Cuban Press Shoulder Exercise – 3 Clear Muscles Worked

cuban press

Shoulder injuries are common within bodybuilding circles, and this is often down to overuse or poor exercise technique.  

Developing the muscles of the shoulders usually involves a variety of exercises to a high rep range which only increases the risk of injury.  

One of the best ways of preventing this is by strengthening your rotator cuff muscles with specific shoulder workouts.  

upright dumbbell shoulder presss

This is where the dumbbell Cuban press exercise comes in.  

The Cuban press is a combination of two different exercises: the upright row and the overhead press.  

External rotation of the shoulder takes place as you transition from one exercise to the other.  

As it’s a resistance-based movement it’s performed with a light weight and the purpose of this exercise is to improve shoulder health by developing a strong rotator cuff.  

This in turn leads to better mobility and stability of the shoulder joint.  

How To Do The Cuban Press

There are three phases of the Cuban press and each phase needs to be performed slowly and with control so you don’t stress your shoulder joints.  

You can perform the exercise with either a pair of dumbbells or a light barbell.  

We’ll break it down into each phase of the exercise: 

  1. Begin by holding your dumbbells in front of your thighs with an overhand grip, and standing with your feet at a shoulder-width distance.  This is your starting position. 
  2. Slowly draw the dumbbells up your body in a straight line.  You want to keep the dumbbells as close to you as possible.  
  3. Stop when your upper arms are around parallel to the floor and dumbbells at chest height.
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  1. Keeping your upper arms in place, move the dumbbells out to the sides until they’re directly under your elbows. 
  2. With your elbows at shoulder height rotate your arms externally so that your palms are facing forward.  
  3. At the top of the movement, your forearms should be at a 90-degree angle to your upper arms. 
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  1. During the last part of the Cuban press, press the dumbbells straight overhead by extending your arms. 
  2. Once your arms are locked out, repeat the same movement but move in the opposite order. 

Cuban Press Tips For Proper Form

Below are some tips on keeping proper form when doing a Cuban press:

  • Keep your core braced throughout the exercise. 
  • Tuck your pelvis back to help with stability. 
  • Keep your shoulder blades back. 
  • A common mistake is to shrug the shoulders when doing the upright row, and try and keep them in a natural position. 
  • Avoid using heavy weights as this could put excessive pressure on the shoulder joints. 
  • During the rotation part of the exercise, try to keep your elbows in a fixed position. 

Cuban Press Muscles Worked

Cuban press exercises are compound movements that primarily work your shoulders, upper back muscles, and triceps with the different movements placing particular emphasis on certain muscles.  

Below is a breakdown of how each phase of the exercise recruits the distinct muscle groups.  

During the initial phase of the Cuban press, as you draw the dumbbells up the front of your body, the main muscles activated are your anterior deltoids which are at the front of your shoulder.  

The secondary muscles worked are the lateral deltoid heads (middle deltoids) and your upper traps.

During the rotation phase, the emphasis shifts onto the rotator cuff muscles, particularly the external rotators.

This rotation is a key aspect of the Cuban press and helps activate and strengthen the rotator cuff, which is crucial for shoulder stability.

As you dumbbell press the weights overhead, the primary muscles activated are the shoulders; anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid.

The traps also contribute to the stability of the shoulder girdle during this phase.

The triceps are involved in extending the elbow and providing stability as you press the weights overhead.

Due to the different aspects of the Cuban press, this makes it an excellent exercise for working several scapular muscles while strengthening the many muscles that make up the rotator cuff helping you to develop healthy shoulders.  

Cuban Press Alternatives

Our recommended Cuban press alternatives will help develop strength and muscle mass to the scapular muscles and can add some variety in to your shoulder workout plan.  

The Arnold Press is a shoulder exercise named after famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

It’s a variation of the traditional shoulder press that incorporates rotation during the movement.

It’s a great exercise for activating the same muscles as the Cuban press being the delts, traps, and triceps.  

The Y raise is a movement that primarily works the muscles of your upper back, especially your lower traps, rhomboids, and rear delts.  

It’s a great alternative to the Cuban press as it helps to improve shoulder stability and strength.  

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise that works the side and rear deltoids along with your traps.  

They make for a good alternative to the Cuban press as they can help to your improve your shoulder’s range of motion and mobility.  

The external rotation is a prehab exercise meaning that its main purpose is to help strengthen specific muscles, in this case the external rotators, by applying gentle resistance to improve joint stability and flexibility.  

Having strong rotator cuff muscles is important for several reasons, and it plays a significant role in maintaining overall shoulder health and functionality.

Here are some key reasons this essential group of muscles should be kept strong.

  • Shoulder Stability – The rotator cuff muscles work together to stabilize the shoulder joint.  When they’re stable, they’re less prone to injuries such as dislocation. 
  • Prevent Injuries & Common Shoulder Conditions – when the rotator cuff is strong this helps to minimize the chance of overuse injuries like tendinitis or impingement.
  • Better Range of Motion – Strong and flexible rotator cuff muscles contribute to a healthy range of motion in the shoulder which is important for common daily activities.
  • Improved Posture & Shoulder Alignment – Your rotator cuff muscles help you to maintain good shoulder posture and alignment.  When they’re strong they stop your shoulder from rounding forward helping to alleviate upper back and neck discomfort.

​In Summary

Your rotator cuff comprises of important shoulder muscles and it’s crucial to perform exercises that target the underlying rotator cuff muscles to enhance shoulder stability and prevent potential injuries during your workout.  

The Cuban dumbbell press is a complete shoulder exercise that, when done with proper form, is an excellent way of keep your shoulders mobile and healthy.

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