I'm going to expand heavily on the number of exercises articles here at Penandbarbell.com. In the near future there will be articles covering most relevant exercises. This will result in an exercise library that you can consult when in need of technique tips, inspirational ideas and exercise analysis.
The man Arnold Schwarzenegger needs no introduction, so I’ll skip straight to the topic of this article, namely the exercise that is named after him; the Arnold shoulder press.
Arnold was a very methodically working bodybuilder. He evaluated everything and he never staled. He was always his own leader at the gym. He learned everything that prior generations had assembled in the form of knowledge – but he always maintained a critical approach that allowed him to evolve and, at times, even innovate new exercises.
The Arnold press is a great example of how he took a traditional classic exercise – the dumbbell shoulder press – and evolved it into something new that he felt owned purpose and unique benefits.
Arnold liked to strive for maximal contraction. To achieve this one needs to first achieve maximal stretch. The better the stretch, the harder the contraction. This is something you can easily verify yourself by doing the following experiment: first try flexing your biceps as hard as you can starting with a 90 degree angle between the forearm and the upper arm. Put the fingertips of your free hand at the flexed muscle and memorize how it feels. Then relax before flexing once more – with the difference being that this time you start from a fully stretched position. You will most likely be able to feel the difference beneath your fingertips. The muscle contracts harder when you are using a longer range of motion. (As a side note: this is a strong reason to why the inclined biceps curl is a great exercise.)
This fact led Arnold to experiment with different exercises, in search for maximal stretch – and thus, maximal effort and contraction.
He started replacing the ordinary shoulder presses with Arnold Presses in order to achieve a longer motion, which allowed him to hit the front and side shoulder muscles (two out of the three parts that make up the shoulder) harder and more effectively.
The exercise can be performed both seated and standing. The difference is significant. When performing it standing you will want to go with rather light weights (probably lighter than you think…), in order to keep perfect balance and technique. If you have any kind of lower back problems I strongly recommend that you stick with the seated version.
Start the lift in a position resembling the end position of a biceps curl. In other words, hold the dumbbells in front of you with the palms facing you. Then press the weights up above your head, while rotating the hands, so that in the upper position the palms will be facing away from you (like in any ordinary overhead press).
Don’t go all straight in the elbows - stop while there is still some bent to them. Then lower the weight while rotating back, so that you find yourself back in the starting position. Remember to keep an athletic stance throughout the lift, keeping the chest high, proud and strong.
You will probably want to go with somewhat lighter weights than the ones you would use in an ordinary shoulder press - even in the seated version. This is due to the longer range of motion. You are actually lifting the weights a longer way, which will demand more of you, both in terms of energy and strength. Furthermore, in order to really nail the technique, you want to keep the tempo rather slow, which will also underline the need to go rather light.
My own thoughts about this exercise
I really like the Arnold press. I feel there is good precision to this exercise. In fact, it could easily have made it to my article on 5 exercises with precision. I don’t involve them into every shoulder session, but they are still rather common in my routine. I often mix them up with traditional shoulder presses, alternating between the two during the same workout session.
I actually prefer the Arnold presses to the often celebrated Military press, due to the already mentioned precision and to the fact that I often feel myself able to achieve a rewarding pump when going with the Arnold presses. I most often opt for the seated version. The standing version is more of a surprise event for me.
If you haven’t tried the Arnold presses I strongly recommend it!