Even though you’ll be forced to use less weight with a military press than with an overhead press, you get a better core workout during the exercise. Strengthening your core muscles in this way will have the added bonus of making you able to handle more weight when you do tackle the overhead press or push press.
Before we go into further detail on how to perform the military press it’s worth noting that the term is often used to describe any overhead press done with strict form, but we’re going to take a stand and say you need your feet together to call it a true military press. After all, who stands to attention with their feet shoulder-width apart?
How To Warm Up Before The Military Press
Never go straight into heavy overhead presses. The ball and socket joint of the shoulder and the muscles that surround it are easy to injure, and this is one of the quickest ways to do that.
Prep your body by doing two sets of 20 shoulder dislocates with a broom handle and then two sets of 30/30 light push presses – that’s 30 seconds of work, 30 seconds of rest. Do the two sets with no break, then rest for two minutes. Repeat once more and you’re ready to start working your way through your military press sets – starting light, of course.
Military Press Form Guide
Military Press Form Tips
Make sure you drive your feet through the floor. Think of each press as a leg press or back squat. You want to drive down through your feet to create stability and tension in your lower body. This creates a rigid frame, which means more strength can be transferred upwards into your arms as you drive the bar above. So actively tense your glutes, quads as well as your core during every rep.
Use these form tips from strength coach Mike Causer to get more weight overhead and keep challenging your core and deltoids under the bar.
“Taking a deep breath before you start the lift will help stabilise your ribcage and shoulder blades,” says Causer. “Breathe out as you press the weight up and breathe in as you lower it.”
“Grip the bar with your hands just more than shoulder-width apart so you can lock your arms out comfortably. Any wider and you’ll lose drive.”
“Aim to keep your forearms vertical throughout the move to keep the weight balanced and put the load through the elbow rather than the wrist.”
“Keep your elbows vertically in line with your ears – don’t move them forwards or backwards – to make sure you press the weight up through the shortest possible distance.”
“Don’t go below your chin. If you lower the bar too far you’re likely to excessively internally rotate your shoulders and you’ll take the emphasis of the weight off your deltoids, so only go as low as your chin.”
Common Mistakes With The Military Press
Overloading The Bar
The military press is a difficult, technical lift with little room for error. To avoid making your way into a gym fails compilation video, select a weight that allows you to perform strict, controlled reps.
When pressing the bar overhead, don’t forget to keep your core engaged. Not only does this protect your lower back from excessive strain, but the central placement of the abdominals within the body also makes their activation pivotal for strength. Forget to engage the core and you won’t lift sufficient weight.
Work All Angles
The shoulder muscle comprises three heads: the front (anterior) deltoid or delt, the middle (medial) delt and the rear (posterior) delt. Too much vertical and horizontal pressing places excessive strain on your front and middle delts, which in the worst case scenario can result in internally rotated shoulders. Ensure your rear delts are gaining enough stimulation by performing resistance band pull-aparts for two sets of 20 to 30 reps. Not only will your posture benefit, but you’ll be able to retract your shoulder blades more effectively, making you better at performing the military press.
Military Press Variations
Dumbbell military press
Using for dumbbells rather than the barbell makes your core work even harder to keep you balanced as you press the weights overhead with your feet together. It’s also a good way to highlight any imbalances in your muscles, because you could well be relying on one side of your body to do the bulk of the work when pressing a barbell overhead. When each side has its own weight to lift, that will iron out any strength discrepancies in no time.
If you want a shoulder press that forces your core to work even harder – therefore demanding that you have your form absolutely perfect when you do military presses – try the suitcase press. Get into military press position, holding a barbell to the side of your head in one hand. You’ll need to have your hand in the middle of it to stop it toppling, and you’ll have to go super-light. Press it, making sure you don’t tilt your body to either side, then lower under control. As with the dumbbell version, working one side at a time ensures you’ll make balanced strength gains.