Shoulder Press – Dumbbell Vs. Machine – Which Is Better?

The shoulder press is an essential, popular, age-old exercise among weightlifters. This is because the shoulder press is an excellent exercise for strengthening your shoulders and upper back.  You can typically perform the exercise with …

The shoulder press is an essential, popular, age-old exercise among weightlifters. This is because the shoulder press is an excellent exercise for strengthening your shoulders and upper back. 

You can typically perform the exercise with dumbbells or a should press machine, both with varying advantages and disadvantages. This article will look into these differences to help you figure out what style is suitable for you. 

The Shoulder press

a man doing a single shoulder press with a dumbbell
a man doing a single shoulder press with a dumbbell

The shoulder press primarily targets the front part of your shoulder muscle (anterior deltoid). Nevertheless, the exercise will also work out your triceps, deltoids, trapezius, and pec muscles. 

The stress you place on your bones while performing the exercise forces them to get stronger and increase their density. As a result, it also reduces the chances of osteoporosis. The shoulder press also employs the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, wrists, and elbows, while the motion indirectly works your abdominals as you keep a straight core throughout. Together, this helps improve your stability and balance.

There are different shoulder press variations, including the dumbbell press, the overhead press, the military press, the Arnold press, and the clean press. 

Dumbbell vs. Machine 

a man doing a shoulder press using a machine
a man doing a shoulder press using a machine

A significant aspect of this comparison comes from the more popular and general free weights vs. machine arguments. There is a considerable distinction between free weights and machines in their results and how they work. The free weights typically include gym barbells and dumbbells, while the machines are any resistance-based workout machines. They include the assisted chin-up machine, leg press,  or lat pull down.

Here are some of the differences between free weights such as dumbbells and machines :

Stabilizer muscles 

A primary variation between free weights and machines is that the latter are fixed and only move in particular directions, while free weights can move in any general manner the user prefers. Because of this, free weights compel you to employ more stabilizer muscles to control the weight. On the other hand, resistance machines commonly assist with the move as it keeps you in place.

Muscle building 

Generally, free weights activate more of your muscles than machines do. As a result, they are preferable for building muscle in the long run. Most fitness buffs start with free weights and transition to machines towards the end of their session when their muscles are tired, and their form starts to suffer. 


While free weights take the cake for muscle building, machines are generally safer and can help you train safely. You can easily drop your dumbbells and barbells, and this can lead to severe injuries depending on where they fall. 

If you employ your resistance machine precisely as it prescribes, you are likely not to get injured by the mechanics. However, you may still pull a muscle or injure yourself from not warming up properly or lifting a weight that is heavier than you can accommodate.

Target weaker muscles

Machines take the cake here as they can help you train weaker muscles more safely. For example, squats are a free weight exercise, but your hamstrings may start to lag if you are quad-dominant. Therefore, you can use the hamstring curl machine after your squats to target your hamstrings separately.

Longer reps

Because machines are typically safer and you don’t risk dropping them on yourself, you can use them until you reach your limits. Most people don’t get to their absolute limits with free weights because of fear of dropping it. However, with a machine, there is no such fear. 

Better for beginners

Machines are also the go-to option for beginners because they do not require as much control or motion as free weights. This makes it easier for beginners to use instead of the free weights. Likewise, because machines do not require stabilizer muscles, the beginner can put all their focus on lifting. 

Home gyms

Because of the general safer nature of machines, you do not require a spotter when you use them. As a result, setting up a machine in your home gym is more suitable as you may perform your programs alone. 

Muscle specificity

As weight machines tend to target one muscle or muscle group, you can build specific muscles fairly quickly if you use them consistently. This ability also is also critical if you are recovering from an injury as using machines can help you focus on the necessary muscle.

Unlike machines, using free weights commonly recruits your whole body to provise balance and stabiilization while carrying them. This may make it difficult to train specific muscles without relying on other muscles. 

Dumbbell vs Machine – which is better?

From the differences between free weights and machines, one can glean what variety is suitable. As such comparisons go, there is no outright verdict on what variety of shoulder press is better. The preferred variety simply depends on what you want out of the exercises and other factors. 

For example, if you are an expert weightlifter who is seeking to build muscles rapidly, using dumbbells may be better for you as dumbbells will develop your muscles faster than the machine. Likewise, if you intend to activate your stabilizer muscles, you are better off using dumbbells rather than a resistance machine. 

Alternatively, a machine will be more suitable for you if you are a beginner at weightlifting or at that particular exercise. If you set up a home gym, a machine will also be better as it eliminates the need for a spotter. Machines are also better for reaching muscle failure as you do not need to worry about failing midrep and dropping your dumbbells. 

Machines are also better if you are convalescing as its nature allows you to target very specific muscles. This means that if you hurt a part of your body, you can still use the should press to work your shoulders without affecting the body part being healed. 

Dumbbell vs machine for home gym

When setting  up a home gym, outfitting your gym with free weights such as barbells, kettlebells,squat racks, and dumbbells and machines such as the cable pulley or the should press may be important. This is because at different times during your weightlifting journey, you may be better off using free weights or a machine.