If you’re looking for an exercise that hits multiple upper body muscles while strengthening your core, learning how to do the military press correctly is an absolute must.
As a compound move, the military press hits a number of different muscle groups, meaning you get more bang for your buck here. That said, it also has the added bonus of being a flexible exercise that can be performed at the gym with a rack, or at home with the best adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells.
The military press is an effective way to build shoulder strength in the deltoid and posterior deltoids, while also strengthening the triceps in the back of the arms. It’s an exercise that can be adapted to all fitness levels, but if you’ve had a shoulder injury before, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before practicing this move. Although a study published in the Diary of Elbow and Shoulder Surgery found that the military press was also an effective rehabilitation exercise for patients with reduced shoulder movement.
However, good form is crucial when executing the military press as there is a risk of injury if the move is executed incorrectly. Read on to learn all about mastering the military press and the adjustments to make the exercise more comfortable or challenging.
How do you make a military press?
James Davis, a personal trainer at The Midlife Mentorsdescribes how to run a military press while maintaining good form.
To do the military press, it is important to first warm up the shoulder joint by rotating the arms back and forth. You can then perform a few reps, such as bicep curls, with a very light dumbbell to warm up the muscles.
If you have a rack available, place a barbell at collarbone height in front of the starting position. If you don’t have a rack, you can lift your barbell off the floor, keeping your core engaged and your lower back straight, to raise the barbell so that it rests on your upper chest/collarbone area.
Start with a lighter weight on the bar if you’re new to the movement, as going too heavy can increase your risk of injury. Stand with your feet within shoulder width, so they are close together. Position your hands so they are facing away from you with your grip shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your core engaged and your lower back straight, pull your elbows forward slightly (within shoulder width) and press straight up overhead. Exhale as you do this movement and think about squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Don’t arch your lower back and keep your knees soft rather than locked out.
Slowly lower the barbell back to your upper chest area as you inhale. That’s one representative.
Aim for three to four sets of eight to 12 reps with a 30 to 60 second rest between sets. Make sure to maintain good form until the last rep of the last set. If necessary, reduce the weight to protect the form.
Avoid doing a behind-the-neck press as it increases the risk of shoulder injuries. Always express for you. If your lower back bends back to lift the weight, you are overweight and need to reduce the weight.
What are the benefits of the military press?
The military press is a great upper body move. It mainly targets the shoulders, but your triceps and trapezius work too.
The press also works your core because of the narrow stance of the movement, making it a great upper body and core conditioning move. If your core isn’t that strong yet, a slightly wider stance will take some of the pressure off the core and on the shoulders. Here are some of the best ab workouts on YouTube to build core strength.
How can I make the military press easier or more difficult?
If you want to make the military press easier, a slightly wider stance will take the pressure off the core. You can experiment with slightly wider and narrower handles – work with what feels comfortable to you – because everyone has different degrees of shoulder flexibility.
To focus more on the shoulders, you can also perform the military press seated, using a rack or a Smith Machine. Always make sure to push your lower back into the upright bench.
If the movement is uncomfortable with a barbell, you can switch to barbells, which allow a greater amount of movement in the shoulder for greater comfort. Dumbbells allow you to keep your palms out or turn your palms in toward your head into a neutral grip that some people find more comfortable.
To make the move more difficult, simply increase the weight of the barbell or barbell, or increase the number of reps you complete.
Looking for more training inspiration? Here’s a resistance band workout that’ll build your arms without weights, a guide to getting your shape right for the barbell row, and an exercise as good as planks for blasting your core.