Shoulder Military press exercise, alternatively known as the shoulder overhead press or shoulder press, is a great way to keep the upper body muscles conditioned and in shape. The shoulder military press and other variations of overhead press exercises are known to test and develop upper body strength. This article will highlight every major aspect to help you make overhead press workouts a part of your routine!
Benefits of Military Press:
There are several benefits of including the shoulder military press in your workout routine. Overhead pressing can increase the strength and size of the shoulder muscles, triceps muscles, trapezius muscle and core muscles.
Muscles Worked by the Military/Overhead Press:
Almost every major upper body muscle group is stimulated and trained during the shoulder military press, a characteristic unique to this exercise. The primary overhead press muscles worked in the standing position are:
- Pectorals (chest)
- Deltoids (shoulders)
- Triceps (arms)
- Trapezius (upper back)
These large muscles of the upper body are mostly worked if you choose to do the standing military press. While in the case of the military press seated, the shoulders and triceps will perform all of the work. However, the standing shoulder military press press requires stabilizing your entire torso as you perform each rep, and thus although to a lesser extent, this exercise also trains:
- Lower back
- Serratus anterior
- Latissimus dorsi
Technical Guide to Achieve Military Press Form:
When executing any exercise that involves using weight, you need to understand the function and pattern of the movement before you hit the gym.
Warm-Up before the Military Press:
Avoid going straight into heavy overhead presses to prevent injuries to the ball and socket joint of the shoulder and the surrounding muscles. Prep your body by doing two sets of 20 shoulder dislocates with a broom handle and then two sets of 30/30 light push presses – that’s 30 seconds of work, 30 seconds of rest.
Do the two sets with no break, then rest for two minutes. Repeat once more and you’re ready to start working your way through your shoulder military press sets – starting light, of course.
Step-by-Step Guide to master Military press:
Three steps need to be followed to achieve the perfect shoulder military press form. These include:
Step 1: The Setup
The setup is where you position your body to military press as much weight as possible. Five steps are included in a proper military press setup:
- Rack the Bar:
First, make sure the rack isn’t too high or too low. A good rule of thumb is racking the bar one to two inches below its position when you’re standing tall at the beginning of the lift, or around the top of your breastbone. You should be able to unrack the bar without having to half-squat it off the rack and without having to get up on your tippy-toes.
- Grip the Bar:
Grip the bar about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you. Hold the bar low in your hands, closer to your wrists than your fingers, and squeeze it as hard as you can. Your wrists should be bent just enough to allow the bar to settle into the base of your palm, but not folded back at a 90-degree angle. This prevents wrist pain.
- Position the Bar:
Pushing your elbows in toward your body and slightly in front of the bar, allow the bar to rest on the tops of your shoulders and upper chest. Arch your upper back enough so that the bar is aligned over your midfoot and your head is slightly behind the bar. As long as you don’t have a previous back injury, then a slight backward lean isn’t bad for your spine and is required to military press correctly.
- Unrack the Bar:
(This is when you are not using Smith machine) Put your feet directly under the bar (not behind it), take a deep breath, raise your chest and push your elbows just in front of the bar, and lift the bar off the rack. Take one step back with each foot, making sure the first is firmly planted before moving the other. Don’t take several baby steps backwards. This wastes energy and forces you to move farther to re-rack the bar at the end of your set, which can be dangerous.
The rule of thumb is this: Move just enough to get clear of the rack, and no more.
- Position your Feet:
Figuring out your ideal stance width will probably require some trial and error, but to start, position your feet just outside of shoulder width. For most people, this will be about where you would position your feet for a back squat or front squat. If you’re tall, then you may also want to position your feet a little closer together than this.
What matters most is that you can properly stabilize the weight as you press the bar upward, so whatever stance width helps you do that best is what you should stick with.
Step 2: The Ascent
The ascent is where you push the weight above your head. Take care of a few particular things:
- The bar moves straight up and down, not gliding forward or backwards.
- The upper back is slightly extended but only enough to allow the bar to pass your face.
- The elbows start just in front of the bar and finish directly underneath it.
- The hips and legs stay more or less motionless throughout the whole movement (no wobbling).
- The head stays in line with my back.
Military Press Workout: Sets, Reps, and Programming
Here’s a simple and effective military press workout that incorporates several of the variations as well as some additional exercises to target the shoulders. A few odds and ends to do this workout are:
- You shouldn’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.
- Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set. This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort to each set.
- Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.
Standing Barbell Military Press:
- Men/Experienced Pressers: 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85% one-rep max (1RM)
- Women/New to Pressing: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 75% of 1RM
Seated Dumbbell Military Press:
- 3 sets of 4 to 6 / 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM
Common Military Press Mistakes:
- Overloading the Bar:
The military press is a difficult, technical lift with little room for error. Select a weight that allows you to perform strict, controlled reps.
- Forgetting Core Engagement:
When pressing the bar overhead, don’t forget to keep your core engaged to protect your lower back from excessive strain. Moreover, the central placement of the abdominals within the body also makes their activation pivotal for strength. Forget to engage the core and you won’t lift sufficient weight.
- Work All Angles:
The shoulder muscle comprises three heads: the front (anterior) deltoid or delt, the middle (medial) delt and the rear (posterior) delt. Too much vertical and horizontal pressing places excessive strain on your front and middle delts, which in the worst-case scenario can result in internally rotated shoulders.
Military Press Variations: 5 Military Press Variations You Should Know
The traditional military press is done with two hands on a barbell that’s resting on your upper chest and shoulders, with both feet about shoulder-width apart, standing on a hard surface. There are several variations worth knowing. Here they are:
- The Seated Military Press Barbell:
The seated military press is identical to the standing press, except it is done while seated on a bench instead of standing on your feet. The seated military press requires either a dedicated station or a squat rack or power cage plus a utility bench.
To do the seated military press, place your feet flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart with your toes and knees slightly turned out. Press your heels into the ground to keep your upper back and butt rooted in place against the back of the bench. The rest of the movement is just like a standing military press.
You’ll notice that the seated military press is significantly easier than the standing press, therefore, the standing variation is better for developing whole-body strength and muscularity.
- The Push Press:
The push press is a military press variation that involves using your legs and hips to help push the bar off your shoulders. The push press is basically a standing military press that begins with a quarter squat to help launch the bar upward. As you rise from the squat, you press the bar upward until your arms are locked overhead.
The point of the push press is to generate just enough momentum to help get the bar off the shoulders and through the first few inches of movement, where it’s most likely to get stuck. From there, your shoulders must do the rest of the work. In this way, you’re able to use heavier weights on the push press than the standing military press.
Military Press with Dumbbells:
Using dumbbells rather than the barbell makes your core work even harder to keep you balanced as you press the weights overhead with your feet together. It’s also a good way to highlight any imbalances in your muscles, because when each side has its own weight to lift, then it will iron out any strength discrepancies in no time. The dumbbell overhead press has further two variations:
- The Seated Dumbbell Military Press:
The dumbbell military press is more or less identical to the seated military press except it’s done with dumbbells instead of a barbell. The main advantage of using dumbbells is they allow for a greater range of motion than a barbell, which typically translates into more muscle growth over time.
They also work better for correcting and preventing muscle imbalances as well as challenging your muscles in slightly different ways that could lead to more muscle growth. The main disadvantage of the seated dumbbell military press is it takes more balance and coordination than the seated barbell press, which means you can’t use as much weight.
- Standing Dumbbell Military Press:
Completing a standing dumbbell military press is similar to completing a seated press. The main difference is how you position your body.
- Bend down with your knees to pick up the dumbbells.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise the dumbbells to shoulder height. Your palms can face forward or toward your body.
- Once you have the correct stance, begin pressing the dumbbells above your head until your arms are fully extended. Hold this position for a moment, and then bring the dumbbells back to shoulder height.
- Complete the desired number of reps. If you’re a beginner, start with 1 set of 8–10 reps.
The Dumbbell Arnold Press:
The dumbbell Arnold press is a variation of the traditional dumbbell military press that increases the range of motion. Due to the additional work your shoulders have to do, the Arnold press reduces how much weight you can use, though. This is why it is often used as an accessory exercise after a traditional military press for anterior deltoids.