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What is a Military Press and How to Do It Properly

Strength training helps people lose or manage their weight. It also helps increase metabolism, resulting in the burning of calories. 

Undergoing strength training can also improve a person’s quality of life and ability to perform everyday activities. This type of exercise also protects joints from injury.

Military presses are strength-training exercises that facilitate muscle growth. It is also one of the pandemic sports that you can safely perform. They can also contribute to better balance and may reduce the risk of falls. This can help people maintain their independence as they age.

What is a Military Press or Overhead Press?

A military press helps develop major muscle groups, including the upper chest, shoulder, and core muscles. Also known as a shoulder press and overhead press, the workout is a strength training workout focusing on the deltoid muscles in your shoulders.

overhead presss
Photo by photo by Jeremy Ether

The exercise is performed by holding a weight overhead with both hands and then pressing it upward until your arms are extended fully. It is one of the best sports for you to perform if you want to build strength.

overhead press military press
Photo by Victor Freitas

It was once a popular Olympic sport before its removal from the games. The military press eventually lost popularity compared to other bodybuilding exercises like the deadlift, bench press, and push press.

Types of Military Presses

The traditional military press requires both hands to hold a barbell that rests on your shoulder and upper chest. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and standing on a solid surface. 

However, several military press variations target different muscle groups.

  • Standing Military Press. The standing military press is the standard workout that builds shoulder muscles. It is also called the overhead, strict, and shoulder press. 
  • This standing barbell press focuses on building the deltoid muscle and works the shoulders and triceps. The workout also involves keeping the core engaged to stabilize the spine while lifting the weight overhead.
  • Seated Military Press. The main difference between a seated military press and a standing overhead press is the use of a bench.
    When performing this seated barbell press, you should keep your feet flat and around shoulder-width apart. You should also turn your knees and toes slightly outwards.
  • Push Press. The push press is similar to a standing press but involves pushing the bar from your shoulders using your hips and legs.
    The workout routine starts with a quarter squat. You should press the bar upward while rising from the squat until you lock your arms overhead.
  • Kettlebell Z Press. Zydrunas Savickas of Lithuania invented the Z press. The routine requires using a kettlebell that emphasizes spinal and core stability. Even though the range of motion is similar to other overhead press exercises, the Z press is slightly challenging to perform. But it also offers more benefits.
  • Smith Machine Military Press. This military press variation uses a Smith machine since many gyms do not have a dedicated station for the workout.
    But using the machine produces less muscle activation, resulting in lesser strength and muscle gain.

Performing the Military Press

Performing these shoulder exercises requires following three steps to ensure proper form.

  1. The first step focuses on setting up the squat rack to facilitate heavy overhead presses. The step ensures you can perform the military press correctly.
  2. The ascent focuses on overhead pressing strength. You should keep the bar straight while you lift it. To facilitate this, you should extend your upper back slightly to allow the bar to pass in front of your face.
  3. The descent is the reverse of the ascent. You should slowly lower the bar down to your upper chest area without drifting forward. To avoid hitting your head, lean your upper back and head backward.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Military Press

Military pressing is a shoulder-building workout focusing on your triceps, traps, anterior deltoid, and lateral deltoid. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of performing a military press.


  • Works on Shoulder Muscles. The exercise allows you to work on three shoulder muscles simultaneously. These are the anterior deltoid, traps, and triceps. The exercise also works on your rhomboids, helping increase upper body strength.
  • Stabilizes the Spine. The workout also helps stabilize your spine. It allows your back muscles to move in synergy when you lift the weight. The routine also strengthens your shoulders, triceps, and back muscles.
  • Versatile Exercise. The military press is a versatile exercise that you can perform while standing or sitting. Standing or sitting while exercising works on your stabilizing muscles and allow you to work on your abdominal muscles.


  • Lighter weight. Performing military presses requires lifting lighter weights. If you lift heavy weights can result in poor form. When you add weight, it can cause excessive strain on your lower back when you perform the exercise
  • Versatility. The versatility of the workout is also a disadvantage. Even though you can perform it while standing or sitting, you are performing the same movement. So, you will focus on the same muscles when performing the exercise.

Compared with Other Workout Routines

Performing a military press is significantly different than other weightlifting routines. Here are the ways the military press differs from the shoulder press and the Arnold press.

Shoulder Press

Even though the military press is a variation of the shoulder press, there are some differences between the two workout routines. The military press works on the deltoid and triceps. On the other hand, the shoulder press is limited to the deltoid muscles.

You can use a dumbbell and barbell when performing a shoulder press while you can only use a barbell when performing the military press.

Arnold Press

One significant difference between the two exercises is the stand. The military press has a strict posture to maintain tension in the body. On the other hand, you can spread your feet out in an Arnold press.

The Arnold press uses both dumbbells and barbells while the military press is limited to using a barbell. But you can perform both exercises while sitting or standing.

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