Dumbbell Push Press Best Guide – Benefits, Muscles Worked and Technique

Welcome to the complete guide to the Dumbbell Push Press.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about how, why and when to perform this useful strength building and conditioning exercise.

What is the Dumbbell Push Press?

The Dumbbell Push Press is a standing double handed dumbbell exercise that uses full body power, strength and technique to drive the weight from the shoulders or front rack position to full extension overhead.

What Muscles Does the Dumbbell Push Press Work?

The exercise works a plethora of muscle groups.

Grip and Forearms

You must squeeze the dumbbell handles tightly when performing the dumbbells and this activates and strengthens the grip and forearms. With this movement, the wrist flexors and extensors stabilize the wrists throughout the exercise.

Over time the exercise will improve your grip and forearm strength significantly.

Woman doing Pull Ups
Improve your grip for all exercises ©Bastien Plu

Triceps

The triceps must be utilized to lock the dumbbells out overhead.

Traps

These muscles on the upper back and side of the neck help to stabilise the back and shoulders.

You must use them during the exercise to help generate explosive upper body force and balance the weights through the range of motion.

Delts

These muscles, located on the shoulders, are responsible for rotation and flexion of the shoulder joint.

They are important for the Dumbbell Push Press and generally speaking, the less you use the legs, the harder the delts will have to work.

Core

The core generates force and stabilises the upper and lower body during this exercise.

Additionally, the obliques, abs and spinal erectors all help to keep the spine in a safe, neutral position and protect it from hard.

A stronger core is always a great asset for any athlete.

The heavier the load, the harder your core will have to work.

Glutes

The largest muscles in the human body, the glutes will be tested and improved by this dumbbell exercise. They help to flex the hips during the descent portion of the lift and extend them on the way back up. This goes a long way to generating the necessary force required to hoist the dumbbells overhead.

Hamstrings

As you dip, the hamstrings bend the knees in a controlled way and work in tandem with the glutes to generate power and force.

A better power output from the hamstrings will also benefit your Deadlift and other posterior chain heavy exercises.

Quads

These large thigh muscles stabilise the knees and generate power as you rise, much in the same way as any other type of Squat.

What are the Benefits of the Dumbbell Push Press?

There are many benefits of this useful exercise.

Enhanced Upper Body Power

The Dumbbell Push Press helps you to augment your ability to generate power with the core and upper body.

Throughout the movement you must rack, balance and propel the dumbbells with precision and power.

To perform the movement correctly you must be able to generate force with the legs but transfer it through the core and upper body, often in exceptionally fatigued conditions.

All these aspects of the exercise will help you to enhance the ability of the upper body to generate power.

Unstoppable Conditioning

The Dumbbell Push Press is often featured in functional fitness and CrossFit® workouts as a conditioning tool.

It can’t be loaded as heavily as the barbell variation so the lower weight often means it ends up being programmed for conditioning.

If you want to build your engine, definitely consider adding this exercise into your training for higher or protracted rep ranges.

Better Pressing Strength

By understanding the different between the Strict Dumbbell Press and the Push Press variations, you can use them together for great effect.

Try maxing your Dumbbell Strict Presses to failure, then keep going with Dumbbell Push Presses to take your failure and gains to the next level.

Woman doing dumbbell push Press
Better pressing strength ©Bastien Plu

A Great Accessory Exercise for Lifters

If you are an Olympic Weightlifter or strength athlete then this is an effective movement to plan into your accessory work.

Use it after heavy overhead barbell work for the best results.

Good for Beginners

The lift is an excellent way for beginners to build up to the Barbell Push Press as the dumbbell variation is more joint friendly, easier to manage and less overwhelming.

Challenges Stability

Although it cannot be loaded as heavily as the barbell variation, the movement requires more stability to balance because there are two independently moving dumbbells.

This will help to sharpen up your core strength and coordination.

Identifies and Destroys Weaknesses

As a unilateral exercise it will show you exactly where you have muscular and mobility imbalances. For example, one side may be weaker or stronger than the other.

Once you uncover them, you can adapt accordingly to turn them into strengths.

How to Do the Dumbbell Push Press

Use the following instructions to perform the exercise with the proper form.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Grip a dumbbell in each hand. Rest the dumbbells on your shoulders with your elbows facing forwards
  • Your palms should be facing each other with a neutral grip
  • Inhale and brace the core, glutes and grip
  • Bend the knees and allow the torso to dip
  • Explode upwards with your legs. Push up through the heels. Feel the force travel through your body
  • Use the momentum to punch both arms upwards to full extension. Don’t lock out fully
  • Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position and exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Training Tips

Keep your feet flat on the floor at all times, don’t rise up onto your toes when pushing the weights upwards.

Maintain a neutral, straight and strong spine at all times.

Pay attention to your bracing and breathing. A tight torso is essential for the transference of power through the body.

Stay focused and move with care. You must control the weights properly at all times. Don’t let them crash back down onto your body.

Dumbbell Push Press and Training Age

According to James “Smitty” Smith, a strength coach and co-founder of the Certified Physical Preparation Specialist certification, the benefits you will receive from performing the exercise will be different depending on your training age

What is Training Age?

Training age is the amount of time any individual has been training for.  

Gains from the Dumbbell Push Press

“For beginners using very light weight, there’s a great conditioning benefit,” Smith says.

“When you’re new to lifting, you don’t have the strength to train very heavy. (The weight may feel heavy to you as a newbie, but 25-pound dumbbells, for example, won’t cause the same kind of overall fatigue and muscle damage that the 60-pounders a more experienced lifter can use will.)”

“Therefore, at this stage in your development, you’ll get more out of the push press doing it for high reps so that you challenge your endurance and conditioning.”

“As you use leg drive to get them overhead, the dumbbells feel weightless during that drive phase.”

“Your shoulders aren’t really doing much work, so the push press won’t blow them up, but banging out lots of reps that work muscle from your legs on up will burn lots of calories and make your heart race.”

“On the other hand, more advanced lifters who can handle beastly weights can build even more strength and power with the push press, as well as gain conditioning.”

“That leg drive enables them to use heavier weights than if they were doing a strict overhead press without momentum,” Smith explains.

“And when you’re lifting, say, 60-pound dumbbells, you’ll be training heavy enough to feel your shoulders pushing that load, regardless of the help they get from your legs. But your rack position is going to affect how much you can get out of the exercise.”

What Rack Positions Can You Use with the Dumbbell Push Press?

There are multiple different Rack Positions that you can use with the exercise.

What is the Rack Position?

“The rack position refers to the starting position of the push press, where the dumbbells are held at the shoulders while standing tall. This is the same basic starting position used for regular overhead presses, front squats, and many other moves that are derived from Olympic weightlifting (which the push press is), although there are a few variations of it.”

Rack Positions

Standard Rack Position

  • Neutral Grip, palms facing each other
  • Elbows facing forwards
  • Dumbbells parallel to the floor

Pronated Grip Rack Position

  • Pronated grip, palms facing forwards
  • Elbows facing to the sides (at an angle)
  • Dumbbells parallel to the floor

Dumbbell Push Press Variations

These variations will help to keep the exercise and your training fresh, fun and challenging.

  • Kettlebell Push Press
  • Barbell Push Press
  • Log Push Press
  • Viking Push Press
  • Sandbag Push Press

Alternatives

These alternatives produce similar training effects but switch to different exercise to keep your body guessing and your gains progressing.

Dumbbell Snatch and Kettlebell Snatch

Performed (generally) with light weight, this is another excellent power developing exercise.

Most of the power is provided by the lower body and the shoulder acts in a stabilising role. Technique is the key to this exercise.

The Wall Ball

Woman doing wall Balls.
Test your limits ©Bastien Plu

A great conditioning tool and way to tech the body how to generate explosive full body power from the ground up.

Pentagon-Bar Push Press

This unusual five-sided bar with rotating handles (think of the front half of a trap bar) fits into a landmine unit.

The load is perfectly balanced around your body and stabilised by the landmine unit attachment. This allows you to fully concentrate on feeling how to generate force.

FAQs

Still got questions? Scroll through our FAQs to find the answers.

Are Dumbbell Push Presses Good?

Yes, they are a great exercise to include in your training.

Although they seem to mainly focus on the upper body, they are in fact a full body exercise that also engage the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core.

Does Dumbbell Push Press Help Strict Press?

Yes, the Dumbbell Push Press can help Strict Press by building more explosive power and maximal strength that can be transferred over when performing the latter.

Is the Push Press Effective?

Yes, the movement is effective and works muscles in both the upper and lower body.

Muscles in the chest, triceps, shoulders, glutes, quads, and back are all recruited to help push the weight overhead.

Learn More

Build great abs with this movement or try the Decline Barbell Bench Press.

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