Single Arm Overhead Press

How To Do A Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Press
By Alli McKeeFebruary 18, 2016

Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press Exercise

The single arm dumbbell overhead press is a great exercise for strengthening the shoulders. It also strengthens the core muscles, most notably, the anterior core.

Equipment needed:

A dumbbell is required to perform this exercise.

Ability level:


Beginners might want to start with the seated single arm overhead dumbbell press until they have achieved the appropriate levels of core stability. You can start out with an upright bench that has back support, and can then transition to a flat bench. If you lack the mobility to extend your arm overhead, until you achieve this necessary mobility, Landmine presses are a fantastic option that will allow you to achieve similar benefits to single arm overhead pressing but don't demand the same level of overhead mobility or technical ability. Beginners can also perform single arm overhead presses with a resistance band.


The single arm overhead press is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience and who have mastered some of the overhead press alternatives for beginners that are listed above. If an upper body pushing workout is being performed, lifters should place the single arm overhead press somewhere in the first half of their workout when their body is fresh. If a full-body workout is being performed, the db single arm shoulder press can be paired with a lower body compound movement, or an upper body pulling movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the single arm overhead press.


Women who are comfortable with the single arm overhead press may choose to use this variation as well as increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The single arm overhead press may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative presses and lowering the dumbbell in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement, they can perform pause presses where they pause for 3-5 seconds part way down, or at the bottom of the lift.

Benefits of Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Presses:

How a woman chooses to use a single arm dumbbell overhead press is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general single arm dumbbell overhead presses can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing upper body strength, primarily the shoulders
  • increasing core strength, particularly the anterior core and obliques
  • evening out muscular imbalances and asymmetries
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)

How to perform a Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press:

  • Stand with your feet so they are hip to shoulder width apart, and have a slight bend in your knees.
  • Make sure that your weight remains in the mid-back portion of your feet but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toes. This will improve your stability and strength, and ability to perform the exercise.
  • Grab onto a dumbbell. Position the dumbbell so it is just above shoulder height, and your palms should be facing ahead.
  • Before you press the dumbbell overhead, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (think about blocking a soccer ball with your stomach), gently tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), and squeeze your glutes. This will help keep your body stable and properly aligned.
  • After you initiate the movement and the dumbbell begins to move to an overhead position, exhale, and press the dumbbell overhead by squeezing your delts and extending your elbow, not by shrugging your shoulders, hyperextending your lower back and flaring your rib cage.
  • When you lock out at the top, your elbow should be fully extended, and your biceps should be close to your ears. Do not allow your shoulder to move up towards your ears. The weight should remain parallel to the floor and your palm should still be facing ahead.
  • Lower the weight with control and return to the starting position.
  • Reset and repeat.
  • This is proper overhead press form.
  • Do not cheat and use your lower body.

Video Transcription: 

When performing a single arm overhead press, it's absolutely critical that you are getting the range of motion where you should be getting it. Often times when people go to press overhead, if they lack adequate shoulder range of motion, they are going to compensate by arching their back or poking their head forward.  

For example, when you go to lift your arm overhead if your natural range of motion stops you here then in order to get your arm overhead your back is just going to arch and extend in order to give you the proper range of motion. When you go to press overhead it's really important to take a big deep breath in and blow your air out and brace your core. and then drive your arm up overhead.  I'm going to show you what it looks like.  

You pick the weight up properly, whenever you go to pick a weight up, you are going to make sure you are hinging back into your hip like you would during a deadlift and not rounding at the back.  I like to press overhead palm in, it's just a little bit more comfortable and safer position for the shoulder.  Here I am going to take a big deep breath in, get my rib cage down and brace my core. and then press overhead.  Once the weight is overhead you are going to keep your elbow close to your ear.  You want to lock your elbow out all the way and on the way back down you want to  think about almost rowing the weight back down with your lats. You press it up, keep it pretty close to your ear and you just don't want to let it come down, you want to really engage the lat and think about almost pulling the weight back down.  You are here, row it back down, here, row it back down.  


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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