When it comes to building shoulder strength and size, the military press should be every bodybuilder’s go-to exercise. The military press or overhead press is considered superior to other pressing shoulder exercises such as the Arnold Press because it requires a lot more in the way of core stabilization.
If you’re wondering how to get wider shoulders and how to do a standing military press, then this article is for you. We’ll take a look at how to perform the military press and all its variations as well some top tips for getting the most out of your military press.
The Military Press (MP)
The military press is thought to have got its name for one of two reasons. The first is that this specific type of overhead press is used by the military as an indicator of strength. The second is that when you perform this press you have your heels close together as if you were standing to attention.
The primary muscles involved in a military press are the anterior and medial deltoids, but you’ll also be working the clavicular head of the chest and the triceps to perform the exercise.
How to Perform a MP
The standard military press is performed with a barbell.
- Begin with the barbell racked so it’s level with the top of your chest.
- Approach the bar so that your hands are shoulder-width apart. When you perform the press you want your wrists to be directly above your elbows. Taking a too wide grip can put too much stress on the shoulders.
- The bar should sit on top of the heel of your palm with your palm facing the ceiling. Your elbows should be directly underneath the bar
- Unrack the bar so the bar sits across the top of your chest
- Your heels should be together and your toes pointing slightly outwards.
- Keep your knees and hips locked, your core braced, and face forward throughout the exercise.
- Initiate the lift by squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging the shoulders to press the weight overhead until the elbows lock
- Return the weight to your chest.
- Rack the bar once your repetitions are complete.
One of the most common variants of the military press is the rear military press. The movement is almost identical apart from lowering to the top of your chest and pushing from there. You bring the bar behind your head so that it sits just above your shoulder blades.
This removes the upper pectorals from the beginning of the press and puts more emphasis on the deltoids and trapezius muscles. If you’re new to the rear military press, then it can feel quite uncomfortable at first due to the stretch in the shoulders. Be sure to start with an empty bar and work up in weight slowly.
Military Press Tips
Once you’ve mastered the basic form for the military press there are several slight adjustments you can make to target different areas of the shoulders and little techniques you can use to increase the weight and help to push past failure.
1. Building up to the MP
Because the military press requires a combination of stability and upwards pressing power it’s important to work on all the muscles involved in the military press.
Seated dumbbell presses are a great place to start to develop overhead pressing power without requiring the core stability to perform a military press. They’re also a great way to get used to handling weight over your head. Dumbbell overhead presses will also help to develop shoulder stability that will help with your military press.
Use the smith machine to perform seated overhead presses. Again, these will help to develop pressing power without requiring stability.
Building stronger triceps is key to developing a strong military press. Triceps pull downs and close grip bench press are two excellent ways to develop explosive force in your triceps to help develop your military press.
Once you start utilizing the military press, remember that it’s a technical lift with little room for error. Start light and load the bar slightly each time.
2. The Pin-Press
The pin-press is a great way to build up strength for the initial push of the military press. Set up the safety pins on a rack so that the bar sits just above your chest. Set yourself up as if you would perform the military press. Brace yourself and then push upwards.
Performing the pin-press means that you are completely static so it’s impossible to cheat the weight up in any way. It also means you can rest between each repetition without having to set the bar down on your chest.
3. Working Through Failure With the Push-Press
When you perform the military press it’s important not to use your legs to cheat the weight up. However, if you’re trying to move more weight or push through failure then using the legs in what is called a ‘push-press’ is a great way to push through failure.
Once you start to fatigue with the military press, you can dip your knees slightly as you bring the bar down to the top of the chest and then explode upwards as you push. This is a great way to get extra reps at the end of your set and hit hypertrophy.
4. Keep It Tight!
The key to a good military press is keeping everything tight. Before you even attempt to push you should be engaging all your major muscles. Glutes, quads, feet, calves, abs, and lats should all be firing before you press. The tighter you feel when you press the stronger you’ll be
5. Head Back
When you’re pressing a bar in front of your face it’s natural to want to move your nose out of the way. However, if you just tilt your head back then you’ll need to loop the bar forward as you press. This means for a weaker press.
Instead of just trying to move your nose out of the way, move your entire head back as if you were trying to give yourself a double-chin. This means you can press straight upwards.
6. Work on Your Weaknesses
It’s quite common for people to just target their triceps and deltoids when trying to build a stronger military press, but they probably aren’t the weakest links in the chain.
Be sure to carry out external shoulder rotation work to train your posterior deltoids. You should also train your obliques with offset carries and side planks for extra stability during the military press. The military press can also be taxing on the rotator cuff so be sure to carry out functional rotator cuff training.
Military Press FAQ
With all this in mind, you should be well on your way to performing the perfect military press. Here are some of the most common questions that get asked about performing the military press.
Is the Barbell MP Bad for My Shoulders?
When done properly the military press is an excellent way to build overall shoulder strength. However, several things can lead to injury:
- Trying to press too heavy too quickly and put your shoulders under a lot of stress and lead to injury
- The rear military press can also put a lot of stress on the shoulders so it’s important to build flexibility before attempting to load the bar up.
- Be sure to keep everything tight and follow strict form with every repetition. If you find yourself losing form then drop some weight.
Does the MP Help Build Broad Shoulders?
Absolutely. The military press is the number one exercise for overall shoulder development. It should be a staple of everybody’s shoulder workout.
When Should I Use the MP in My Workout?
The military press is a compound movement so ideally, you would do it at the beginning of a shoulder workout right after you’ve warmed up your shoulders. Performing the exercise towards the end of a workout can result in injury as all of the muscles used will already be fatigued.
Can I Use the MP as Part of a Superset?
As a compound lift, the military press works great on its own, especially for those following a 5×5 training program or something similar. However, it can also be paired with other exercises to form a superset:
- Agonist/Antagonist Superset – Perform the military press back to back with sets of chin-ups to target the opposing muscle groups
- Side or Front Lateral Superset – Before performing the military press try pre-exhausting the side or front of the shoulder with a set of lateral raises
How Should I Warm-Up for the MP?
Warming up your shoulders properly before military pressing is key to maintaining healthy shoulders. Light mobility work, band work, and pressing overhead with an empty bar are great ways to get your shoulders ready for the military press. Pull-ups can also work to help fire up the lats which will help with overall stability throughout the lift.
Like with any exercise, always be sure to perfect your form at lighter weights before piling weight on to the bar. This will help get your muscles used to the movement. Remember that your nutrition is a huge part of advancing with any exercise, and crucial for avoiding injury.