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As training methods continue to evolve, no classic exercise is going to be given a pass to be included in workouts without thorough vetting. And although no one can ever replace bodybuilding’s GOAT, Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of his namesake exercises, the Arnold press, is another story.
It hurts to take down any move Arnold has signed off on—and obviously it worked for him—but this once-mighty shoulder training staple would be better off relegated to the exercise archives alongside other old-school relics.
Why put down the Arnold press? Quite simply, the Arnold press is just not as effective as it is potentially dangerous, say Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and MH Advisory Board member David Otey, C.S.C.S. More accurately, this Overrated exercise not only hinders you from working with heavier loads, it can also leave your shoulders in a potential position for injury.
“Arnold’s the reason I got into lifting, but because of that old-school lifting mentality, there are some things that we’ve learned through time that maybe aren’t optimal for lifting now,” Otey says.
Why the Arnold Press Is a Bad Choice for Your Workouts
Here are some of the issues associated with the Arnold press:
There’s an Extreme Lowering Portion
What worked for Arnold and others back in bodybuilding’s Golden Era may not be the most beneficial when it come comes to your shoulder health and longevity today. Time has shown that the Arnold press places your shoulders in a vulnerable position each time you rotate and lower the dumbbells, Otey says. The excess rotational motions involved with the Arnold press creates the potential for injury. At the same time, this takes away from other key shoulder press goals, namely …
You Can’t Go Heavy
Because of its unique movement pattern of rotation, the Arnold press isn’t ideal for working with heavy loads. Upping the poundage can cause additional shoulder stress due to the rotational movements involved. There are plenty of options you can use that will help maximize the shoulder muscles while minimizing unnecessary stress on the shoulder joints and rotator cuffs.
3 Arnold Press Alternatives
Instead of struggling with the Arnold press, try these three alternatives for better shoulder gains:
Performing a press with kettlebells actually allows you to naturally rotate your shoulder joint throughout the move, while returning safely and stress-free to a front rack position at the end of each rep. It’s a smoother—and safer—rotation that should feel better on your shoulders while giving you the opportunity you to go heavier with a single-arm rep than you would with the Arnold press.
The natural movement of the lateral raise places less strain on the shoulder as opposed to the deliberate motions involved with the Arnold Press. If you’re looking to actually hit that medial or lateral deltoid, this targets that area. Lateral raises are also versatile enough to be used as part of a superset or drop set, and best of all, you’re actually getting more delt work here than you would from an Arnold press.
This classic shoulder blaster is more basic than Arnold’s signature exercise, but it’s a staple for a reason. Using a heavier load and lifting straight overhead in the scapular plane allows you to work in a safer movement pattern. Just as importantly, you can push as heavy a weight as possible, which is essential for building shoulder strength and size.
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