Dumbbell VS Barbell Shoulder Press – Differences, Execution & Benefits

Having strong shoulders is really important to both developing an aesthetic, well-balanced physique as well as improving your athletic performance.

As these muscles are largely involved in all functional movements that strengthen the upper body, increasing their strength and power will directly help you lift heavier weights and thereby make bigger gains in terms of upper body development.

Besides that, since the delts surround your shoulder joint, having delts that look mighty from the front, side and rear will give you wider shoulders and help you nail down the V-taper look that’s highly regarded in all forms of bodybuilding.

To begin training your delts in an efficient way, you need to make sure to target all three heads of the muscle, which is best achieved through a routine comprised of an adequate combination of pressing, pulling and leverage movements. And the first and most important exercise you should use to properly exhaust your delts is the shoulder press.

This classic move is a staple of any solid shoulder routine and it will target all 3 heads of your deltoids, with emphasis on the anterior and medial portions, as long as you perform it with proper form and technique.

Dumbbell vs barbell shoulder press

The barbell shoulder press will allow you to handle heavier weights and build more strength and overall upper body size. The dumbbell shoulder press on the other hand will allow for a greater range of motion and better development of the shoulders. The stabilizing muscles are more involved during the dumbbell shoulder press as well.

Read the rest of this article to polish your shoulder pressing skills and get more out of this great exercise!

Deltoid Anatomy

As we mentioned, the deltoid muscle consists of three heads:

  • Anterior Deltoid: The front portion of your delts which can be felt flexing when you raise your arm up directly in front of you.
  • Medial Deltoid: The side portion of your delts which is engaged when you lift your arm directly out to the side.
  • Posterior Deltoid: The back portion of your delts which you can feel working if you start moving your elbow backward.


The anterior head will take most of the weight when the load is focused in front of your center of gravity, i.e. during the upward, pressing part of the should press, while the lateral head is here to help you lift your arms out and back, as well as maintain the balance of the overhead part of the movement.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press Execution

The great advantage of using dumbbells for the shoulder press is that it enables you to move through a greater range of motion. On the downside, due to the importance of maintaining balance and form throughout the movement, you’ll be able to handle less weight than you would with a barbell.

This restriction is not that important when you take into consideration that the use of dumbbells will help you correct muscular and strength imbalances that usually go unnoticed when performing the barbell variant of the exercise.

Here’s how to perform the dumbbell shoulder press:

  • Get a pair of dumbbells and position yourself on a vertical bench.
  • Have someone help you place the dumbbells in position above your head, or simply pick them up off the floor by cleaning them and bring them up to the starting position.
  • Start from the top of the movement with your arms straight and without locking out the elbows.
  • Bring the weight down in a slow and controlled manner until your arms become parallel with the ground and the dumbbells are in line with your head on both sides.
  • Pause for a second at the bottom, then press upwards, bringing your chest up and out a bit and bringing the dumbbells slightly closer together as you press them over your head without allowing them to touch.
  • Maintain a slight arch in the lower back all throughout the movement.
  • Repeat.


Proper Technique for the Barbell Shoulder Press

The barbell shoulder press requires less focus to be placed on maintaining balance and correct range of motion and allows you to use heavier weights, which makes it a crucial addition to the shoulder routine of anyone looking to gain serious mass in this area. Still, for an injury-free and maximally efficient execution of the exercise, your form and technique need to be spot on.

How to perform the barbell shoulder press:

  • Sit on a bench with back support in a squat rack. Grab a barbell with a pronated grip and hold it with a 90-degree angle at the elbows.
  • Lift the bar above your head until your arms are straight, then take a deep breath and start slowly lowering it down in a controlled fashion in front of you until it reaches just above your collar bone.
  • Press upwards until your arms are straight but don’t lock out your elbows.
  • Maintain a slight arch in the lower back all throughout the movement.
  • Repeat.



Regardless of your genetic make-up, a lot can be done to increase the impressiveness of your shoulders. If you train your shoulder complex intensely for a prolonged period of time, you can add inches to your shoulder width and grow full, 3D deltoids that will take both your upper body aesthetics and lifting capacities to the next level.

And the best way to begin broadening up your delts is by adding pressing movements such as the barbell and dumbbell shoulder press to your routine.

A good rule of thumb is to stick to rep ranges between 6 and 15 for hypertrophy and rep ranges below 5 for strength gains. Simply apply the technique tips discussed above and get your own pair of badass shoulders !

For the latest news and updates join our 1 Million fans on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Leave a Reply