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How to Do a Military Press: Proper Form, Tips & Variations

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: September 10, 2023

The military press is a complex exercise that targets upper-body muscles.

It is a complicated move that necessitates proper form to avoid injuries.

As a certified fitness trainer, I've seen some of my clients try to perform the military press but do it incorrectly.

I coached them into performing the military press perfectly and decided to extend my coaching to my readers.

In this article, I will provide my expertise on how to do the military press, its variations, muscles worked, and tips for performing the exercise.

Quick Summary

  • The military press is performed by placing a barbell on the front of the shoulders above your collarbone, standing feet shoulder-width apart, pressing the bar above, and extending your arms until the elbows are locked.
  • The military press is among the best workouts for building nearly every major muscle group in the body, including the shoulders, core, upper chest, triceps, and, to a lesser extent, your lats, glutes, and biceps.
  • The standing barbell military press is the most common, but other versions include seated overhead press, Arnold press, standing military press, and Smith machine overhead press.

How To Perform the Military Press

A person at the gym doing military press workouts
  1. Set the barbell to roughly shoulder height before adding the required weight.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and position your hands at or roughly shoulder-width on the bar with a pronated grip.
  3. Step under the barbell and unrack it while maintaining a neutral spine. Have the barbell resting on your upper chest.
  4. Move backward, inhale, brace, tuck the chin, and press the bar above to lockout.
  5. Exhale as the bar reaches lockout and carefully reverse the movement while lowering the barbell back to your chest (the starting position).
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips For Performing It

A person doing a military press
  • At the peak, reach tall, and don't worry about keeping your shoulders pressed down and back.
  • At the top of the action, allow your elbows to turn and point outward, then tuck them close to the ribs at the bottom.
  • Fight to keep the bar from rolling by sliding the wrists into extension and contemplating "rolling the knuckles toward the ceiling."
  • Maintain the movement's momentum and avoid adding extra leg force by extending and flexing the knees.
  • As you press, squeeze the glutes and stabilize your abs. When pressing, you should not lean back too far.
  • As though you were attempting to look out a window from the top, your ears ought to be parallel to your biceps.
  • Try a broader grip or vertical pressing advances if your shoulders are uncomfortable during the activity.
  • You can utilize a staggered stance to keep your lower back from arching too far, but if you still can't control your anterior core, try a half-kneeling regression.

"Grip the barbell with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, allowing you to lock both arms out easily. You'll lose drive if you go any further."

- Mike Causer, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

What Is the Military Press?

A person doing a military press

The military press is a full shoulder workout ideal for developing upper-body muscles, particularly the shoulders.

The military press is a multi-named exercise known as the strict press, shoulder press, and overhead press.

The military press is commonly found in various training methods, including bodybuilding, functional workouts, and high-intensity exercises.

The military press is generally done as a static lift with a barbell, pressing from the bar resting on the upper chest to a full lockout above.

This complex workout strengthens the triceps and deltoids while stabilizing the body using the core.

It necessitates a high degree of strength and shoulder mobility.

Therefore, we recommend beginning with the dumbbell military press and shoulder press machine to build up to this.

"Due to the absence of lower body motion and leg drive, it is unlikely that you will be able to raise as much weight with the military press as you would with other overhead presses." -

Daniel Dominick, Registered Physical Therapist

The Difference Between Military Press and Shoulder Press

A person doing a shoulder press

While the military press and overhead press are frequently used interchangeably, the two exercises are not the same.

The military press necessitates stricter posture with the action coming entirely from the shoulder joint and arms, whereas the overhead press enables more momentum and a wider leg stance with the knees slightly bent.

Most individuals will find the overhead press simpler, so we recommend practicing the technique and increasing strength with it first.

The Muscles Worked

Close up shot of upper body muscles

The military press (overhead press) trains your upper-body, and the lower body to a lower extent. The primary movers in pushing the weight above your head are your shoulders and arms.

Everything between the ground and the shoulders must remain tight to balance you and the bar.

As a result, the overhead press is a full-body exercise that trains numerous muscles at once with large weights.

Below are muscles worked by the military press:

  • Shoulders. You must elevate your upper arms to raise the bar when doing an overhead press. This exercises your deltoid muscles on the front, side, and rear of your shoulders [1]. It equally builds these three muscle heads with large weights, resulting in broad shoulders.
  • Arms. To push the weight above, you must extend your elbows. This exercise engages the triceps muscles on the back of the arms. Their muscular mass is far more than their biceps [2]. Bigger triceps result in bigger arms. Holding the bar requires the use of your forearm muscles as well.
  • Rotator Cuff. Balancing the raised bar engages the tiny muscles that protect your shoulder blades: teres minor, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis [3]. These rotator cuff muscles help to stabilize the shoulders and keep them from dislocating. Strengthening them will safeguard your shoulders.
  • Traps. To avoid shoulder impingement, shrug the shoulders at the peak of each rep. This causes your shoulder blade to turn to the side. It makes room for the rotator cuff tendons. Shrugging engages the trapezius muscle groups on the side of the neck. It develops ski-slope traps.
  • Abs. Your core muscles support your body as your arms and shoulders drive the weight above. They prevent you from falling beneath the bar. This exercises your abdominals, obliques, and lower back. Stronger abdominal muscles are more muscular [4]. They will show if you eat properly.
  • Legs. Your legs keep your body balanced while your arms and shoulders press. This exercise targets your hips, thighs, ankles, and calves. The overhead press won't engage them like squats since your legs don't move. They remain upright. However, they must perform isometric work.

Military Press Variations

A person doing military press variations

You may employ several variations of the military press to engage the deltoids from various angles and methods.

Seated Overhead Press

The seated barbell shoulder press is an overhead press variant intended to increase upper-body strength and muscle.

Sitting allows you to utilize bigger weights to focus on muscle building, increasing strength since your body is stabilized and more supported.

This variant is also ideal for those suffering from lower back pain.

To perform the seated military press:

  1. Adjust the bar to roughly shoulder height while standing, then load the required weight onto the bar.
  2. Place a bench in an upright posture beneath the bar.
  3. Sit on the bench press seat and use a pronated grip to unrack the bar.
  4. Inhale, brace, tuck the chin, and drop the bar to your upper chest.
  5. Exhale and return the barbell to the lockout position, then repeat.

Standing Military Press

A person doing a standing military press

The standing military dumbbell press is among the most popular shoulder mass builders, and upper-body strength developers.

To perform the standing military dumbbell press: 

  1. Begin by grabbing two dumbbells and standing erect with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise the weights to shoulder height on both sides, then twist your palms forward.
  3. Keep your head up and your gaze forward.
  4. Raise the dumbbells over your head slowly until both arms are nearly completely stretched.
  5. Don't pause at the peak of the action; immediately lower the weights back to the initial position, and repeat.

Arnold Press

This is a variant of the overhead press. Instead of raising the dumbbell upward and downward in a straight line, you twist it and give depth to the range of motion.

To perform the Arnold press

  1. Grab two dumbbells and stand tall with your legs shoulder-width apart to perform the Arnold press.
  2. Lift the dumbbells to roughly shoulder height on both sides, then rotate your palms to face your body.
  3. Your weights should now be in front of the shoulders. Your back should be straight, and your knees should be slightly bent.
  4. Slowly lift the dumbbells over your head while twisting your wrists so the palms are now facing front (away from your body) while keeping your gaze ahead.
  5. Continue to raise the weight until the arms are nearly completely extended.
  6. Don't paise at the peak of the action before beginning to descend the dumbbells down to the beginning position - twisting your wrists until your palms are again facing your body, and repeat.

Smith Machine Overhead Press

A person doing a smith machine overhead press

The Smith machine overhead press promotes muscular development and strength over the shoulder area.

A good Smith machine's range of motion aids beginners in acquiring movement patterns.

To perform the Smith machine overhead press:

  1. Sit on the bench press seat with back support right beneath a Smith machine's barbell.
  2. Grab the barbell with a double overhand grip just above shoulder height, somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Press the weight overhead with your hands as tight as possible until your arms are locked.
  4. Pause at the peak, then drop it back to the beginning, and repeat.

Related Posts:


What Do Military Presses Work?

The military press works your shoulder, upper back, upper chest, core, and triceps muscles.

Does the Military Press Build Mass?

Yes, the military press builds mass. The military press is a complex barbell action that increases upper body mass and strength while improving performance in power, strength, and fitness athletes.

What Is the Difference Between Push Press and Military Press?

The difference between the push press and the military press is that the military press concentrates more on the triceps and shoulders than the push press since there is no motion from the legs.

Supplementing Your Military Press Exercise

The military press is an essential resistance training technique in your workout routine.

Power, strength, and muscle mass are some additional benefits military press may provide to your performance.

With heavy weight maintained and pressed above, the military press may also improve core strength, balance, and shoulder mobility, resulting in more raw strength and power in your lifts.

Consider incorporating the military press with these strongest pre-workout supplements into your training regimen for optimal functionality.

The supplements proved effective by providing intense energy, maximum muscle pump, and reducing fatigue for strength training.


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