If you’re a fan of punching the sky (whether with ’80s music or not), this is the perfect exercise move for you.
The dumbbell push press is a super-simple move that involves pushing upward from a standing position, using momentum generated by your legs. It’s easy to master and easier on your joints, but you can be sure it brings the heat.
Do it long enough and you’ll see increased upper- and lower-body strength, improved core stability, and an increase in overall athleticism and fitness.
Although it appears to emphasize the shoulders and deltoids, this exercise is in fact a full-body workout that engages your traps and triceps as well as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core. You’ll be feeling it all over when you’re done.
This move incorporates two dumbbells, which are both raised at the same time.
Dumbbell push press
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting the dumbbells on your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed directly in front of your body.
- Bend knees and dip torso directly downward. Exhale as you extend your legs, pushing up through heels and using the momentum to punch both arms upward.
- When arms are fully extended, the dumbbells should be directly over your feet. Make sure to keep both feet fully and firmly planted on the floor (don’t stand on your tiptoes).
- Hold the weights in the air for a breath before slowly lowering both back down to shoulder level as you prepare for the next repetition.
You can also do a single-arm dumbbell press, which focuses on one side of the body at a time, using just one dumbbell.
Single-arm dumbbell press
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, resting on your shoulder. Your elbow should be pointed directly in front of your body.
- Making sure to stay upright and not lean into the weight, bend knees and dip straight downward. Exhale as you extend your legs, pushing up through heels and using the momentum to punch the weight directly upward.
- When arm is fully extended, the dumbbell should be directly above one foot. Make sure to keep both feet fully and firmly planted on the floor (don’t stand on your tiptoes).
- Hold the weight in the air for a breath before slowly lowering it back to shoulder level as you prepare for the next repetition.
Whether you’re doing double- or single-arm presses, aim for 2 or 3 sets of 8–12 reps. Ideally, choose a weight that you can lift with no trouble but that leaves you fatigued by the final rep.
The weight you choose depends on your overall fitness level, but the average starting weight can be 5 to 10 pounds per dumbbell. As your strength improves, you can increase the weight in 2-pound increments until you reach that fatigue point.
While these three moves may look similar, they all serve different purposes and activate different muscles.
The dumbbell shoulder press
This move also starts in a standing position with two weights resting on your shoulders. But it differs from the push press in that your elbows are tucked against your sides instead of pointed out in front. And instead of bending your knees and engaging your lower body, you push the weights directly upward while you remain standing.
This puts much more strain on your shoulders, working your deltoids, traps, triceps, and upper chest while forgoing your lower body. So this move is not considered a full-body workout.
The thruster starts in the same position as the push press, with weights resting on your shoulders and feet hip-width apart. But instead of a slight dip, the thruster calls for a full squat, using the momentum of your rise to push the weights directly overhead.
While the thruster does count as a full-body exercise, it differs from the push press by giving more attention to your glutes, quads, and hamstrings and less to your upper body.
Dumbbell vs. barbell
The main difference is that two dumbbells can move independently, while a barbell cannot. As a result, dumbbells put equal weight on both arms, providing a more balanced workout.
The main thing to be sure of while doing any variation of this move is to keep your torso straight and both feet planted on the floor.
By keeping your torso rigid, you can develop balance while adding more power to the push. Keeping your feet stable gives you a firmer base and the ability to generate more upward momentum.
Also, be careful not to lock your elbows, and move in a slow, controlled fashion. We’re not looking for explosive energy here but for a well-controlled lifting and falling.