Arnold Press (How It Trains the Rear Delts)

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A man performs Arnold Press with a yellow arrow pointing at his rear delts.

I used to avoid the Arnold Press out of fear that it wasn’t “enough” for my rear delts. Everything changed after I bought a Jeff Nippard program with this bread-and-butter compound exercise included as a staple.

The Arnold Press trains your rear delts through horizontal abduction and external rotation. These anatomical motions occur as you rotate the dumbbells from in front of your chest, out to the sides.

AP has a few notable benefits over the vanilla dumbbell press that have helped me build broader shoulders.

However, there is an optimal and less optimal way of doing it.

How Arnold Press Benefits Your Rear Delts

The Arnold Press heavily engages your rear delts to press and rotate the dumbbells from the eccentric into the concentric.

This emphasis on external rotation and horizontal abduction combined with pressing the weights overhead requires you to use less weight and focus on form.

In turn, this allows you to do more reps, which is great for working the rear delts’ slow twitch muscle fibers.

You won’t have to do as many rear delt isolation exercises in the same session either since they’ll likely be depleted after 3-5 sets in the 10-15 rep range.

They’re also going to get stretched contractions when lowering the weights to the starting position for greater muscle damage.

How To Train Your Rear Delts With Arnold Press

To train your rear delts with the Arnold Press:

  1. Stand upright with a neutral lower back.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand using a supinated grip (thumbs pointing outward).
  3. Hold the dumbbells in front of your chest.
  4. Breathe in and rotate your hands into an overhand grip to move the dumbbells out to the sides.
  5. Simultaneously extend your arms, pressing the weight above your head.
  6. Breathe out at the top.

Form Tips

  • Lower your hands in front of your chin to get a full range of motion in your rear delts.
  • Don’t touch the dumbbells together at the top.
  • Press the dumbbells as you’re twisting them upwards (one fluid motion).
  • Stack your wrists in line with your forearms.
  • Keep your chest tall and open (don’t hunch your shoulders forward).
  • Squeeze your glutes to prevent the lower back from rounding.

Common Mistakes and Fixes

  • Twisting upward too fast:

You may have a tendency to explode the weights upward or use momentum to complete the lift.

This is common when using weights that are too heavy or performing reps past muscular exhaustion.

To avoid impingement, recognize when your delt muscles have reached failure and end the set so the surrounding muscles and joints aren’t forced to compensate.

  • Lowering too fast:

If you lower too fast you can lose control of the weights, reducing tension on your rear delts or causing a muscle strain.

Count to 2-3 seconds (thousand one, thousand two…) in your head while lowering the weights to ensure a controlled eccentric tempo.

  • Not performing one fluid motion:

If you rotate the dumbbells, pause, and then press them overhead you’re going to lose tension on the rear deltoids.

The same goes for the lowering phase, if you lower the weights from overhead, pause, then twist them in front of your chest.

The entire sequence should be simultaneous without unnecessary stops during the mid-ranges of motion.

Only pause when you’ve completed the entire concentric or eccentric portion of a rep.

  • Dumbbells traveling away from the body:

When rotating the dumbbells downwards, gravity may try to pull your arms forward, causing a loss of solidity in your lower back and excessive internal shoulder rotation.

Focus on keeping your elbows tight to your body at the bottom and your wrists stacked with your fists pointed toward the ceiling.

Arnold Press Reps and Sets for Rear Delts

As I briefly touched on earlier, performing 3-5 sets for 10-15 reps of the Arnold Press will get those slow twitch rear delt fibers burning.

That’s just one option though, but also what I’d recommend starting with as you practice the form.

Once you’ve established good technique and you’re able to feel the rear delts working with the exercise, you can transition into using heavier weights for lower reps.

A good scheme is 2-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

That’ll activate more of their fast-twitch fibers for greater size.

Combining both high and low rep/set schemes with light and heavy weights is ideal.

Is Arnold Press Enough for Rear Delt Growth?

The Arnold Press is a great exercise to program as your primary compound movement in a shoulder or push workout.

When performed twice a week for 5-10 total sets using the aforementioned rep/sets it will be enough to grow your rear delts as long as you’re doing other push/pull exercises too.

However, it is fairly complex and takes time to learn.

So, if you have a weak mind-muscle connection in your rear delts you may want to opt for exercises that isolate this muscle such as reverse flies.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t still do the Arnold Press for rear delts.

But in this case, I’d suggest doing it after they’re pre-exhausted to make “feeling” and engaging them easier during the AP.

Arnold Press Sample Workout (Rear Delt Focused)

This is just one of many ways you can structure a shoulder workout with the Arnold Press

As I explained earlier, you could swap the order of the first two exercises to make sure your rear delts are primed for activation.

  1. Arnold Press: 4 sets x 12 reps
  2. Reverse Fly: 2 sets x 15 reps
  3. Side Lateral Raise: 2 sets x 10 reps

Swap the Dumbbell Press for the Arnold Press!

Anatomically speaking the Arnold Press is going to give you more bang for your buck when it comes to training the rear delts compared to the vanilla dumbbell press.

You need the rears to be up to par with the fronts and sides to build 3D shoulders.

So, if the vanilla version has been your main delt movement and you’re struggling to add that fullness, reconsider your exercise selection.

Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!