The Arnold press is a classic exercise used to build cannonball delts. It’s also a relatively shoulder-friendly way to overhead press.
The movement loads your delts through a large range of motion while maintaining good joint alignment and rotator cuff health. But can you make it even better?
Yes. Just keep your elbows away from your ribs and use the “constant tension alternate method.” Like this:
- Use a vertical or high incline bench. Generally, the more barrel-chested you are or the more you puff your chest out when shoulder pressing, the more vertical you want your bench to be in order to target your delts.
- Start with the dumbbells at the bottom of your Arnold press with palms facing towards your head. Keep your elbows up slightly and away from your ribs.
- Keeping one dumbbell at the bottom, press the other fully overhead.
- Do not simply twist the dumbbell while pressing straight up. As you press from an underhand to overhand grip, allow your elbow to come out towards the side and then up.
- Reverse the motion and repeat on the other side.
- Don’t let your elbows drop at any point. Keep tension for the entire set.
Why It Works
The majority of lifters aren’t getting the most out of their Arnold presses. For better results, keep your arms away from your torso instead of letting your elbows drop in towards your ribs at the bottom.
With your elbows further in, you have a greater mechanical advantage which allows you to lift more weight. While you’ll undoubtedly look stronger doing this, the mechanical advantage will shift weight AWAY from your delts and rob them of tension. You’ll actually be getting more out of less weight if you keep your elbows up slightly.
The constant tension alternate method can be done with a bunch of different exercises, but it works particularly well for your delts. Just keep a static position with one limb while the other limb moves dynamically. This method works best when the static limb is held in a position where tension is high.
For example, it’s easier to hold the dumbbell at the top of an Arnold press because of the vertical direction of the load and leverage factors. When held statically at the bottom and with your elbows kept away from your ribs, tension is kept high.
Doing Arnold presses in such a way helps to create an occlusion-like effect, enhancing the release of various local (IGF-1, mechano growth factor) and systemic growth factors (HGH).
Because of the unilateral element, you’ll also get an enhanced neural drive, meaning more motor unit recruitment and force production as compared to using both arms at the same time. More metabolic stress and mechanical tension means more growth.
Use this variation as your primary or secondary shoulder builder. Go heavy, but not so heavy it compromises tension and technique. Very broadly, 3-4 sets of 12-24 reps, alternating sides, works well for hypertrophy.