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Master the Military Press – An Essential Upper Body Exercise

Add this exercise to your training.

Looking to strengthen your upper body with a well-rounded exercise. The military press is sure to strengthen your shoulders, triceps, and even your abs.

The military press is a versatile exercise in which all you need is a barbell and weight plates. Find out how to do it, benefits, mistakes to avoid and how many sets and reps you should do.

Although very similar, the military press is not the same as the overhead press – the latter does the same movement, but with a different stance.

How To Do the Military Press

For this exercise, you will need a barbell and your desired weight plates.

  • Start with the barbell resting on your shoulders or upper chest.
  • Standing tall, keep your feet close to each other, almost touching.
  • Rotate shoulders and make sure your elbows are pointing straight down.
  • Press up the barbell towards the ceiling while maintaining your spine neutral.
  • Straighten your elbows as you push the barbell up.
  • Pause for a second at the top of the movement, with elbows almost locked out.
  • Descend the barbell in a controlled way utilising your lats until you the barbell is back to its original position.
  • Inhale when you lower the barbell and exhale when you lift it up.
  • That is one rep.

Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked on the military press are your shoulders, or deltoids, but other muscles are also activated during the standard movement.

  • Anterior deltoid
  • Medial deltoid
  • Triceps
  • Core
  • Upper chest

Since you are standing with feet touching each other, you need to brace your core to keep your balance while doing the up and down movement of the barbell.

The upper chest of your body is also somewhat engaged during the military press, more specifically the clavicular head.

military press

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake you can do is to arch your back. Not maintaining a neutral spine during the entirety of the movement increases your proneness to injury.

When holding the barbell on your shoulders before setting the first rep, some people could potentially bend the wrists and that should be avoided. Bending your wrists during this exercise means you are loading too much weight or lack shoulder mobility.

Avoid flaring out your elbows as this shows a lack of triceps strength and upper back stability. Address this issue with isolation exercises (facepulls or tricep extensions) before adventuring into the military press.

Another mistake some people might do is pressing the bar forwards instead of upwards. This can happen you lack overhead mobility or simply did not set up correctly the exercise from the beginning.

Benefits of Doing Military Press

As it is common with most compound movements, the military press will burn more calories in less time by engaging more muscle groups compared to an isolation exercise for your shoulders (such as the lateral raise).

Utilising the barbell means you can increase the weight and difficulty of the exercise easily, making it a great option to build more muscle via hypertrophy.

Sets and Reps

If you are a beginner, keep a fairly low weight and do more reps to increase your endurance. 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps is a good rule of thumb.

For intermediate and advanced athletes who are looking to gain upper body strength, reduce the number of sets and reps, but keep the barbell fairly heavy. 2-4 sets of 6-8 reps should do the trick.

No matter how advanced or novice you are at performing the military press, make sure you take at least 60 seconds of rest between sets. For advanced athletes, even more resting time is advisable.

press strength exercisesSource: RX'd Photography


The military press is similar to other exercises. Below you will find other variations/exercises that also targets similar muscle groups in the body.

Overhead/Strict Press

Seated Overhead Press

Dumbbell Overhead Press

Push Press

Shoulder Pin Press

Read More: 8 CrossFit Workouts to Build Impressive Upper Body Strength

Learn more

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