Get Better At Your First Reps For Dumbbell Shoulder Presses

May 20th 2019

There are many strategies you can use in order to get the first reps of your dumbbell shoulder press. Often times, many lifters will recognize that doing 6-8 reps on a very dumbbell shoulder press is relatively easy IF they are able to get the weight up to their shoulders. One of the challenges people have with this exercise is that they need to lift a heavy pair of dumbbells above their chest. So, here are a bunch of great suggestions on how you can make your first reps of your dumbbell shoulder press a piece of cake.

Dumbbell shoulder press first rep - how to make it easier

Getting a spotter and/or developing an efficient setting up technique will help you make the first reps of your dumbbell shoulder press a whole lot easier. You will save a ton of energy and be more focused on just completing your working set.

Get a spotter

If you have a workout partner, he/she can get the weights into your starting position. That way, you do not need to waste any excess energy. All the excess kicking and flailing that you do can be minimized. All you have to do is concentrate on your working sets.

Kick your knees up high

But what if you do not have a spotter? What then? If you are going solo to the gym, you will need to develop a technique in order to be able to press dumbbells efficiently. Having a workout partner is nice but if you do not have that option available, you will figure out an alternative solution.

So, if you are dumbbell pressing any weight, you can probably at least lift the weights up onto your knees. While you are sitting, you can prop up one knee at a time and get the dumbbell to your starting position.

Depending on the type of shoulder presses you are doing, you can lean back and allow leverage to help you get into a better position.

Just be aware that with very heavy dumbbells, you should be tense when handling them. In fact, you should be treating all your sets as if they are your max effort sets. You should not be relaxed and practicing lazy technique during warmups. Every single rep in every set is an opportunity for you to get stronger. It would be more effective if you treat it that way in order to continue to grow stronger.

Dumbbell shoulder press - trouble with pressing the first rep, not setting up

One or a combination of the following reasons are why you are having a difficult time pressing your first rep:


  • The weight is too heavy for you
  • You are cheating your reps
  • You are not warmed up yet


The weight is too heavy for you

If you are able to do 75lbs for 8 reps on a dumbbell shoulder press movement but cannot do 85lbs for even 1 rep, the weight is too heavy for you. You do not develop strength by testing it. You develop strength by training it. And how do we train strength? We train strength by using a submaximal weight that forces us to maintain form and increase our power. So, if you are cannot do 85lbs for 1 rep, doing many sets of 55-75lbs would be a good idea. If you need to use less weight, there is no harm in that as well.

You are cheating your reps

If you do not practice good form, it is very easy to stumble into some moderately heavy weights. But if you truly want to protect your joints and health, it is important to recognize that you need to practice good form all the time.

If you are cheating your reps, every single weight increment will feel like a mountain to overcome. By doing half reps, you will make progress a little more difficult every time. This is one reason why many strength coaches stress and hammer beginners in developing great form. It is really the foundation for all strength training. After all, you would not build your house on a rocky foundation, would you? So, why would you do the same to your body, which is a priceless commodity?

You are not warmed up yet

In the gym, nobody is going to hold your hand and guide you through every single process. One aspect of training that does not get a lot of attention is warming up for dumbbell exercises. What weight should you do and how much? The most general answer is that it really depends. Obviously, warming up with very light weight is not going to be effective. Yet, warming up with very heavy weight will set you up for failure. Injury history may also play a big factor in your warmups since they will constantly remind you of your previous limitations.

So, what is the real answer? The answer is that you just need enough. It really does not matter what you do before or how much you need to do. We do warmups to promote more blood flow and to warm up the neural networks that allow us to tap into our strength. This is one reason why people who need to do dumbbell shoulder presses will warmup with dumbbell shoulder presses. It is directly linked to the neural pathways that need to be activated.

Do something light, and do something moderate. Some people like to do 3-5 reps while some people want to feel the blood rushing into their muscles and do 8-12 reps. To each their own. There is no right way to do perform your warmups. They are just there so that you can perform your working sets with minimal risk.


Dumbbell shoulder pressing is not calculus. So, there is no need to complicate it into some art. If you have heavy weights on the floor, what is the most efficient way in order to get them into the correct position? You would either ask for help or figure out how to use your legs to lift up the weights.

If the issue is in regards to pressing heavy weights, you need to analyze whether or not this occurs with every single rep or whether or not it is just your max weights. Remember that strength gains are not linear but everyone will try their best in order to improve everyday. So, what is your excuse?

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