than efficiency.

Shoulder press vs Arnold press

The Arnold press involves a high range of motion, which could lead to injuries. Hence, experts advise people to stick to the shoulder press (also known as the dumbbell press), as it’s suitable for everyone irrespective of their fitness levels. “The Arnold press is an old-school pattern of exercise. However, it was later found that the chances of injury associated with it were higher,” says Pune-based fitness coach Bhagwan Rajpoot. “The exercise involves movement of the entire rotator cuff, due to which the ball and socket joint doesn’t remain stable, increasing injury risk. So, I always advise people to avoid the Arnold press, irrespective of their fitness level.”

While both exercises target the anterior deltoid muscles, contraction is higher in the case of Arnold press due to its increased range of motion. However, it should only be attempted by those who are at an advanced level of fitness. “In the case of Arnold press, the twisting of the shoulders creates load on the deltoid muscles along with other muscles and tendons in the joint,” says Kamal Bachwaliya, an ACE-certified fitness expert from Gurgaon. “If the exercise is done with improper weights or form, chances of a muscle pull in the rotator cuff are higher.”

He also adds, “For individuals who are into fitness, the shoulder dumbbell press is always recommended over the Arnold press. Even athletes or those at advanced fitness levels should only do the Arnold press occasionally as a variation.”

How to perform Arnold press

♦ Sit on a gym bench with the back straight and the core held tight.

♦ Hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing the body.

♦ Lift the dumbbells, smoothly turning the wrists. While lifting, the palms should rotate and end up facing away from the body.

♦ While lowering the dumbbells, turn the wrists again, putting the palms back in the starting position.

How to perform shoulder press

♦ Sit on a gym bench with your back straight and the core held tight.

♦ Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with your palms facing away from the body.

♦ Lift the dumbbells upward and extend until there’s a slight bend in the elbows.

♦ Lower the dumbbells down to the starting position.

♦ The wrists and the hand position should remain stable during the exercise.

Benefits of shoulder press

“In the case of shoulder press, the overhead movement increases shoulder stability,” says Rajpoot. “However, one should not lift more than the required weight and the hand movement needs to be smooth.”

Some important benefits of doing shoulder presses include:

  • The exercise boosts core strength along with improving shoulder stability and upper-body strength.
  • Shoulder presses help in improving posture.
  • They strengthen the triceps and biceps. In addition, training the anterior deltoids helps prevent injuries.

Takeaways

  • While both the shoulder and Arnold press strengthen the deltoid muscles, the chances of injury are higher in the case of Arnold press due to its high range of motion.
  • The Arnold press should only be performed by those at advanced levels of fitness. However, it should only be incorporated into the fitness routine occasionally as a variation.

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