Arnold presses offer some unique positive effects but you may not like them. Discover some exercise alternatives with similar benefits.
Due to the extra wrist rotation involved, Arnold presses are one of the few exercises that give all three parts of the deltoids (the main shoulder muscle) a good workout.
Besides other Arnold press benefits, this exercise can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and improve your posture.
Whether you don’t enjoy Arnold presses, you want to focus more on certain muscles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to Arnold presses can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you don’t have dumbbells, you may be able to use other weights like wrist weights or kettlebells for Arnold presses.
1. Cuban presses
The requirements of the weights for Cuban presses are not as precise as for Arnold presses but you do want a relatively mobile type of resistance.
Take the following steps to do a Cuban press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand right in front of you with your arms hanging down and hand palms towards your body.
- Move the dumbbells upward in a controlled motion by raising your upper arms until your upper arms are horizontal or slightly lower. Keep the dumbbells close to your body throughout the upward movement.
- Keep your upper arms at the same angle while rotating them so that the dumbbells move upward.
- Slowly move up the dumbbells until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Repeat the same steps in reverse.
Similar to Arnold presses, Cuban presses engage all three main parts of the deltoids. Additionally, Cuban presses work your rotator cuff muscles a good amount.
You can do Cuban presses both as a warm-up or to build muscle. Before you go to heavier weights make sure you are able to do the exercise right with lighter weights.
2. Shoulder presses
The next Arnold press alternative is one of the most popular compound exercises for growing shoulder muscles. Take the following steps to do a shoulder press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the dumbbells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The shoulder press is a versatile exercise with many variations and resistance options. You can use other fitness equipment options like kettlebells, a cable machine, a barbell, a smith machine, resistance bands, etc. too.
You can do shoulder presses instead of Arnold presses if you are mainly interested in working the front and side parts of the deltoids. Additionally, shoulder presses will help you work muscles like your triceps and trapezius.
Shoulder presses don’t really engage the rear deltoids but many people consider this to be a safer shoulder exercise than Arnold presses.
3. Pike pushups
Regular pushups are a compound exercise mainly focused on your chest muscles. By changing the angle of the pushup you can shift the focus more to your shoulder muscles which makes it a decent Arnold press alternative.
A benefit of this option is that you can do it at home without any equipment. Take the following steps to do a pike pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands at about shoulder width.
- Move your hips in the air so that your body makes a triangle together with the ground. You likely have to lift up your heels in the air and lean on the front of your feet.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at your upper body from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the pike position of step 2.
Pike pushups are not the most beginner-friendly exercise out there. Make sure your arm strength and balancing skills are at a sufficient level.
If needed, ask for help from someone to stand next to you to help out if you lose your balance, better safe than sorry.
On the other hand, pike pushups can also become too easy. At this point, you can start wearing a quality weighted vest or (safely) elevating your feet to keep seeing muscle growth and strength progress.
Pike pushups are another substitute for Arnold presses that works many of the same muscles. This includes muscles like your front and middle shoulder muscles, triceps, chest muscles, and trapezius.
One potential downside of pike pushups is that you lack the rear deltoid engagement from Arnold presses.
4. Bent-over rear delt fly
For this next exercise, you can use a wide variety of one-handed shoulder workout equipment options like dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, a cable machine, etc.
Take the following steps to do a bent-over rear delt fly with dumbbells:
- Start standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, your body upright, and one dumbbell in each hand with your hand palms facing each other. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- While keeping your back straight bend your knees and slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground while keeping your posture good. Let gravity do its work on your arms so that they point vertically to the ground.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side until they are at shoulder height.
- Move the dumbbells back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Other ways to do the rear delt fly include seated bent-over, while lying stomach-first on an incline bench, or standing up with a cable machine or resistance bands.
One potential downside of many compound shoulder exercises is that they don’t really work the back part of the deltoid muscles. Luckily, Arnold presses are not the only exercise that can help you with this.
The bent-over rear delt fly is an alternative example that works the same part of the deltoid muscles.
If you then add something like regular shoulder presses into your workout plan, all three parts of the deltoids will get some attention.
5. Lateral raises
For the next Arnold press alternative, you need some type of one-handed resistance. Take the following steps to do a lateral raise with dumbbells:
- Start standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, your body upright, and one dumbbell in each hand. Your hand palms should face your body. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side until your hands are at shoulder height.
- Lower your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The lateral raise is a shoulder isolation exercise that engages your middle deltoid muscles. This narrow focus compared to Arnold presses can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your training goals.
6. Half-kneeling landmine presses
For this next exercise, you need a landmine setup. This is an attachment that secures a barbell at the ground level. The landmine setup opens the door to exercises like the half-kneeling landmine press.
You preferably also want a soft mat to put your knee on during the exercise. Take the following steps to do a half-kneeling landmine press:
- Set up the landmine with the desired number of plates. Sit on one knee in front of it, your other foot on the ground for stability, with your face toward the landmine.
- Grab the end of the barbell with one hand with a neutral grip so your hand palm points to the center/upward. The upper arm of the hand with the barbell points slightly forward. The arm is about fully folded and the hand with the barbell is close to your shoulder.
- Slowly move the barbell up until your arm is slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the barbell back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Half-kneeling landmine presses are similar to shoulder presses, one of the previous substitutes.
One difference is that half-kneeling landmine presses focus on one side at a time. This can help you avoid or resolve muscle imbalances.
Compared to Arnold presses, half-kneeling landmine presses will focus more on the front part of your deltoid muscles and less on the back part of your deltoid muscles.
You may need to do rear delt exercises in addition to half-kneeling landmine presses to avoid things like hunched shoulders.