Why Is Arnold Press Harder?

arnold press
September 23, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “why is arnold press harder?”. The arnold press is an exercise made famous by the great bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As Arnold himself describes it is like a hybrid of a shoulder press and lateral raise. As such you can’t go as heavy on this movement as you can on a normal shoulder press.

This article will explore the arnold press in detail. I will outline the reason why it’s harder and evaluate whether it is a good idea to include this exercise into your routine.

Why Is Arnold Press Harder?

Arnold press is harder than a standard shoulder press with dumbbells. This is predominantly due to the rotational component of the exercise. 

With the arnold press, you have to rotate the dumbbells inward on the way down under control. This requires using more stabiliser muscles and also working more smaller supporting muscles in the shoulder.

In addition, extra energy is expended during this phase of the arnold press. This means that you don’t have as much power when pressing. The arnold press also largely eliminates the stretch reflex at the bottom. This too serves in making the pressing portion of the exercise more challenging. 

Good For Hypertrophy

The arnold press is a great bodybuilding movement and it obviously lends himself more to bodybuilding. You can isolate your deltoids better with the arnold press and achieve more time under tension.

This is why this exercise is very good at building bigger and fuller shoulders. I would recommend a higher rep range of 8-12 for the arnold press. It is not designed for top end strength work like a heavy overhead press or heavy machine/dumbbell shoulder press. 

As the weight gets very heavy it becomes more difficult to rotate and bring the dumbbells down under control. It also becomes more risky and there is an increased injury risk. 

Works A Lot More Front Delt

The arnold press hits the front delts a lot harder than other dumbbell shoulder press variations. This is down to the positioning of the dumbbells in the bottom position.

With the arnold press the dumbbells are positioned more to the front of your shoulders than they are with standard dumbbell shoulder presses. It is a very strict way of isolating your front delts.

The standing barbell overhead press also works the front delts a lot. But there are a lot more muscle groups that come into play with that exercise to stabilise the weight.

Practical Uses Of The Arnold Press

As I have already explained, the arnold press works wonders for inducing hypertrophy in the deltoids. Therefore it is best suited for bodybuilding purposes.

I would advocate using the exercise to work the muscle as opposed to maximum strength. In my case, I like to do rep work and go fairly heavy at the same time. I would advise using the arnold press to pre exhaust the muscles as a warm up, or as a finisher at the end of a session.

Another good thing about the arnold press is that it involves the lats to a greater degree than other dumbbell shoulder pressing variations. When you rotate the dumbbells and bring them down under control you are working the lats a fair bit.

The arnold press also brings in the serratus anterior. This muscle helps to rotate the scapulae and overall is good for shoulder health. If your serratus anterior is weak it can increase the likelihood of suffering subacromial impingement. 

The fact that the arnold press works all the smaller supporting muscles in the shoulder is a good thing. As these smaller muscles get stronger, the integrity of the shoulder joint as a whole is improved. 

This means that the arnold press can be good for shoulder health long term. The caveat is that you shouldn’t treat this exercise as an all out power move. If you go ridiculously heavy on the arnold press, you are likely to lose control of the weight on the way down and increase the risk of injury significantly. 

There is a good table displaying strength standards for the arnold press. You can view it here.

arnold press

How To Execute The Arnold Press

Many people still execute the arnold press wrong. A common error is to lower the dumbbells down in the normal way and then rotate them at the bottom.

This serves no purpose and is not the way that the arnold press is supposed to be performed. The video below illustrates this point. You have to begin rotating the dumbbells at the top of the press. 

You can perform arnold presses from various angles. It is most common to see them being done on a bench setup for the shoulder press. However, you can do arnold press variations on the flat bench as well as various levels of incline.

Is It Worth Doing Arnold Presses?

As Arnold explained, the arnold press is a hybrid of a shoulder press and lateral raise. This begs the question – why not do normal shoulder presses and lateral raises separately?

By doing these two exercises separately, you can go heavier on each one and train with more intensity. This can also serve to increase your shoulder strength and induce hypertrophy.

Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages. Proponents of the arnold press will say that you can kill two birds with one stone, get the muscle under a lot of tension and build very muscular shoulders. 

Final Thoughts

Why is arnold press harder? The predominant reason is that the rotational portion of the movement on the way down expends a lot of energy. You have to lower the weight under control and lots of stabiliser muscles in the shoulder are activated.

Since there is less stretch reflex at the bottom, you won’t have the same strength on the arnold press as you have on a normal dumbbell shoulder press.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below! As always, stay safe and enjoy your training.

>> RELATED: Is it hard to overhead press your bodyweight?

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