Building Schwarzenegger-Sized Shoulders With The Arnold Press

Building Schwarzenegger-Sized Shoulders With The Arnold Press

Arnold Schwarzenegger is arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time. Despite his large size and incredibly well defined appearance, his muscles were almost unbelievably rounded and full. If you’re working out to get big, there is no greater role model than ‘the Austrian Oak’.

At his peak he was known to have especially large shoulders and huge frame. This was in part due to the volume and frequency at which he trained. He rightly stated that no existing exercise worked all three areas of the shoulder – the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid and the posterior deltoid.

His dedication to the size and shape of his shoulders even led him to modify the basic overhead press, creating a new version that he is well known for, The Arnold Press. He created this exercise in order to work all 3 areas of the shoulders simultaneously by using an increased range of motion.

The Arnold Press is a very effective way of training the shoulders because it particularly stresses the lateral deltoid/medial head. This can often be underworked compared to the rest of the shoulder, which undergoes stress during bench press and push up type exercises. Developing the lateral deltoid will add an unmistakable thickness and width to your shoulders.

Execution of The Arnold Press

Step 1

Begin in a standing position with your elbows by your sides. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and raise the weights to shoulder level with your elbows bent and palms turned toward you.

Step 2

In a smooth motion, press the weights overhead. Avoid locking your elbows out. At the same time as you are pressing the weights upwards, rotate your hands so that your palms end up facing forward at the height of the press. Breathe out as you perform this movement.

Step 3

Briefly pause at the top of the lift then slowly reverse the movement. Breathe in as you perform this movement

Tips and Variations of The Arnold Press

This exercise must be done with strict attention to form for maximum effectiveness. In order to avoid potential injury you must avoid swaying the body and cheating.

While The Arnold Press is traditionally performed standing up, you can perform the movement sitting down with a bench providing back support. This variation of the lift can also be performed to ensure perfect isolation of the shoulder muscles. The seated variation is also the preferred method for people who may be suffering from lower back issues.

Why The Elbows Are Not Locked Out

Some bodybuilders will lock out the elbows and there are mixed opinions about when to perform lock outs (depending on the exercise and training method).

During the Arnold Press, the elbows must not be locked out. Locking out the elbows during a pressing movement increases the chance of hyperextension and injury. It also takes tension away from the shoulders, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the exercise. By not locking out the elbows you are isolation the shoulders for the entire duration of the lift.

Important Safety Advice

It’s important to consider that this is quite an advanced lift due to the increased range of motion, and the pressing and twisting movements that are performed simultaneously. Therefore, The Arnold Press is not recommend for beginners.

Because the shoulder muscles are relatively small compared to other muscles, they can be easily damaged during the rotating movement. Therefore, extra attention must be paid and if any shoulder pain is felt at any stage of the lift, movement must be ceased immediately.

Special attention must be paid to the rotation part of the lift. Take care not to over-rotate the dumbbells. Rotation in each hand must be done exactly simultaneously.

When learning how to do the Arnold Press you must take care and begin with light weights. Once you are used to the movement and can coordinate the pressing and twisting movement you can start to increase the load.

The Arnold Press must be not performed by anyone who is recovering from any type of shoulder injury or rotator cuff surgery. If any pain is felt during the lift it is recommend to stop immediately, and consult a doctor or physiotherapist before your next workout.

Arnolds Advanced Shoulder Workout

Arnold Press5 sets of 810 reps


Overhead Barbell Press4 sets of 68 reps
Upright Row4 sets of 810 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raise4 sets of 810 reps

Dumbbell Lateral Raise1 set of 50

The True Story of The Origin of The Arnold Press


A story that Frank Zane is fond of telling is that Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the inventor of the Arnold Press at all. The story is that Vince Gironda originally showed Larry Scott a rotational press that he had come up with: a combination of an overhead press combined with a flye. Larry Scott immediately recognized the benefit and put his own twist on the movement, naming it the Scott Press.

When Arnold came to America in 1968 Larry Scott showed him this new type of press, and Arnold also saw its benefit, renaming it ‘The Arnold Press’. But Larry himself was not bothered by his action. In his own words, he stated “call it what you want. Just do them. Great exercise”.

The movement itself has been traced back to the 1950s when Reg Lewis, the first man to win both the Mr America and Mr Universe competition was seen to be training in a similar fashion. He claimed that Steve Reeves (best known for starring in the movie Hercules) invented it. He may be right, however each bodybuilding legend has put their own style on it throughout the decades, renaming the exercise along the way.

In Conclusion

The Arnold Press is one of the only exercises known today that works all three heads of the shoulder simultaneously. When performed correctly, it will target your shoulders in a unique way adding the perception of width to your frame. Perfect form is absolutely essential to avoid injury and to take advantage of the increased range of motion.

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