Cuban presses can be helpful but you may want other options. Discover some alternatives to this exercise with similar positive effects.
You can describe Cuban presses as a sequence of an upright row, an external rotation, and a shoulder press. This movement works all three parts of your deltoids (main shoulder muscle), scapular muscles, and trapezius
Cuban presses can be done both to warm up your shoulders and actually grow and strengthen the muscles above.
In turn, this means this movement can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, prevent shoulder pain, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy Cuban presses, you want to focus more on specific muscles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these Cuban press substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Arnold presses
For this first Cuban press alternative you will need dumbbells of the right weight. Once you have these, take the following steps to do an Arnold press:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand right in front of you at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing toward your body.
- Move the dumbbells upward by raising your upper arms and stretching your arms. Twist your wrists 180 degrees throughout the upward. At the top of the movement, you should stand straight up with stretched arms holding up the dumbbells with your hand palms facing forward.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion similar to how you pushed them up. This means twisting your wrists 180 degrees back.
Arnold presses have a slightly more narrow focus than Cuban presses. You will still work your rotator cuff a nice amount but the focus is more on the three parts of the deltoid muscles and the trapezius muscles.
During Cuban presses, the rotator cuff muscles are often the muscles that have the hardest time.
By choosing an alternative like Arnold presses where these muscles play a smaller role you are likely able to use heavier weights and in turn, work the other muscles more.
2. External rotations
You can use many different equipment options for this next exercise. To do the standing version you need a cable machine or resistance band with an anchor but you could also use a dumbbell to do the exercise lying down.
Take the following steps to do an external rotation with the cable machine:
- Set up the pulley of the cable machine at the height of your elbows if you stand upright and let your arms hang down. Select the desired amount of weight. Attach a one-handed cable attachment or just hold the end of the cable in the next step.
- Stand right next to the cable machine with one side towards it. Hold the handle/end of the cable with the hand farthest from the machine. Let your forearm follow the resistance of the cable machine for now. Keep the elbow of this arm at a 90-degree angle throughout the exercise and the elbow in the same position by your side.
- Slowly move the hand with the handle/cable away from the cable machine until you have rotated your forearm about 90 degrees. Another way to put it is until your forearm makes a 45-degree angle with the horizontal line of your shoulders.
- Move your hand back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
In Arnold presses the focus was less on the rotator cuff muscles and more on the deltoids. The opposite is the case in external rotations.
This alternative mainly works rotator cuff muscles like your infraspinatus and teres minor and to some extent the rear part of the deltoids.
Internal rotations will basically not work the front and middle part of your deltoids and trapezius like Cuban presses.
The specific focus of external rotations on these rotator cuff muscles can be both a benefit or downside depending on your training goals and personal situation.
3. Dumbbell shoulder presses
The next Cuban 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.
Shoulder presses mainly work the front part of the deltoids, triceps, middle part of the deltoids, and trapezius. To make shoulder presses as much of a Cuban press substitute as possible you would use one-handed free weights.
When using these you work other muscles like the rear part of the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles just a bit more to stabilize the weights in their upward motion compared to two-handed weights like a barbell.
4. Face pulls
For the next exercise, you preferably want to use a cable machine with a double rope grip cable attachment. Take the following steps to do a cable face pull:
- Set the cable machine at about the height of the bottom of your face, attach a double rope grip handle, and select your desired weight.
- Grab the handle in your hands, hand palms facing each other, with your face towards the anchor. Take a step or two backward with your arms stretched forward. Stand with your 2 feet at about shoulder width.
- Move your arms in a smooth motion towards a position where your upper arms are at a 90-degree angle with your body and your lower arms are pointing up and are at a 45-degree angle with your upper arms. Keep your feet in the same position and your back straight during the exercise.
- Slowly move your arms back into the position of step 2.
You can also use other fitness equipment like resistance bands for face pulls and to do a bent-over version, one-handed free weights.
Face pulls are another alternative with a focus that is more narrow than Cuban presses. This time the exercise mainly focuses on the rear deltoids, scapular muscles, rhomboids, and the middle part of the trapezius.
To train the front deltoids, middle deltoids, and triceps, you will have to choose some of the other exercises on this list.
5. Pike pushups
Pike pushups are another compound exercise that works a variety of balancing muscles. 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 mainly focus on your front deltoids, triceps, middle deltoids, and trapezius. This alternative works your rear deltoids and scapular muscles a tiny amount but definitely not to the same extent as Cuban presses.
One of the main benefits of pike pushups is that you can do them basically anywhere. In theory, you don’t need any weights.
Something to keep in mind is that in practice, pike pushups can become too easy to keep seeing muscle growth and strength progress. At this point, you have to make the exercise more challenging to keep seeing results.
To do this you can either wear a weighted vest or raise your feet by putting them on an elevated surface like a chair or a plyo box. These things make it so more weight rests on your arms.