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Arnold Press Vs. Barbell Press

author image Kevin Rail
I am very genuine and magnetic on camera, and have made numerous videos on my own for clients and other organizations that I'm affiliated with. I also have a degree in Sport Management, and multiple certifications to back up my validity. I've also been featured in three different exercise infomercials and had a speaking role in a National Lampoons movie.
Arnold Press Vs. Barbell Press
A woman is doing lightweight dumbbell presses. Photo Credit Plush Studios/Bill Reitzel/Blend Images/Getty Images

Bodybuilders spend countless hours pushing and pulling weights to get their muscles taut and defined. Arnold presses and barbell presses make regular appearances in these workout programs. If your upper body is in need of a tuneup, add one or both of these exercises to your regimen. They come with certain distinctions.

Type of Weights

The Arnold press gets its name from four-time Mr. Universe winner Arnold Schwarzenegger. This exercise requires the use of two dumbbells. As the name implies, the barbell press requires a barbell. The barbell press also is referred to as a shoulder press and a military press. To increase the resistance with an Arnold press, you can just work with a heavier set of dumbbells. Changing the weight with a shoulder press is a little more involved. You have to slide weight plates onto the end of the bar and anchor them down with collars. A standard Olympic-style barbell weighs 45 pounds, and weight plates range from 2 1/2 to 45 pounds.

Execution of the Exercise

The Arnold press and barbell press vary in the way they are performed. The elbow and shoulder joints both get activated, but the movement pattern differs. To do an Arnold press, sit on a workout chair or the end of a weight bench and hold the weights an inch apart in front of your chest with your palms facing your body. Maintain an upright posture, squeeze your abs and start to move the weights above your head in an arcing motion. As you do this, turn your palms around. Continue to push the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended, your palms face forward and the weights are an inch apart. Slowly lower them to the starting position and repeat.

The barbell press is performed from a standing position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Begin by holding the bar at upper chest height with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and facing forward. Steadily push the bar above your head until your arms are fully extended and hold for a full second. Slowly lower the bar and repeat.

Muscle Recruitment

Since the elbows and shoulders both bend during the Arnold and barbell press, more than one muscle gets activated. The deltoids, trapezius and triceps are the main muscles worked. The delts are on the sides of the shoulders, the traps are on the top of the shoulder blades and the triceps are on the back of the upper arms. Due to the arcing motion of the Arnold press, you also recruit a small muscle near the shoulder blade called the supraspinatous. This is part of the rotator cuff, which also contains the infraspinatous, teres minor and subscapularis.

Position of the Body

Although the Arnold press typically performed seated, you can also do it standing up. In similar fashion, the dumbbell press can be performed seated. What separates standing and sitting is the margin of error. During a standing Arnold or barbell press for example, you can arch your back, swing your hips and get momentum to lift the weight. This is not possible from a seated position, especially when your back is braced against a back rest.

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