If you’ve headed into a gym during the last decade, you know that multi-joint functional training has become increasingly popular amongst the general population of recreational fitness enthusiasts. The rise of CrossFit has many athletes using everything from barbells and dumbbells to kettlebells and their own bodyweight to take a functional approach to their strength training.
Improvements in balance, flexibility, stability, and core strength come hand-in-hand with functional training — that is, an approach to strength geared toward making you more efficient and effective in your everyday life.
The devil’s press is one of those moves that might be less prominent in commercial gyms, but is a fabulous tool of functional fitness. It’s a full-body movement that builds strength, flexibility, and endurance while challenging your body in different ways than traditional barbell strength exercises. It also offers a unique cardiorespiratory stimulus, so your lungs will get their fair share of work in, too.
Here’s everything you didn’t know you needed to know about the devil’s press — and why you should add it to your routine.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
How to Do the Devil’s Press
The devil’s press combines a burpee and double dumbbell snatch into one rep. This multi-step technique requires a strong understanding of each segment of the movement. Be sure to practice this slowly with very light dumbbells before adding heavier weights or higher intensities.
Step 1 — Set-up
Place a pair of dumbbells on the ground, set at a shoulder-width distance. Position them in a neutral grip, so that your palms will face each other when gripping the dumbbells. Set your feet roughly a foot behind the dumbbells.
Coach’s Tip: If the dumbbells are too close or wide, it will make the movement feel unnatural on your hand and shoulder position when performing each rep. Standing too close or far away from the dumbbells will also slow things down and require more energy. Take some time to experiment with an ideal set up that works best for your body. Focus on having a consistent set-up every rep.
Step 2 — First Rep
Bend down and take a full grip on the dumbbells. Once you have a firm grasp, jump or step your feet back so that your body is in a plank position with your hands on the dumbbells. Lower your body down to the ground so that your knees, thighs, hips, and chest all lay on the ground, with your chest between the set of dumbbells.
Coach’s Tip: Make sure you grab the dumbbells, then jump — or step, if necessary — your feet back to a plank before lowering down to the floor. It’s common for people to get fatigued and dive on to the floor all at once. This can put unnecessary stress on your joints, so focus on pacing yourself and moving in a way that feels best for your body.
Step 3 — Ground to Overhead
Perform a push-up from your knees. Jump or step your feet towards the dumbbells, landing about six inches behind them with your feet positioned slightly wider than the dumbbells.
Hinge your hips. Swing the dumbbells between your legs, as you would with a kettlebell swing. In one fluid motion, rapidly extend your hips and knees while bringing your torso from a hinged to a vertical position.
Pull your elbows back towards your ribs to guide the dumbbells as momentum brings them vertically. As the dumbbells begin to lose momentum, quickly punch and press the dumbbells to fully locked out position, with your arms extended overhead.
Coach’s Tip: Swing the dumbbells through your legs high towards your groin — bending your elbows as needed to accommodate your stomach or chest — to allow for a safer back position and stronger hinge that allows more power to be generated.
Step 4 — Cycling Reps
From the overhead position, return the dumbbells to the ground in the reverse order. Swing the dumbbells down and through your legs maintaining a strong midline and back position. Once the dumbbells have swung through and begin to swing forward, gently bring them forward and to the ground in front of you. The goal is to place the dumbbells back into the same position they were for your first rep.
Coach’s Tip: If you’re not comfortable bringing the dumbbells from overhead and through your legs, lower them to your shoulders first before swinging them through your legs.
Common Devil’s Press Sets and Reps
The sets and reps you assign to a movement directly influence the results of a given workout. Use the below suggestions to tailor your training based on your needs and goals.
- For Functional Strength: Perform four sets of five devil’s press reps. Choose a heavy pair of dumbbells that makes performing five unbroken devil’s presses a challenge.
- For Muscle Endurance: Do a 10-minute EMOM (every minute, on the minute) performing eight reps each minute. This workout will have you complete 80 repetitions in 10 minutes. You’ll want to use a light-to-moderate pair of dumbbells so that you can handle the volume while maintaining good form.
- For Cardio Endurance: Perform three to four sets of 20 unbroken devil’s presses with very light dumbbells. Rest the same amount of time it takes to complete each set.
Whatever goals you’re training for, make sure you’re using weights that you can heft overhead safely.
Common Devil’s Press Mistakes
The devil’s press can develop incredible functional strength, stamina, and endurance. But if you’re not focused on maintaining good form, this awkward but effective movement pattern might put your lower back in a vulnerable position. Be sure to avoid the mistakes discussed below to stay safe and get the most out of the movement.
Improper Hand Position
Setting your hands too close will result in your chest landing on top of the dumbbells. On the other hand, putting your hands too wide relative to your body will put your shoulders in an awkward or vulnerable position. Be sure to set your hands at, or slightly wider than, shoulder width for every rep.
Swinging the Dumbbells Too Low
Swinging the dumbbells too low will result in a rounded lower back position. This puts more of the load directly on your lower back, as opposed to loading your hamstrings, glutes, and back. Try to have the outsides of your wrists make contact with the inside of your mid-thighs.
Widen your foot stance if necessary to make this possible. Push your hips back as much as possible, focusing on maintaining a neutral spine.
Not Utilizing Your Hips
Momentum from coming out of your hip hinge strongly should help the dumbbells fly up quickly once they’re swung between your legs. If the dumbbell speed doesn’t change — or if they slow down — you may be relying too much on your arms, shoulder, and back muscles.
Instead of tugging the weights up, make sure you’re producing a powerful hip drive with each rep. If you’re unable to do this without hefting with your arms too early, you might be using too much weight.
Forgetting to Breathe
This movement takes about five seconds per rep, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time under tension. It is extremely important to have a breathing pattern for this movement to prevent tapping out early in a workout. Your body will naturally inhale when it needs air, but being intentional with your exhale can set up a good pattern to keep your body calm for as long as possible.
Focus on exhaling on the push-up of the burpee and the explosive swing of the dumbbell snatch. This will have you exhaling twice throughout each rep, while focusing on a calming inhale between each exhale.
Devil’s Press Variations
What makes the devil’s press so unique is the combination of a burpee and dumbbell ground-to-overhead. You can combine different moves here to add new flavors of variation.
Moves that mimic the functional, long range of motion will exhaust nearly every muscle in your body while demanding a lot of your cardiovascular system. Below are three different ways you can perform devil’s presses in your workouts.
Single-Arm Alternating Devil’s Press
The single-arm alternating devil’s press is great if you have limited equipment or want a lower impact workout. Since you’re only lifting one dumbbell per rep, it’s a much less taxing movement.
Moving unilaterally can also help you give more intentional focus to one side at a time. This approach can help you fight any strength and muscle imbalances that might develop from natural side dominance and barbell training.
Clean & Jerk Devil’s Press
Performing the devil’s press with a clean & jerk allows you to train the movement with heavier dumbbells. Rather than bringing the dumbbells from the ground to overhead in one fluid motion, clean the dumbbells to your shoulders from the ground.
Once the dumbbells are on your shoulders, push press or jerk the dumbbells overhead to fully extended position. Because of the added leg drive with these variations, you’ll generally be able to lift significantly heavier than with a strict press or snatch.
Squat Clean Thruster Devil’s Press
The squat clean thruster devil’s press is a devastating twist on an already nasty movement. After completing the burpee portion, squat clean the dumbbells from the ground and go directly into a thruster, finishing with the dumbbells overhead.
The squat clean will add a squat, as well as eliminating the momentum-based aspect of the swing in the original version. The thruster will add a push press-style shoulder-to-overhead move, which means you can do this move with heavier weight.
Devil’s Press Alternatives
You don’t have to be able to perform the devil’s press to get a host of benefits from these kinds of moves. Breaking this complex exercise into its components can give you a great workout on their own while building the skill base you need to work toward a full devil’s press.
Devil’s presses may not be appropriate if you’re just getting into your fitness journey or you don’t have a strong athletic background. Burpees are a lower impact alternative that will have a similar cardio stimulus while maintaining the range of motion of the devil’s press.
This is also a great option for someone coming back to the gym from an injury that wants to train with high intensity but without weights.
In the devil’s press, you’ll swing the dumbbells between your legs much like you do in a kettlebell swing. Learn and practice the kettlebell swing to help yourself get ready to perform the devil’s press — or to just get a great, low-impact conditioning workout all on its own.
If you’re substituting this movement for the devil’s press, you may want to pair burpees and kettlebell swings to practice both movements. For example, if a workout had rounds of 10 devil’s presses, a good alternative would be 10 burpees followed by 10 kettlebell swings.
Burpee Box Jump
If you want a movement that has a similar cycle rate and movement pattern, the burpee box jump is a power-building alternative. This exercise preserves the burpee portion of the devil’s press, while including an explosive hinge movement with the box jump.
As with the devil’s press, you will spend a lot of time under tension with each rep. Your heart rate will also be high throughout. For this move, you won’t need weights, but you will need a plyo box — so plan your workout accordingly.
Muscles Worked by the Devil’s Press
The devil’s press is a full body exercise that combines several movement patterns, resulting in a demand on several muscle groups within each rep.
Chest and Triceps
The push-up portion of the devil’s press works your chest and triceps. Developing these muscle groups will assist with other CrossFit movements such as dips, muscle-ups, and overhead pressing variations.
The hinge and swing portion of the devil’s press puts a huge demand on your posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and back). Developing these muscle groups will assist with other CrossFit exercises like deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and any move requiring a heavy object to be lifted from the floor.
Your core is constantly worked by the midline extension and flexion during the burpee portion of the devil’s press. You’ll also need core stability to maintain a strong midline position during the swing to snatch.
Using two dumbbells creates an added challenge from side-to-side strength and stability. The awkward movement pattern of the devil’s press will build core strength in a way that can carry over into pretty much any functional CrossFit move.
Shoulders and Upper Back
The finishing portion of the press during the devil’s press works your shoulders and upper back muscles. Developing these muscle groups will assist with other CrossFit movements such as pull-ups, snatches, cleans, and several others.
Benefits of the Devil’s Press
If your goals are about improving general fitness and being well-rounded between strength, endurance, and flexibility, the devil’s press is a great movement to rotate into your training.
The long range of motion required to complete each rep makes this an incredibly demanding movement. Pairing this with other movements in an interval training environment develops an uncomparable ability to do work and build a well-rounded fitness engine.
Even as a stand-alone move, the devil’s press builds both cardiovascular capacity and strength at the same time. This enhanced conditioning will improve your capacity to train harder for longer.
The devil’s press actively builds mobility in multiple parts of your body throughout the movement. The first portion of the movement requires you to bend over and actively stretch your hamstrings as you reach to grab the dumbbells on the floor.
The burpee portion works on active hip flexion while jumping your feet up towards the dumbbells. The ground to overhead motion actively stretches your hamstrings while simultaneously maintaining a solid midline position to support the hinge pattern.
Performing the devil’s press — especially in medium to high rep ranges (10 to 20-plus reps) will build full-body muscular endurance. For many strength athletes, this is often one of the most neglected areas of development in strength programs.
Better muscular endurance means your muscles can get better at withstanding training stress. When that happens, you’re better able to train more effectively.
Devil’s presses aren’t going to be your priority for the development of absolute strength. The awkward nature of the movement makes it a higher risk option than some of the simple barbell movements such as the squat, deadlift, and shoulder press.
But in terms of functional, day-to-day strength — which can help support those bigger lifts — the devil’s press can build incredible functional strength by using heavy loads for multiple reps.
Who Should Do the Devil’s Press
Whether you’re a mixed martial artist, CrossFitter, general fitness enthusiast, or someone on vacation looking to sweat, the devil’s press is a great movement to use in training. The versatility of the exercise makes it a great option to benefit any of these populations.
Mixed Martial Artists
Mixed martial arts (MMA) require the ability to be strong, flexible, and fit. The ground game specifically rewards those who are able to get up and down off the floor quickly. Takedowns also require speed and powerful extension to lift the opponent off balance before transitioning into a grappling move.
Mixing the devil’s press into MMA training is a great way to get strength and conditioning work that will directly mimic movement skills required to excel in the sport.
The devil’s press is a popular movement in the CrossFit space that is increasingly being tested around the global community. Incorporating this into your training will help add variation if you tend to favor training with a barbell. You’ll also be better prepared to face down any WODs (workouts of the day) that may start to feature this move.
Casual Strength Athletes
If you’re not training for something specific, training can seem redundant and even pointless at times. This makes it difficult to find motivation and stay consistent. Varying your workouts and movements helps you stay excited and interested in your regular training. The devil’s press is a great tool to use when training for general fitness.
Athletes on the Go
Most hotel gyms typically have a dumbbell rack with a small assortment of other equipment. The devil’s press doesn’t take up much space and can help you get a quick and challenging hotel workout while traveling.
Press to New Heights
The devil’s press is hellishly tough, even if you’re using light weights. But if you’re into functional fitness or just generally want to boost your conditioning, the devil’s press is a great way to train for both strength and endurance at the same time. So grab your dumbbells, grit your teeth, and get ready to rumble — just don’t forget to breathe.
Read below to get the answers to your most pressing questions about the devil’s press.
How often should I perform the devil’s press?
The devil’s press should be rotated into your training every few weeks. Since the move is so demanding, this will be more than enough to add some quality variance into your training.
Will the devil’s press make me bulky?
The devil’s press is a full-body movement that will build muscle and strength. That said, it does not target or isolate the development of a specific muscle group. This movement is not trained for the purposes of hypertrophy (muscle building).
Building muscle requires high volume training and a specific nutritional plan. You can develop muscle with the devil’s press, but you might want to look toward more specific bodybuilding-style moves if building muscle mass is your primary goal.
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