What is the difference? Does it target different muscles?

It seems to me a bit more natural for my shoulders if I change the usual grip (open grip with palms out) and do a natural grip in my shoulder press. It is the "classic" picture I had in mind about that exercise, specially when alternating hands:

enter image description here

(form the blog of Joe Dowdell)

It is a completely subjective appreciation, but this and the Arnold version, seem both easier and less prone to annoying tiny cracking noises, to my computer rounded shoulders (in which I am already working with stretches, and with the presence of reverse dumbbell flies in my workouts, but that is another question)


This is what I call the "usual" grip (open grip with palms out)

enter image description here

A third option is called Arnold Press, invented by the Governator in his early years, where your palms rotate during the movement, from inwards at the bottom of the movement, to forward at the top:

enter image description here

  • 2
    What is the "usual" grip?
    – user4644
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 21:29
  • @Kate, ok, I edit the post.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 23:32
  • As much as I like illustrated questions, I doubt you have copyright to any of those images. It would be nice of you to at least link your sources.
    – Baarn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 9:49
  • @Informaficker, you are right, I'll change my post this afternoon.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 11:16

2 Answers 2


In general, neutral grip (palms facing each other) presses are much easier on your shoulder. This is true of the dumbbell bench press, pull ups, etc. By easier, I mean less stress on the connective tissue (ligaments and tendons), rotator cuff, as well as being more mechanically advantageous. That means you can load it heavier with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) than the open grip (palms facing forward).

As to which is most advantageous, that depends on what you are after.

  • Bodybuilders prefer the palms out grip due to the way it builds the shoulder muscles. They also tend to use the 8-12 rep range, which means the intensity is kept below where it can be a problem.
  • If you are trying to help build the strength to put more weight over your head, the palms facing each other approach will be the best bet. That allows you to protect the stabilizing musculature and minimize the stresses in the shoulder joint.

Some forms of competition or strength training involve a lot of overhead work. For example, strong man competitions will have both neutral grip presses and open grip presses. For example, log presses are a neutral grip overhead press while axle clean and press is an open grip overhead press.

As a power lifter, I prefer the neutral grip option for just about all my dumbbell pressing needs. As far as musculature emphasized, there are differences. About as much difference as between pull ups and chin ups (palms facing out vs. palms facing you). 90% of the exercise is the same, but that last 10% can be aesthetics or more shoulder stability.

Another option is to rotate the dumbbell as you press. In the bottom, the dumbbell is in the safer neutral position. At the top, the dumbbell is rotated to the open position. This approach allows you to get the best of both techniques: reduced stress on the shoulder and better aesthetics (as well as strengthening the rotator muscles). If you incorporate this approach, start out with lighter weights and higher reps to get used to the movement better.

  • Help! I think your answer is incomplete. "If you are trying to help build the strength to put more weight over your head, the palms facing approach will be the best bet." The palms facing what?
    – Nick
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 23:31
  • Palms facing each other. I.e. a neutral grip. Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 0:57

neutral grip is safer. but it focuses more on the anterior deltoid and reduces the effect on the medial deltoid. it is safer on shoulders, however.

facing forward-this grip hits both anterior and medial head with some effect on rear. tough on shoulder joints

arnold press-hits all 3 heads but main focus is on the anterior head due to the dumbbell being in front of the shoulder most of the exercise

neutral to palms facing forward rotation- This provides the best of both worlds respective to these exercises.

it really depends on your shoulder workout. other exercises such as bent over raises or lateral raises can be done to make up for the lack of muscle stimulation from certain exercises. anterior head gets hit a LOT in most workouts.... especially with bench press.. so unless youre lacking I typically would advise hitting all 3 heads but focusing on rear most, medial second, and anterior last.

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