The 1-Arm Overhead Press is one of my personal favorite weight lifting exercises.
The barbell overhead press is one of the 7 core weight lifting exercises that you'll find in all the weight lifting workouts here at WLC, and the 1-Arm Overhead Press is one of the acceptable substitutes for the overhead press core exercise. It's more than acceptable!
Any overhead press movement targets the shoulders or deltoids and also works the entire upper body.
You can easily argue that the overhead press exercise is the best upper body exercise. The bench press, row, dip, and chin up will be in the argument too. All of these weight lifting exercises are amazing.
If you're looking to work on your upper body, the overhead press is an exercise you must include. It's going to work the shoulders, upper chest, upper back, and especially the triceps. If you want to build nice arms, the triceps are very important in doing so.
No matter what, some form of pressing weight above your head vertically should always be included in your exercise routine. It's really that important to your health, functionality, and to looking better.
Taking Stress Off the Lower Back with the 1-Arm Overhead Press
Taking stress off the lower back is reason enough to give this exercise a shot.
When you're trying to include many different compound weightlifting exercises in your workout, stressing your lower back less overall is very important. This allows you to use more compound exercises and to get better overall results.
Keeping so much stress off the lower back is HUGE when it comes to weight lifting. You can't include a huge number of compound weight lifting exercises each workout that stress the lower back. Trust me… it won't work!!!
Including many different compound weight lifting exercises in your weight lifting program is a key to getting amazing results BUT many times you cannot due to lower back stress.
The 1-arm overhead press is going to help keep stress off your lower back compared to the barbell overhead press. This is just 1 reason I love this exercise.
I am also always looking for exercises that put you in a better mechanical position as this allows you to overload the muscle group safely with a very low risk of injury. This allows you to make continuous progress, and that's exactly what you want.
This also allows you to lift even heavier weight which does special things to your body. You'll look better and better when you find exercises that allow you to lift heavier weights.
Equipment Required for the 1-Arm Overhead Press
Another huge advantage to the 1-arm overhead press is the minimal amount of equipment required.
All you need for this amazing weight lifting exercise is a single dumbbell, and that's it.
Unlike the barbell overhead press, you won't need a power rack or a squat rack to hold the weight before you're ready to perform your next set. You won't need a barbell and weight plates either.
Just a single dumbbell with your choice of weight, and you're ready to do the exercise. Very quick and very easy. There's no changing weight plates around. Just grab the dumbbell with the weight you're using for this workout and do the 1-arm overhead press.
It's that easy.
One issue that you're going to find when you start lifting heavier dumbbells is jumping up 5 pounds per dumbbell is going to get tough. For example, an increase from a 45 pound to a 50 pound dumbbell is a HUGE increase for just 1 side of your body.
One of my secret methods for fixing this is to add a small fractional plate to the edge or edges of the dumbbell to make smaller weight increments between dumbbells. For example, you could add a 1.25 pound fractional plate to both edges of the 45 pound dumbbell to get a 47.5 pound dumbbell.
This allows you to continue increasing the weight by small amounts. Increasing by small amounts helps you to gain strength faster. When you try to make a huge jump in weight, you may fail much earlier than your target number of reps for that exercise.
Another method if you don't have any fractional plates is to do a few additional reps above your target number of reps with the lower dumbbell before you make the huge 5-pound jump.
You Can Correct Muscle Imbalances
Since you're going to be doing 1 arm at a time, this allows you to focus in on one side of your body at a time.
This allows you to correct any muscle imbalances in both strength and size. If one side of your body is stronger or larger, you can catch the other side of your body up rather quickly with 1-arm exercises. With a barbell, the stronger side will take over to help you complete each rep.
By using exercises that force each side of your body to work independently, you can easily correct any weaknesses in your physique.
If you have a weakness, you'll correct it very quickly.
I'm a HUGE fan of weight lifting exercises that allow you to work each side of your body in this way. 1-arm dumbbell rows are another example and another one of my favorite weight lifting exercises. 1-legged standing calf raises are a great way to even up those calves too!
Puts You In a Better Mechanical Position
When I perform the 1-arm overhead press versus the barbell overhead press, I can feel a huge difference in the mechanical position and advantage I have with the 1-arm overhead press.
I know that I can lift more because of this advantage I have in mechanical position.
One of the issues goes back to lower back stress… I instantly feel that I can lift more without putting my lower back in a stressed position. I can also use my body for extra help in completing each rep.
The same advantage occurs when doing 1-arm dumbbell rows versus barbell rows.
If you know me, I am not a huge fan of very strict form on many weight lifting exercises. I don't believe that you have to be perfectly strict in every exercise as I just don't think we were created to stay in a strict position while we are lifting a weight.
In every day life when we're doing physical work, we're not going to be in perfect balance. It's rather ridiculous to think that we would be.
We were created to use our entire body to lift a weight. There's no reason to stand perfectly straight and not move another muscle or limb while you are pressing a weight overhead. This is just silly.
We were made to use our body as a unit. You'll get stronger overall, you'll be able to lift much heavier weight, you'll be able to overload muscle groups, and you'll have less injuries in real life situations because you'll be using your entire body to get stronger on exercises and not lift like you're a machine that can't move any other muscle in your body except for the “target” muscle.
The 1-arm overhead press is a full body weight lifting exercise and NOT just a shoulder exercise. Treat it that way. Use the mechanical advantage to your benefit and lift heavier weight with this exercise.
Don't be so rigid that you can't move a hair when you are lifting weights. Use your body.
Another great thing about this amazing weight lifting exercise is that it improves your balance and works the core of your body very, very well. Your abs will grow stronger and look better than ever when using this exercise.
A Couple of 1-Arm Overhead Press Exercise Videos
I don't agree 100% with the instructions given in these videos, but at least it gives you a good idea of what the exercise looks like. Again, I don't agree with standing perfectly straight and looking like a robot during every rep. I'm not sure where this comes from, but it's probably some personal trainer course from some so-called “expert” organization.
Notice that you can also use kettlebells or any other form of resistance including dumbbells, resistance bands, etc as shown below:
I do like to twist the dumbbell on the way up and start at a much lower position with my palm facing more towards my chest than away from my chest. I then rotate the dumbbell upwards.
I also make sure to keep the weight in line with the center of my body which might make it feel like the dumbbell is behind your head at the top position.
And I do use my full body to lift the weight. I don't do anything crazy, but I don't stay extremely strict and look like a robot.
If I need to use my legs slightly to give me some momentum when increasing the weight to a new dumbbell size, I use them. Then, as I get stronger, I don't use them. When I jump another dumbbell size, I might use them again. See what I mean? You don't have to be extremely strict with every rep of every exercise. Be safe, but not robot rigid. You aren't a robot.
Until you get the hang of the movement, you need to start out with light weights and slowly increase over time as I highly recommend with all weight lifting exercises. This gives you better overall results anyway as it allows your body to build muscle from each weight increase.
What I Don't Like About the 1-Arm Overhead Press
There's really not much I dislike about this exercise.
As with all 1-arm or 1-leg exercises, more energy is required overall as you have to do the exercise twice compared to full body exercises which use both sides of the body.
This can be good and bad but I usually try to get the most bang out of each exercise and 1-arm or 1-legged exercises do not allow you to get the most reward for the time you spend doing the exercise.
When you're trying to fit as many exercises as possible into a weight lifting workout without overdoing it, you don't need to waste any energy doing exercises that require twice the amount of energy.
So you have to look at the advantages and disadvantages of the 1-arm overhead press and see if it fits your goals for each weight lifting program.
I cycle the 1-arm overhead press in and out of my weight lifting programs. Sometimes I use it if it fits well with overall less volume and sometimes I take it out when I'm trying to get more overall exercises into a workout program.
When the weight gets really heavy, you might have to take extra rest between the left and right arms. Sometimes I just pop the dumbbell over to the other hand and keep going, but when I reach new strength levels with a heavier dumbbell I sometimes rest in between sides.
Another issue that you're going to run into when the weight gets heavy is cleaning the dumbbell into position.
The good news, though, is you can use your other arm to help lift the dumbbell into the starting position. Or, you can start cleaning the lighter dumbbells into position from the start of using this exercise and you'll get stronger and stronger at cleaning the dumbbell into position. This is recommended.
But, you always have your other arm to help you get it into position.