The Military Press


  • Assume a well-balanced standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and your toes pointed slightly to the sides.
  • For greater balance, assume a stride stance, i.e., one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Hold a barbell in both hands with a pronated grip, wider than shoulder width apart
  • The bar should be across the upper chest in line with the shoulders and the elbows should point out to the sides and downward.
  • When ready, inhale and hold your breath as you press the barbell directly overhead. Raise the bar until the arms and body are fully extended.
  • Maintain an erect trunk position throughout the movement and focus your vision directly in front.
  • Exhale after you pass the most difficult part of the up phase or when the arms are fully extended.
  • Pause momentarily in the fully extended arm position and then inhale and hold your breath as you lower the bar to the initial position. Then reverse directions and repeat.
  • In the final position, your arms and trunk should be fully extended and there should be a slightly greater curvature in the lower spine.

Training Tips

  • Be sure to raise the bar bell as high as possible so that the arms are fully extended and straight. This ensures a full contraction and maximum shortening of the deltoid and other muscles.
  • Heavy weights should not be used because of the tendency to hyperextend (arch) the lower back in order to raise the barbell. If the arching is excessive it can cause injury to the spine. Also the more you arch your back the more you bring in involvement of the pectoralis major rather than relying on the deltoid.
  • Breathing is very important in the execution especially when using heavy weights. When you inhale and hold your breath, you create greater intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure which helps to maintain a rigid trunk and ribcage. This in turn helps to protect the spine and provides a stable base on which the muscles can contract.
  • The barbell on the chest military press is preferred to the behind the head overhead press. This is especially true if you do not have sufficient shoulder flexibility to get the elbows back sufficiently far to do the behind the head press safely. The muscular involvement is basically the same in both variants and there is no appreciable advantage to the behind the neck press.
  • The seated military press is not recommended mainly because of the strong tendency to round the back when the weights are in front of the chest. The rounded back can create excessive stress on the discs and cause injury.
  • It is important that you maintain the spine in its neutral or slightly hyperextended curvature at all times. This is a strong spinal position that enables you to handle ten times more weight overhead than when your back is rounded.
  • The standing overhead press is also recommended since the legs can act as a safety valve if you run into trouble when the weights are overhead. In addition, the legs can be used to assist in pushing the weights upward in which case the exercise becomes a push press rather than a military press. This technique is helpful if you use very heavy weights.
  • If you stop and relax in the down position you lose the energy generated by the muscles during the eccentric contraction in the down phase. As a result, it becomes much more difficult to initiate the movement upward.
  • For variety and for greater emphasis on the anterior deltoid, you should do the classical military press. In this variant you use a narrow grip and hold the bar high on the chest with the elbows pointed forward. Execution overhead is the same as described as above.
  • Do not assume too wide a grip. Keep in mind that the wider the grip the less the range of action.
  • Do not volitionally contract the abdominals to stabilize the trunk. The erector spinae should be used to hold you stable in a standing position.


Major Muscles Involved In the shoulder joint the major muscles are the supraspinatus and the middle deltoid with an assist from the anterior deltiod. The deltoid gives the rounded outer appearance of the shoulders and when well developed, gives the appearance of wide shoulders. The supraspinatus is a small muscle lying under the upper trapzius. In the shoulder girdle, the serratus anterior, the upper and lower trapezius, levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles are involved. The trapezius is the major muscle of the upper middle back while the serratus anterior is located on the sides of the chest under the armpits. The rhomboid muscle lies under the middle portion of the trapezius in the middle of the back while the levator scapulae is a small muscle on the back inside of the neck and lies beneath the upper trapezius. Only one major muscle is involved in the elbow joint, the triceps brachii, a relatively large muscle composed of three heads, (the lateral, medial, and long)that cover the entire back of the upper arm.

Muscle And Joint Actons In the shoulder joint, the main action is abduction in which the upper arm is raised sideways and upwards. The middle deltoid and the supraspinatus are most important in this action. In the shoulder girdle the scapulae rotate upward full range. When viewed from the rear the lower edges of the scapulae rotate outward while the upper edges of the scapulae rotate inward. The upper and lower portions of the trapezius along with the seratus anterior perform this function. The scapulae also elevate, moving directly upward as they rotate upward. This allows the arms to move completely overhead. The major muscles involved here are the rhomboid, upper trapezius, and the levator scapulae. In the elbow joint, extension takes place in which the forearm moves away from the upper arm as the arm straightens. The triceps is the major muscle involved in this action. These muscles undergo a concentric or shortening contraction during the up phase and an eccentric or lengthening type of contraction on the down phase.

Sports Uses The military press is a most important exercise for bodybuilders to develop the middle deltoid. It involves the deltoid full range and achieves the greatest amount of shortening and muscle contraction tension. In addition, the military press is great for development of the upper and lower portions of the middle of the back. The combination of joint actions involved in the military press is used in a multitude of sports, as for example, in the clean and jerk and snatch in weightlifting and in various movements in gymnastics. It plays an important part in the recovery strokes in swimming and is beneficial (but not specific to) all overhead hitting actions. This includes the tennis service and smash and overhead and smash in racquetball. In basketball it is important for getting the arms up for a rebound or for shooting and in volleyball it is important for blocking and spiking The actions and muscle development are also important when throwing different punches in boxing, in the shotput and in handstand push-offs in gymnastics.

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