Shoulder Press Effectiveness: Dumbbells vs Barbell and Seated vs Standing

There are many different ways Military Press vs Dumbbell Shoulder Pressto perform exercises and there is much debate about whether using dumbbells or a barbell for the same basic movement is more effective. To make matters even more complicated, many exercises can be performed both seated or standing. To determine the effects of these variables on training effectiveness for both muscle strength and muscle activation, scientists from Norway performed a study investigating the Shoulder Press exercise. In this study they investigated the effects of performing the shoulder press exercise with dumbbells vs barbells and seated vs standing.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers recruted 15 healthy young men with on average 5 years of strength training experience and who were already familiar with the Shoulder Press Exercise. The subjects were tested on maximum strength using a 1 repetition maximum test and neuromuscular activity during the different exercises was measured using EMG. The different forms of the Shoulder Press exercise were done using dumbbells or a barbell and performed both seated and standing for a total of four different variants.

What were the results?

Shoulder muscle 1RM










Figure 1: Shoulder muscle activity during different forms of the Shoulder Press Exercise.

Shoulder muscle activity










Figure 2: 1 Repetition Maximum in kg during different forms of the Shoulder Press Exercise.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that a Shoulder Press performed using dumbbells leads to greater shoulder muscle activity compared with using a barbell. Performing the Shoulder Press while standing increases shoulder muscle activity compared with performing it while seated. Performing the exercise while standing decreased the amount of weight the subjects were able to lift.

What does this mean for me?

-For those interested in increasing muscle size, the more instable the better. Dumbbells are more effective than barbells and performing it while standing is more effective than performing it while seated. In addition it may be more effective for those wishing to enhance their sports performance as many sports require both strength and stabilization ability.

-For those interested in increase maximum strength or power, barbells are more effective than dumbbells and performing it while seated allows more weight to be lifted as well.

See also:

-Dumbbells vs Barbells: Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Barbell Shoulder Press

-Dumbbells vs Barbells: Barbell Bench Press vs Dumbbell Press

-Free weights vs machines


-Saeterbakken, A.H. Fimland, M.S. Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2013, 27, 7, 1824-1831.