The Complete Guide To The Military Press: The Best Shoulder Exercise

The Complete Guide To The Military Press

Do you want to develop full, round, and strong shoulders? Of course, you do, who doesn’t.
The military press is the exercise that will take you there. In this article, I provide a complete guide to the military press.

What Is The Military Press?

The military press also called the overhead press (OHP) is an exercise you typically do standing with a barbell.

In short, you grab the barbell and push it up over your head. That’s the simplistic view of the exercise. Although there are a few more things you should know before performing this exercise.

What Muscles Does The Military Press Work?

The primary muscles the military press works are your shoulders, upper chest, triceps, and core.

Although the military press also hits your lats, biceps, and glutes to a smaller extent.

The Correct Form For The Military Press In 5 Steps

This exercise isn’t the most technical, but you do want to use proper form. As a result, you’ll minimize injury and maximize the effectiveness of this exercise.

The equipment needed to perform the military press is as follows:

  • A squat rack or power rack.
  • An olympic bar (20kg/ 45lbs).
  • Weights (these will vary depending on how strong you are).

Before performing the military press you need to set the bar up so that it’s level with the middle of your chest. This should be just above your nipples.

1. Firstly you want to walk up to the bar and take a grip of just wider than shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar with your thumbs around it. However, do not use a thumbless suicide grip. Because this can be dangerous.

2. Secondly you then want to unrack the bar, let it rest on your shoulders, and take 2 steps back.

3. Thirdly you want to assume the correct foot position. However, for most people, I’ve found that standing just a bit wider than shoulder-width apart is ideal.

4. You then want to take a deep breath, arch your back, keep your chest up and push the bar up overhead until your elbows are locked out.

5. Lastly, you then want to lower the bar in a controlled manner to your sternum and repeat the exercise again. Resetting your breath and bracing your core between each rep.

Additional Form Tips:

Throughout this exercise, you must keep the bar as close to your body as possible. This will result in a more efficient bar path. Heavy weights must always travel vertically.

Make sure that as you begin the press, you lift your chin up slightly and try to just miss hitting your chin on the way up. You don’t want to turn the military press into a face press.

Seriously be careful not to hit yourself in the face with the bar.

The standing military press although it mostly targets your shoulders, is a full-body exercise. Make sure you squeeze your abs and tense your quads and glutes for an extra boost in strength.

Always use a full range of motion. No half rep Harrys.

The 3 Best Variations Of The Military Press

The standing military press is a great exercise, but I urge you to include other military press variations in your programming as well.

This will keep your training fun and will allow for more variety in your routine.

1. The Seated Barbell Military Press

This exercise is almost exactly the same as the standing version of the military press. Although you’ll be sitting on a bench with the seat up to around 90 degrees or slightly lower.
It’s best to use a power rack for this variation.

2. The Seated Dumbell Military Press

For this exercise, your foot position and everything else are the same as the form I described for the military press.

The only difference is that you are sitting on a bench with the bench set at around a 90-degree angle or slightly lower. And you’re also using dumbbells.

Firstly, pick up a pair of dumbbells that you can do safely with good form.

Secondly, rest the dumbbells on your knees and once you’re ready to perform your set, kick them up to your shoulders.

Lastly, tuck your elbows in slightly and start pressing the weight up.

Always use a full range of motion and be sure not to flare your elbows out.

Moreover, you can also perform the standing version of this exercise. Although I don’t recommend it because you waste a lot of energy just getting the dumbbells up to your shoulders while you stand.

3. The Arnold Press

The Arnold press form is pretty much the same as the seated dumbbell press although with one difference.

You’ll begin the movement with a rotation of the shoulders. You won’t be able to lift as much weight with this exercise but you’ll be working over a larger range of motion compared to a standard press.

Other Military Press Variations

As you may have noticed the military press variations in this article are all using free weights.
Primarily because the military press is traditionally done with a barbell.

But the military press is also referred to as the shoulder press and there are many variations of this movement pattern.

For example, any vertical pushing variation will target mainly the same muscles as the military press.

Every pushing variation in this article primarily targets your anterior delts and tris. And to a slightly lesser degree your middle delts.

Here is a couple of other shoulder pressing variations:

The Smith Machine Shoulder Press

This exercise is done in the same manner as the seated military press, although you’ll be using the smith machine.

The Shoulder Press Machine

There are many different shoulder press machines out there and generally, they’re very easy to use.

A Quick Note On Free Weights Vs Machines

I think that free weights are superior to machines. Because you can repeat the same exercise in gyms everywhere. For example barbells, weight plates, and dumbbells are standardized.

And you can repeat these exercises whatever gym you go to. Dumbbells and barbells are typically the foundation of any gym.

Whereas machines can handle weight very differently. This is because there are so many different machines for similar muscle groups.

For example, one shoulder press machine can handle the weight very differently compared with another shoulder press machine.

Also, the average shoulder press machine is made for the average person’s build.

To elaborate on this point the average male in the UK is 5ft 9.

What do you think happens when a 5ft 3 male or a 6ft 3 male uses this machine? The answer is It can feel awkward for them.

Wheres if that person used free weights they’d do fine. This is because free weights can work for anyone. You simply use the free weights in the most efficient way for your anthropometry.

Here’s the deal though, most people will find that most machines feel okay and some machines feel uncomfortable. Use the machines that feel comfortable and focus on progressive overload.

This essentially means getting stronger than you were previously.

Whatever military press variation you choose focus on progressive overload and you’ll do well.

A 3x Per Week Full Body Workout Routine With A Focus On Shoulder Pressing 2 Days Per Week

Day (A)

Barbell squats 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Standing military press 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Conventional deadlift 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Calf raises 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Day (B)

Leg press 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Barbell bench press 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Seated Cable rows 3 sets of 6-8 reps

3 sets of bicep curls of 6-8 reps

Day (C)

Romanian Deadlifts 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Seated Dumbbell military press 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Lat pulldowns (supinated grip) 3 sets of 6-8 reps

3 sets of tricep pushdowns of 6-8 reps

How To Progress With This Routine

The progression model for this routine is called double progression. Once you hit the top of your rep range (which is 8 reps) you put the weight up by 5kg/10lbs for deadlifts, squats and the leg press and then you try to get 6 reps.

For every other exercise, you’ll only put the weight up by 2.5kg once you hit the top of your rep range.

Here’s how progression would work for deadlifts:

Week 1

Set 1 – 80kg for 8 reps

Set 2 – 85kg for 6 reps

Set 3 85kg for 6 reps

Week 2

Set 1 – 85kg for 7 reps

.Set 2 – 85kg for 7 reps

.Set 3 85kg for 6 reps

Week 3

Set 1 – 85kg for 8 reps

Set 2 – 90kg for 6 reps

Set 3 – 90kg for 6 reps

How To Warm Up With This Routine

Here’s a simple warm-up:

First warm-up set – 50% of your heavy working sets for 12 reps.

Second warm-up set – 70% of your heavy working sets for 4 reps.

Third warm-up set – 90% of your heavy working sets for 2 reps.

Here’s an example:

If you normally Military Press 50kg for your working sets, here’s what the warm-up would look like:

First set – 25kg for 12 reps.

Second set – 35kg for 4 reps.

Third set – 45g for 2 reps.

Then perform your working sets.

The Bottom Line On The Complete Guide To The Military Press

  • The Military press (and its variations) is beyond a doubt the fundamental exercise to build your shoulders.
  • Essentially the military press is an exercise where you push heavy objects over your head.
  • The standing military press is essentially a full-body exercise. It’s not the most technical. Although it can feel extremely hard as the weights get heavy.

Do you include the military press or its variations in your workouts?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and if you need any extra help send me an email at

Published by henrypaget

Hi, I'm Henry and it's my mission to help you succeed with your fitness & health.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: