What is a military press?

A military press is also commonly called an overhead press and a shoulder press. The standing military press is a barbell strength training exercise, and shoulder exercise, that works muscle groups in the upper body, but it also works the chest, glutes, arms, and core. 

Which muscles are used when performing a military press?

The standing military press is a challenging exercise that mainly targets the shoulder muscles, triceps, chest, trapezius muscles in the upper back and core muscles. This makes the military press a real challenge (and a real treat) for beginners.  

There are several benefits that come with performing the barbell military press.

Some of the main benefits of the barbell military press include:

– Military Press Improve Core Strength.

Your core has to be strong to perform the movement of the military press properly, in order to prevent a protruding rib cage or an excessive arch in the lower back. When doing the military press, the core muscles should be engaged throughout the entire movement, which will strengthen those muscles.

– Military Press Provides Bigger and Stronger Shoulders.

Shoulder raise variations will only take your shoulder strength and size far, but if you want strong shoulders, performing military presses is necessary, and avoiding the overhead press is not an option.

– Military Press Improves the Bench Press Technique.

Mastering the military press can help your bench press technique and progress. Both military press and bench press uses the same muscles (triceps, deltoids, and chest), just from different angles.

How to do a shoulder press?

Perfect form is exceptionally important for performing the military press, especially if you are lighting some serious weight for this technical lift.

Lifting a lot of weight always comes with the risk of injury, and poor form can cause some serious harm, which is why you should go slow and pay close attention to your proper form. Here is how to do a military press with proper form:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet flat on the floor. Your spine should be completely neutral, and you should be looking right ahead.
  2. Pick up the barbell and place it on top of your deltoids and upper chest.
  3. Place your hands on the barbell shoulder-width apart. Have your palms facing forward. Make sure your elbows are pointing forward and not outward. Your elbows should travel right up, not to the side.
  4. Take a deep breath in, focusing on bracing and engaging your core and glutes. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core muscles.
  5. Push the barbell overhead, right into the ceiling. As you are pushing the barbell overhead, make sure you are bracing and squeezing all of your muscle groups, especially the upper body. Use your core to properly stabilize your body, and keep your torso rigid.
  6. If you feel like you need to, you can push your head back slightly to allow the bar to move straight up above your head.
  7. Extend your arms out until they reach overhead, exhale, and reverse the motion to return the bar to your upper chest, right back into the starting position. If the weight feels too light, consider adding weight, but be careful to avoid injury.

Military press variations

There are some variations and alternatives that can help you work your way up to performing the military press. Some of the best shoulder press variations include:

Elastic band overhead press

This variation is performed by standing on the elastic band and pushing it overhead. It is really user friendly alternative that can also be used as a warm up for a barbell military press or as a stand alone exercise. You can also adjust the difficulty of the exercise by changing the thickness of the band.

Dumbbell overhead press

Using dumbbell to perform a military press will help you work each side of the body unilaterally, which should help with strength imbalances if there are any. Using dumbbell for the military press is also much less intimidating than using the barbell, and the weight can easily be adjusted.

Push press

The push press allows you to engage and use your lower body to aid in pressing the weight over your head, making it a more engaging variation of a military press for those looking for a bigger strength gains.

The thruster

The thruster is the combination of the front squat and the overhead press. This military press variation allows you to lower yourself into a full squat before driving back up and pressing the barbell over your head, challenging muscles all over the body.

Mistakes/Safety Tips

The military press is a very advanced movement, and not everyone should perform it. In order to be prepared for the military press, you must have:

– The ability to lift your shoulders straight overhead, full range of motion in the shoulders. The greater range will be beneficial for this exercise.

– A strong anterior core muscle, in order to hold your spine in a neutral position while you are pressing the weight above your head.

There are also some commonly observed mistakes when it comes to performing the seated military press, as well as standing military press.

Make sure to avoid:

– Incorrect grip width

The setup is the most critical aspect of a strong and stable overhead press. Make sure your hands are forcefully gripping the barbell while performing the military press. Also, make sure your wrists are in the ideal position to send the weight directly above your body.

– Flaring out your elbows

When it comes to the military press, flaring of the elbows suggests a lack of back tension and can increase shoulder and elbow joint stress. So make sure your elbows are not flared out in the front rack or bottom ranges of motion of the military press.

– Too Much Arching in the Lower Back

Overly hyperextending the lumbar spine is rarely good form, and an excessively arched back in the military press can result in injury.