Step By Step Guide: The Military Press


The military press is a great exercise for developing the upper body, its strength, and in particular those of the deltoids and triceps. These are the main muscles in this movement, its worth remembering that these muscles are generally quite small. This is a Step By Step Guide : The Military Press.

The military press does not have a muscle the size of the pectorals behind it, like the bench press does.  Which is why its not rare to find big 170kg benchers who will military press around 90kg.

Despite this, the military press, also known as the overhead press or the shoulder press, and its variations: – the push press; the seated shoulder press; Z press, and; one armed shoulder press, are all excellent for increasing upper body strength and developing those capped looking shoulders.

The Muscles involved

I said in the introduction that the main muscles used are the deltoid group (anterior, medial and posterior) and the triceps of the upper arm are the main movers for this. It is worth remembering that the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, core,  and even the glutes and legs are used in the stablisation of this exercise.

Why Do it?

I think there’s something very primal about hoisting a big heavy weight over head in the manner of the military press. Sure, everyone will ask what you bench long before they ask about your military pressing credentials, but it still feels great.

If you’re a powerlifter, increased shoulder strength and hypertrophy could help lead to a bigger bench in the long run. While the crossover isn’t direct, the increased stimulus for hypertrophy could leader to the shoulders holding their own better in a big bench press.

If you’re a bodybuilder, or someone training for aesthetics, it will definitely improve the shape and add some size to your shoulders and triceps. The increase in strength here will also lead to you being able to handle more volume in other shoulder exercises, which will lead to greater strength and size gains.

Step By Step – How to Do It

I know this is the main part you’re all looking for so –

To get the best out of a military press you should : –

  • Load up a barbell at shoulder height on a rack, Yes, you can clean it up but unless you’re training the clean and press, the initial clean will take away energy from the press. Also, how many people will actually clean it up safely?
  • Grab the bar a little wider than shoulder width, this could vary for some. You may need to go a bit wider than this, play around with it and see what feels and responds best.
  • Step back, barbell in hand, and set the barbell across your collar bone/clavicle.
  • Tense your butt. This is one many people miss out, but this helps your overall standing posture and allows for you to stabilise and, therefore, stay more upright which then means you can drive into the lift more.
  • Press the bar straight up, ideally missing your chin, nose and face on the way up.
  • As the bar passes your head, bring your head forward. This will add a bit more of a push to the movement. Just be careful not to drop the bar now as it would land on your head.
  • Lock the elbows, without hyperextension, by the fully extended the triceps.
  • Reverse the movement so that you, again, don’t hit yourself in the head, and bring the bar back down to your collar bone.

You should do all of this on every rep in order to get the absolute most out of each press.

Things to keep in mind

The shoulders tend to tire out very quickly, particularly on movements where they are the main mover. I often find that I’ll do a set of military press and think “definitely got another 5kg/ another set of 5 reps in me today,” only to attempt it and not have bar make it past my chin.

The military press is mainly a strength exercise, this means that high volume work on it will be harder than some other exercises. If you have a day set aside for just shoulders, or upper body in general, then you might want to do these first, while you’re fresh.

Use your glutes. I know it may look like this is a superfluous tip but try it. You will feel stronger for it.

Putting it all together

Here I’ll give you a couple of sample workouts for you to try which involve the military press.

For Strength:

Military Press – 3 sets of 5. Take the weight up each set, ending with a set that should feel like you have one more, grindy, rep in you.

Follow this with a drop set of 5.

Incline Barbell Bench – 3 sets of 8.

Barbell Row – 4 sets of 6.

Pullups – 3 sets of 8.

The exercise selection here is two pushing movements for the upper body, balanced with two pulling movements for the upper body. This selection will help keep your shoulder joints and musculature healthy by providing an event posture and not a hunch back with an over prescription of presses.

The volume here also fits into Eric Helms’s recommendation of 40-70 reps per muscle group per session.

For Hypertrophy: 

This one is taken directly from Arnold’s Encyclopaedia on Modern Bodybuilding. It’s nasty, and it is from when he loved to do supersets, trisets and giant sets. Enjoy.

Triset of :

Military press,

Upright Row,

Lateral raises –

3 sets of 8.

If you’re unsure how a triset works, you do the first exercise for the set of 8, and then after no rest and then do the second. Once the second is done, well, you may have guessed, you move on to the third. Then you can rest.

Then you repeat for another two rounds.

The Military Press

It’s great for strength and size. It’s nasty to do, but it feels so good to lift a big, heavy weight up over your head.

Get good at it, do it a lot and you’ll definitely reap the rewards.

James Wilks

Hey guys, thanks for reading. This website should help you cut through all the BS and make an informed choice with supplements. I was like you 2 years ago, trawling the internet looking at review, after review, after review. But now that's changed, I've taken my years working in the supplements industry and created this website to help you make the right choice. If you like something please share on social media! Or drop me a message. Always good to hear from you guys.

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