The dumbbell military press (also known as the dumbbell shoulder press) is one of my favourite front deltoid exercises, and one which has yielded some of the best results for me in both strength and size.
Of course, traditionally, the military press is done with a straight barbell, but it can also be done with dumbbells which has some benefits as well as downsides, as I’ll discuss in this article.
First of all, let’s see how it’s done.
In a seated position, back straight (flush against a backrest, is preferable), take a dumbbell in each hand, and hold slightly to the front, and out to the sides of your shoulders – at shoulder height – with you forearms vertical, with your wrists pointing forward.
Now, press them upwards, bringing them together at the top, and slowly lower.
I don’t do it precisely like this. I start off with the dumbbells slightly turned inwards, and use a twisting motion when lifting up, and a reverse twisting motion when lowering. It just feels more comfortable for me to do it this way, and some even claim there are additional benefits in the slight twist.
What about the benefits and downsides of dumbbells vs. the barbell in military pressing?
As with most exercises, the barbell – because of its stability and the use of both hands/arms collectively – allows for greater weight to be used and greater weights is always the prime factor in muscle growth. Therefore, on that front, dumbbells aren’t as efficient.
However, dumbbells need to be controlled more, so this produces more nervous stimulation and involves more of the muscles in stabilizing them. In addition to this, you can hold and lift them in a way which is more natural to you, and finally, unlike the barbell, the weakest arm isn’t being carried by the strongest, so it forces each arm to work harder on it’s own to get more out of it.
It would be absolutely impossible to say which method is best, barbell or dumbbell, and that’s why I and any smart bodybuilder will always use both barbell and dumbbell variations of exercises.