Devil press: How to do it and the benefits for building full-body strength

Woman performing a press up with dumbbells
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

To do the devil press, you pretty much combine a chest-to-floor burpee with a dual dumbbell snatch, but it’s more technical than meets the eye. Get it right, and you’ll torch muscle groups across your entire body and build a stronger core. 

This high-intensity, full-body exercise is done using a set of the best adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells, or you could adopt the single-arm variation using one weight if you prefer to alternate. The devil press can typically be found in functional training and CrossFit workouts, not only to ramp up your heart rate and test your endurance but building strength as well. 

How did it get its name? Because it’s hellish, of course. Read on for how to do the devil press with proper form, the benefits of building full-body strength, two variations to try, and common mistakes we see. 

Devil press: Benefits

The strength and conditioning move is classified as a compound exercise, targeting your back, chest, arms, shoulders, core, glutes and leg muscles using a burpee and dumbbell snatch combo, even adopting the snappy hip motion used in kettlebell swings to engage the hips, core muscles and glutes. 

Adding the move to your workouts will improve cardiovascular fitness, endurance, explosive power and full-body muscular strength, but you’ll need to master it properly first. Find out what happened when I did 50 devil press every day for a week.  

How to do the devil press

Man and woman side by side performing a push-up using two dumbbells each in a light warehouse gym

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Start with two light dumbbells and progress as you develop strength and endurance.

  • Stand with both dumbbells just in front of your feet, shoulder-width apart, in a neutral grip
  • Engage your core, grip both dumbbells and jump back into a high plank
  • Lower to the ground between the dumbbells just like a burpee, with your chest and hips aligned
  • Press back up, then jump both feet just behind and wide of the dumbbells
  • Lift your chest, pull both shoulders down and keep a flat back
  • Hinge forward at your hips, send your bum behind you and swing both dumbbells through your legs like a kettlebell swing
  • Snap your hips forward, extend your legs and send the dumbbells upward while bending both elbows toward you
  • Push the dumbbells overhead and lock both arms straight at the top
  • Reverse these steps back down to swing the dumbbells through your legs, then replace them into their starting position on the ground.

Try to bring the weights down from overhead to between your legs in a fluid motion, but you could bring them back to your shoulders first — if you prefer.

Writer Sam performing a dumbbell snatch in a gym using the Bowflex SelectTech 552i adjustable dumbbell raised in the air overhead with right arm raised

(Image credit: Future owns/ Sam Hopes)

Devil press: Common mistakes

The move should strengthen various muscle groups, but a few simple mistakes could lead to lower back pain and injury. Here are a few we see.

Lack of hip drive

The devil press uses the explosive hip drive, engaging your glutes and core muscles as you thrust the weights above your head. Drive movement from your core and glutes without sending all the weight into your arms. If you struggle to generate power from the hips and glutes, try a lighter set of weights and practice the movement pattern in the mirror.

Adopting an overhead press

The devil press should flow smoothly rather than as two separate moves. As you drive the weight from between your legs to above your head, avoid racking the weight onto your shoulders and pressing upwards or losing momentum.

The swing

Focus on the posterior chain muscles as you bring the weights between your legs. That means keeping a soft knee bend and not allowing the dumbbells to travel below your knees. This way, your lower back, glutes and hamstrings should be engaged rather than dumping into your back and overloading the spine.

Always remember the golden rule — compound contraction. Contract muscles simultaneously using the three Bs: back, belly and bum. 

Devil press: Variations

Here are two variations to get you started.

Single-arm devil press 

To do a single-arm devil press, use one weight and alternate each rep. Unilateral training is brilliant for ironing out muscular imbalances and weaknesses that could be responsible for your dominant side picking up slack.

Devil clean and jerk

To do a devil press clean and jerk, perform the move as you would with a regular devil press, but as you swing the dumbbells through your legs, bring them onto your shoulders first, landing with a soft bend in the knees. 

From here, perform a push press or jerk and finish standing with the weights overhead and legs straight. You can find the push press and other overhead press variations here. But remember, this is a variation on the devil press, and you should otherwise aim to drive the weight up from between the legs.

More from Tom's Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.