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The Ultimate Guide to the Military Press: The Key to Great Shoulders

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The Ultimate Guide to the Military Press: The Key to Great Shoulders

If you want to build a muscular, strong upper body and push your shoulders to their limits, then you want to do the military press.

 

Pick it up and put it down.

Those seven words summarize effective weightlifting. The more an exercise meets that description, and the more challenging it is, the more you should be doing it.

  • Take the deadlift, for example. It’s arguably the hardest and single best exercise you can do for whole-body strength and muscularity and it literally has you pick weight up and put it down.
  • The squat would be number two on my list of the toughest “must-do” exercises and it too involves the simplest of motions: weighted sitting and standing, up and down.
  • Then there’s the bench press, undeniably one of the best upper-body builders, and how do you do it? Push weight up and down.

And last but not least is the subject of this article…the overhead (and less glamorous) version of the bench press…the military press.

This exercise was once the test of total upper-body strength, before we started asking “how much do you bench bro?” and it’s found in every serious weightlifting program for a good reason:

Research shows it’s the most effective exercise you can do to build anterior deltoid strength and it also heavily involves the triceps, upper back.

I know firsthand the effectiveness of the military press. Here’s a picture of me several years ago, before I had gotten serious about my heavy military pressing:

overhead press

If you look at my left shoulder in relation to my bicep and tricep, you can see it’s just too small.

So I got to work, and here’s what a couple years of hard shoulder pressing did:

military press

I could still use a bit more lateral deltoid development, but the overall shape of my shoulders has improved quite dramatically. And I can thank the military press for much of that.

Like all powerful compound exercises, however, the military press demands respect. Half-reps get you half-results. Half-form can get you worse.

Well, in this article you’re going to learn everything you need to know to do the perfect press. May your shoulders never be the same!

The Muscles Worked by the Military Press

standing military press

The beauty of a compound exercise like the military press is it trains several major muscles simultaneously.

The primary muscle groups involved are…

The shoulders.

The military press trains all three deltoid muscles with the emphasis on the anterior (front) deltoids.

(And as a side note, if you want full, “3D,” “cannonball” shoulders, military pressing along won’t get you there. Check out this article on shoulder training to learn more.

The upper back.

The primary muscle group in your back recruited by the military press is the trapezius (traps), but the rhomboids also play an important role as well as the muscles in the lower back.

I haven’t done a shrug in years but have built some pretty well-developed traps through heavy military pressing and deadlifting alone.

The triceps and biceps.

Some people say you don’t need to directly train your arms if you do a lot of pulling and pushing.

I think it depends on your goals.

  • If you’re trying to add size to your arms, then you’re going to benefit from exercises like the deadlift, bench press, and military press as well as exercises designed to specifically target the biceps and triceps.
  • If you’re just trying to maintain your current arm size but not add to it, then you should be able to do it without exercises specifically for your biceps and triceps.

The core.

One of the things that makes the military press more challenging than other shoulder exercises is having to stabilize your entire torso as you move the weight. This job falls on your core muscles.

Is Dumbbell Pressing Better Than Barbell Pressing?

arnold press

EMG research shows that dumbbell pressing may activate the shoulder muscles slightly more than barbell pressing, but the effects seen were small and EMG data isn’t exactly rock solid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practically speaking, I wouldn’t say the dumbbell military press is better than the barbell press or vice versa.

Like the bench press, I’ve found dumbbell and barbell pressing to be complementary and have included both in my workout routines for some time now. Both require strength and stability and both produce good results, and I recommend you alternate between them.

What I like to do is 6 to 8 weeks of heavy barbell pressing followed by 6 to 8 weeks of heavy dumbbell pressing.

Is the Seated Military Press or Standing Press Better?

military press muscles worked

There are two variations of the military press–standing and seated.

Give them a try and you’ll quickly learn that the standing military press (also known as the overhead press) is significantly harder than the seated. And harder usually means better.

The same EMG study I cited earlier supports this, showing that the standing presses (both dumbbell and barbell) activated the shoulder muscles slightly more than their seated counterparts.

Furthermore, many well-informed fitness experts say the standing barbell press is the superior choice and I don’t necessarily disagree. In terms of whole-body training, there’s no question that the standing press is superior.

That said, there are two drawbacks to the standing military press that you should be aware of:

  • Your 1RM will be lower.
  • You have to be more careful when you’re trying to move heavy weights (80%+ of 1RM).

You see, the standing press places a lot more stress on the lower back and core than the seated press, which means you won’t be able to lift as much weight and and you’ll be at a higher risk of injury if your form is sloppy.

These disadvantages are especially true with the standing dumbbell press, which really doesn’t lend itself to heavy pressing.

This makes the overhead press a better whole-body exercise but if you’re trying to maximally overload your shoulders, the seated press allows you to “target” your shoulders with heavier weights.

My personal preference is the seated military press (barbell and dumbbell) because I feel that my heavy deadlifting and squatting is more than enough for my core and back. Every few months, though, I like to alternate between standing (barbell) and seated (dumbbell and barbell) military pressing.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Should You Use a Smith Machine or Free Weights?

military press vs overhead press

Research shows that the Smith machine is inferior to a free barbell for both bench pressing and squatting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That said, I do
The reason why is simple: the Smith machine exercises activate less muscle fibers than their free weight counterparts.

I don’t know of any studies comparing the free barbell military press to the Smith machine press, but I would expect similar findings.

Some people might say the Smith machine is safer but this is more or less a non-issue if you learn and stick to proper form.

Stay off the Smith machine and stick to the proper barbell military press.

How to Have Perfect Military Press Form

dumbbell military press

Big compound movements like the military press are double-edged swords.

When done properly, they’re unrivaled in terms of strength and muscle building. When they’re done improperly, however, they lose their advantages over other exercises and even become dangerous.

The bottom line is if you’re going to do the military press, you need to ensure you’re doing it correctly.

So let’s find out how it’s done.

How to Do the Seated Military Press

The seated press requires a proper military press station, which looks like this:

military press station

If your gym doesn’t have this piece of equipment or if you can’t rig something like it using a power rack and utility bench, then you can opt for the standing variation, which you can perform in a squat rack.

The Seated Military Press Setup

Place your feet flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart with your toes and knees slightly turned out.

Press your heels into the ground to keep your upper back and butt rooted in place against the back of the bench.

Grip the bar like you would during the bench press: about shoulder-width and the bar over your wrists, not in your fingers. Your back should be in a neutral position.

Don’t make the common mistake of gripping the bar too widely. This sets you up for a poor bar path.

The Seated Military Press Movement

To begin the descent, take a deep breath, tighten your abs and glutes, and press your chest up.

Bring the bar straight down toward your clavicle, and keep your elbows tucked under your hands and angled slightly forward, like this:

how to military press

Tilt your head back to allow the bar to pass your nose and chin and look forward, not straight up. (This is why a high-backed bench/seat doesn’t work for the military press: you can’t tilt your head back to get it out of the way and are forced to lower the weight lower down your chest, which is incorrect.)

There should be a slight arch in your lower back at the bottom of the lift, but don’t overdo this as it can cause injury when you start loading more and more weight. If you’re arching too much, the weight is probably too heavy.

Once the bar has reached your clavicle, raise it straight up along the path of descent, and once it passes your forehead, shift your torso a little forward and squeeze your glutes.

Keep raising the bar until your elbows are locked: your shoulders and back should be tight and squeezed and your traps should be shrugged, which helps prevent joint issues.

How to Do the Standing Military Press

The standing press is performed in exactly the same way, really—you’re just standing.

The bar rests on the squat rack at the same height as if you were squatting, and once you’ve unracked it, the movement is as described above.

To recap: place the feet and grip shoulder-width apart, grip the bar like the bench press, keep the back neutral, descend straight to the clavicles, tilt the head back while looking forward, raise the bar along the same path, shift the torso forward slightly, squeeze the glutes, and lock out.

The Bottom Line on the Military Press

seated military press

When it comes to working out, one of the worst mistakes you can make is neglecting exercises like the military press, bench press, squat, and deadlift.

Your number one goal as a natural weightlifter should be getting a strong as possible on these key lifts.

Use the advice in this article to get the most out of your military pressing and use the advice in this article to build an effective workout routine and it’ll only be a matter of time until you have that big, strong, and powerful upper body that you really want.c

 

What do you think about the military press? Have anything else to add? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Laurie

    Michael, I have been working on your program using the workbook for about 5 weeks and already feel so much stronger and I’m seeing fat disappear. My only issue is the shoulder workout and it relates to this article. I have significant pain issues in my neck, shoulders, and upper back, with a lot of trigger points. Lots of reasons, and I have been to a neuro, had MRI which found a couple of bulging discs in my cervical spine, plus I believe a TMJ issue is at play as well. I have been through physical therapy and now this weight training is definitely improving my strength. However, when I do the military press or really anything over my head, my neck REALLY hurts, and not the good, I know I worked out and my muscles are growing, kind of way. I don’t want to ignore shoulders and really want to do the exercises, but don’t want to be in horrible pain or hurt myself. Have you seen this in anyone you’ve trained? Any suggestions?

  • Zachary Pullins

    Huge fan of OHP. One of my personal goals is to OHP my bw so it’s a constant in my programs. Less than 20 to go. Thanks for another great article.

    • That’s a tough goal! LMK when you reach it.

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

      • Basically Bass

        I think it’s great you take the time to reply to these. I was mired in years of overtraining, and now I’m sleeping better than I have in years and am seeing gains. I don’t expect much newbie gains (nor have I seen) newbie gains since I’ve been lifting frequently for 8 years, but I have broken through plateaus and muscle loss and am nearly ready for BBLS. Deadlifts, squats, and bench press are basically there. I want to make sure they’re steady and consistent.

        My military press, is a joke by comparison. I had switched to dumbbell on the advice from a physical therapist that barbells (for military and bench) exacerbate muscle imbalances and can lead to injury. As a result, I focused on dumbbell press for nearly two years – pushing 75 or 80 for 10 reps (heinously overtraining.)

        It’s been about 6 months since I started to get back to the military press. I feel so much weaker on it. I can can only do about

        • Happy to do it man.

          Thanks for all the info and awesome to hear you’re almost ready for BBLS!

          You’re at a funny position where you could cut or bulk. If your goal is increase strength (specifically on the military press) you may want to bulk.

          Then, once you hit 15-17% BF, you cut and focus on losing fat.

          What do you think?

  • Hey Michael,

    In the process of reading Bigger, Leaner, Stronger. Love it so far! But ‘Ive been having issues with my shoulders. Not sure if its due to improper form or maybe the way i sleep on my sides? They pop and crack a lot while stretching and certain lifts. I notice it during and after shoulder and chest workouts and I feel that its holding me back from lifting heavier. Any advice?

    Thanks!

  • Erik Sandoval

    Nice article; for a second you made me believe you had switched to being a proponent for standing military shoulder press!

    I’m following BLS and unfortunately my gym doesn’t have a seated military shoulder press station (I know, I was surprised, too!). Nevertheless, I figured I could do seated dumbbell presses. Here’s my predicament: my shoulders are much stronger than my arms and so they require heavier weight, but I find it difficult just getting the dumbbells into position. I can’t use my knees to toss them up like for an inclined dumbbell press. Any suggestions?

    • Nope, still a fan of the seated military press!

      Dumbbells are still great for pressing.

      Regarding getting the dumbbells up, yeah you either have to use your legs to get them up or have a friend hand you the dumbbells…

      • Erik Sandoval

        Thanks, Mike! Yeah, I ended up using my legs, but noticed it was easier than last week. Thank God for newbie gains!

        Shoulder day is all-round fun for me. It’s simpler, I’m moving heavier weight than anyone, plus I have enough time left over after shoulders and calves for 15 minutes of HIIT. Although, really, the whole BLS program rocks! I actually look forward to each and every workout. Can’t wait to track it all with Stacked 🙂

        • Lol. Newbie gains are the best.

          Glad you’re enjoying shoulder and the rest of the workouts from BLS!

          Stacked will be here soon! I’ll have the beta running this summer. 🙂

          • Erik Sandoval

            Can’t wait 🙂

          • Me too!

          • Jordan Perry

            Not familiar with “Stacked”. Is that a new workout-tracking app you’re working on?

          • Yep!

      • Bill

        With my bad back, I get less spinal compression when standing compared to sitting. Otherwise, I used to sit for pressing. In any case, I maintain good back posture.

        • As long as you’re keeping form and it’s easier on your back, that’s good!

    • Steven Scott

      Look for “Power Hooks” on Amazon. I’ve been using them for a few months and am pleased with them. They attach to your dumbbell handle and allow you to hang the bells from a bar at whatever height you can set up.

    • Thanks Erik!

      Seated dumbbell press is a great alternative.

      I hear you on the trouble getting the dumbbells up into position to press. It’s a pain. What I normally recommend to help get them in position is to kick up with your legs (just as you would on the incline press). How come you aren’t able to with this exercise?

  • James

    Can you talk about hand placement a little? I have some nerve issue in my right arm, and I was doing bench and OHP with the same grip, constantly aggravating my shoulder (something in my trap is tied to the anterior delt and gets achy). However, when I widen my grip on bench and narrow my grip on OHP, i can push more, and seem to have better form, move a little more weight, and shoulder isn’t nearly as achy.

    Thoughts on why that helps?

    • Zeppelin

      Place hands to create vertical forearms. Watch Rippetoe video on YouTube for how to grip barbell within hand. Incidentally, Rip also recommends some lateral hip movement or flyback.

    • Great point James and yes the OHP grip is narrower than the standard bench grip. You want your forearms vertical on OHP.

  • Very nice article as usual. I’ve been wondering about my should workout and this helped me a lot! Good job!

  • Kevin

    Great article Mike. Can you do an article like this on pull ups? The different types of variations, what hits what best, and how to do them? Thanks!

  • Jim Walker

    Great article Mike, I really like how you connect scientific studies to your personal experience with these topics.
    I have a question relevant to tracking calories. When you grill a burger, is there a way to estimate how much fat is lost (if any)?
    Thanks

    • Happy you enjoyed it!

      Honestly, to be safe you just have to count all the fat without discounting any that may have dripped off while cooking.

  • Brandon

    Mike, how many times do you recommend military pressing per week?

  • Ollie

    Hey Mike,

    I noticed you don’t recommend seated dumbbell and seated barbell in the same workout is there a reason for this?

    Also whilst I’m asking you I noticed you don’t recommend preached curls with an EZ bar for biceps as well, is there a reason for this?

    Thanks

    • Honestly I think it’s overkill to do both unless you were to do something like 2 sets of BB and 2 sets of DB.

      You really only need 3 to 4 sets of pressing and then should move on to the side and rear heads.

      Preacher curls are decent but I find the isolation a bit uncomfortable as you get heavier. Strict, controlled DB and BB curls are better exercises IMO.

  • Wigster

    Hi Mike – just curious about your thoughts on the behind the neck shoulder press.

    • Not a fan. It’s a good way to get hurt.

      • Wigster

        Thanks for the thought. Hurt in what way though? Through bad positioning of muscles while performing it, or the consequences if it goes wrong?
        I was curious because I’ve been doing it for my last few sessions, and have enjoyed it.

        • The movement is unsafe because it’s done at the very end of the shoulder’s range of motion. It’s safe to do this without weight but adding weight to it is asking for an injury.

          Some people can get away with it but it increases the risk of injury regardless.

  • Hung N

    Mike.
    What do you think about someone thAt does heavy lifting construction work 3 to 5 days a week, how would he do his training and cardio to make gains and not overtrain

    • You would just need to make sure you’re eating enough to make up for all the cals burned.

      Sleeping enough is important too, of course. 🙂

  • osoascam

    Hi, Mike! I have a question regarding the military press. My physiotherapist said it was a dangerous move for the shoulder (also saw it on Athlean-X YouTube channel), and found mixed opinions online. However, my new physiotherapist told me it isn’t true SO I DON’T KNOW WHO TO BELIEVE ANYMORE.

    What’s your take on this matter?

    • Bo Conroy

      I don’t know your exact situation like your doctor does but done correctly, it is very safe for the shoulders and should even be considered as a rehabilitation exercise for damaged/injured shoulder muscles (at a safe/proper weight of course). Done incorrectly, yes, it can be dangerous just like anything else.

    • As Bo said below, so long as you don’t have any injuries/other conditions that contraindicate it, it’s a very safe movement. When performed properly that is.

      • osoascam

        Thanks @boconroy:disqus and @michael_matthews:disqus! Yeah, my physiotherapist said that IN GENERAL it should be avoided so I avoided it for like a yer 🙁

        Again, thank you both!

  • Tiziana

    I have a little gym at home with a couple of benches but both can only be set on a flat or inclined position, I miss one that could be used for seated military press. Could you suggest where I can buy an affordable one? I’d need just the bench, I have a squat rack were I could set the barbell.
    Thanks.

  • In BBLS you mentioned a minimum requirement: “Seated Military Press: 1 x body weight for 4 to 6 reps”. Would the same apply to Standing Military Press? I’m working towards those BBLS goals, but still a long way off 😉

    • Nah. The standing is harder. For standing I’d say get to .8 x body weight for 4-6 reps.

      Once you hit that, you’re good for BBLS.

  • Eric Silver

    Hey Mike, Love your program! been on the meal plan for cutting and its
    working wonders, also been following the BLS program since Beginning of
    May and while my Deadlifts, Squats, Bench, Incline and curls have been
    ever increasing in weight I am stuck on my Standing Military presses. I
    can’t seem to get above 150 lbs. Hell I can bench 300 and incline 250
    but I have been stuck on the same weight for the Standing Military press
    from the start. No injury to shoulders, taking all the supplements your
    company puts out as dialed in on my meal plan. I’m 50 yrs old and I
    started out weighing 185 and now I am down to 169 lbs @ 10% BF. I
    workout 4 times a week Mon, Tue, rest on Wed, Thurs, Fri, rest on
    weekends. I have been lifting for many years and have never had any real
    success until I started your program. What can I do to move out of this
    plateau? Many thanks!

    • Buffet

      For what it’s worth I think 150 lbs. is damn good @ 169 bodyweight Eric!

    • You’re strong as shit dude. Good job!

      Glad you’ve been going up in weight on the other exercises.

      For the military bench plateau, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/weightlifting-plateau/

      LMK what you think.

      • Eric Silver

        Thanks Mike / Buffet for the words of encouragement LOL…made my day!, much appreciated! I will check out the link and push on. Can’t wait to hit the 6% BF and be able to post on your success story!

  • Buffet

    Mike – your shoulders look great man. I agree with you 100% on the presses. Every great pro who had huge shoulders has done them. I’ve heard that nearly all men over 70 can’t press 10 lbs. over their heads? Can you imagine??
    Even though that’s decades away, that ain’t gonna be me man!!
    Lastly, I’ve always stopped JUST short of locking out my elbows to keep the tension on the muscles, and not put stress on the joints. Whadda you think?

    • Bo Conroy

      I’m not Mike but you want to get full lockout on each rep. This entails having the bar in a position over the shoulder joints (well behind the forehead), locking the elbows out and then shrugging your shoulders (and therefore traps) up at lockout with the bar over your ears. Weight should be centered on your mid-foot. This position is very stable and the bar will be fully supported through your tris, delts, and traps. In addition, shrugging your shoulders/traps at full lockout will pull your boney processes away from your humerus preventing impingement. Done correctly, shoulder impingement is not an issue. Source for all this is Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength).

    • Thanks brother.

      I’ve never heard that but I’m not surprised. If you don’t train your muscles as you get older you basically fall apart.

      Like Bo said, I go to full lockout and shrug at the top. He knows what he’s talking about. 🙂

  • John N

    Hey Mike,

    I think I may have injured my left triceps while doing a seated Barbell press. While I was unracking it from the bottom rung from behind and pushing it into the starting position, I felt a sharp tension/pain in my triceps (on the medial side).

    This happened about 1.5 weeks ago and it has been tender/sore especially when I do any pressing movements that involve the triceps (including pushups). What do you think I should do to recover from it? Thanks!

    • Dang. Gotta rest my friend. Don’t continue doing things that are aggravating it.

  • Sheri

    Hey Mike,
    I am doing a four day routine on the thinner leaner stronger and I find my shoulder workout is very light. There’s only three exercises and I’m wondering if I can add a tricep extension to these without overtraining too much.

    The other thing I am finding a problem with is my overhead press working weight is 45 pounds. As I have no easy way of doing warm-ups as I have no lighter barbell than the Olympic barbell set, I have been using dumbbell overhead press. Is there any reason why for now I cannot just stay with the dumbbell overhead press ?

    • Great Sheri!

      Yeah the shoulders day definitely feels like in comparison to the rest.

      Yes you could do that if you feel your tris need more work.

      I would warm up with DBs and then move to the bar.

      • Sheri

        Thanks for the tip.

        I was wondering if you could recommend a forum for ladies in their 40s who are following your thinner leaner stronger book. I am desperate for some kindred spirits.

        Mostly my headache comes from my husband whining about not being able to gain on 3000 cal following your bigger leaner stronger book and I’m cutting to 1750. I’m just starting my cut cutting cycle and I guess I just need someone to bitch to.

        I do love how practical your book explains everything and ties together a lot of what I’ve learned on my own through lots of trial and error.

        • No problem!

          I don’t have a forum ATM. I had one but it was getting spammy and difficult to manage so I took it down.

          I will be creating a private FB group for MFLers to post, ask questions, etc. That will be ready in a few weeks!

          You’ll be able to do all the bitching you want there. 🙂

    • Sheri

      hi mike, I am very excited about my last week this is what it looked like…

      Day 1
      Incline Barbell Bench: 85×5 X3 sets
      Incline Dumbbell Bench: 35×4 X3sets (just increased)
      Flat Barbell Bench: 85x5X3 sets
      Close-grip Bench: 80×5; 80×4 x2 sets (this excercise hurts my wrists)

      Day 2
      Deadlift: 135×6 X3sets
      Barbell Squat: 155×5 X3sets (this weight scared me,but I pushed to 165×6 with my trainer)
      One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 50×6 X3sets
      Alternating dumbbell curl: 27.5×5 X3sets
      Cable Crunch: 60×10 X3sets (should this be a 4-6rep set)
      Laying leg raise: 10x3sets
      Air Bicycles: 10x3sets

      Day 3
      Seated Dumbell-barbell OHP: 45×6; 55×5 X2sets
      Side Lateral Raise: 17.5×6; 20×5 X3sets
      Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise: 15×6 X3sets
      Seated Triceps extension: 10×6; 15×5 X2sets

      Day 4
      Barbell Squat: 155×6 X3sets
      Bulgarian split squat:60×6; 60×5 X2sets
      Romanian Deadlift: 125×4; 125×3 X2sets. (My trainer pointed out I wasn’t keeping my chest up and that’s why my back hurt)
      Hip Thrust: 60×6 X3sets. (I can’t physically lift a 70lb Dumbell on to my hips yet, so I hold the squeeze at the top for 2 sec)
      Cable Crunch: 60×10 X3sets (should this be a 4-6rep set)
      Laying leg raise: 10x3sets
      Air Bicycles: 10x3sets

      So that pretty much does it. I’m excited because this week I’m increasing my barbell squat my dead lift and next week I’ll definitely be increasing my incline chest press and flat chest press. I look at it this way “who cares as my husband gets to eat 3500cal I still have newbie gains while doing a cut, yay!”

      Sheri

      • Great job on the numbers! You’re strong as shit!

        And that’s right, making gains on a cut is the BEST. Enjoy it. 🙂

        • Sheri

          So starting October 1 I’m moving away from civilization for the most part and I’ll be away from the gym for probably a year year and a half? I should be able to maintain the muscle that I’ve gained and maybe even work on my upper body a bit more with the bodyweight exercises I hope. I’m also hoping to drag my daughter into the workouts with me to help improve her overall health she’s blessed to be six-foot tall and 120 pounds at 16 years old and she doesn’t think she has to work to keep it this way. I’m going to miss following TLS, as I only really got to do it for about 8 to 10 weeks total. I really appreciate all this advice, and your books are awesome.

  • selwyn bosco

    Hi Mike

    I have set up a small gym at home but the bench doesn’t incline enough for military pressing hence I plan to buy a new bench. Do I get a bench that does 90 degrees or is 80 enough for military pressing? What angle would you recommended?

    • I recommend getting an adjustable bench that can go all the way to 90 degrees.

  • Bill

    I have heard that overhead presses suppresses height. If you are staying safe are there really any exercises that will stop you from reaching your genetic height potential? I am 18 right now and I haven’t got taller in a few years. I am as tall as my father and taller than both my mother and my brother. I Haven’t done any heavy weightlifting in my life, until now.

    • The idea that weighlifting stunts growth is a myth. If you’ve got more height left in you it’s going to happen whether you lift weights or not.

  • Matt

    eyH

  • Matt

    Hey Mike (err, feel free to delete post below, goofed and didn’t mean to submit that)! My gym doesn’t have a true military press station or a lower back bench that could be used in a power rack, rather we just have flat or adjustable incline benches. What would you suggest to do for seated BB military press in this case? Would and adjustable incline bench set at around 80 degrees work well?

    • NP. Eh rather than doing the seated military at an 80 degree incline, I recommend doing the standing military press.

      What do you think?

      • Jordan Perry

        Is that because the 80 deg incline utilizes too much of the chest? I really dislike standing press because it stresses my lower back.

        • Yeah it’s also pretty awkward but in that case it sounds like you might want to do it.

  • Jim Walker

    Hello Mike,
    I was just wondering if it was okay to do dumbbell military press on a regular adjustable bench, or if you needed the special station for that too.
    Also, sorry if you said this elsewhere, but do you have bbls numbers for dumbbell versions of exercises?
    Thanks, and excellent article

    • Nope regular bench is fine.

      No I based the BBLS recommendations on barbell movements only.

  • Dom Carter

    Hi Mike
    My DB military pressed had come to a plateau at 22.5kg for 8×3 for several weeks, but after reading this article and going for 4-6 reps I was able to hit 30kg for 5×3!
    Just bought your bigger, stronger, leaner book – I think it’s gonna to help me out a lot!

    • Good job!

      Thanks for picking up my book. 🙂

      LMK if you have any questions.

  • Azouri

    Hey mike great article, I was wondering when bringing the bar down on the seated barbell press isn’t it supposed to be till your arms are parallel to the floor and no lower? Or is that for benching?

  • TonyB

    Hi Mike, can the seated military press be performed with the Body Solid bench you recommend?

  • Gabriel Cortez

    Hi Mike,

    I work out in a quarter squat rack (just a single set of uprights braced at the top). When doing [heavy] military press I’m always nervous about losing control of the bar behind me. I’ve been lifting this way for about 3 years and I’ve never had an incident. Yet “what if” is always on my mind because bad things would certainly happen if this occurred. I lift according to BBLS

    Is this reckless? I got a good deal on the quarter rack on craigslist and it’s been fine but I know I should really be using a full rack.

    Maybe switching to dumbell press would be a good option for me?

    • Do you mean dropping the weight behind you? That’s very unlikely to happen unless you get silly with weight/form. I’ve never even come close.

      I press in the same rack or sometimes on the outer pins of the power rack even.

      • Gabriel Cortez

        Yeah that’s what I mean. I’ve never come close either I think I’m just being crazy.

        Although how do you get the bar racked if you fail to complete the rep? When I’m facing the rack I just lean forward.

        • If I fail a rep I just get it on my clavicle and walk it to the pins. Not a big deal.

          • Gabriel Cortez

            Thanks Mike!

          • Welcome!

          • Gabriel Cortez

            Shoulder day this morning. Felt alot stronger after changing things up. Didn’t expect that!

          • That’s great Gabriel! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Lee Nagle

    Mike, I have a slap tear in my left shoulder (for atleast two years now), but have opted not to receive surgery at this point. While performing the seated press, I notice I cannot keep the barbell straight. My left shoulder, arm/wrist, can’t seem to support the weight while my right can. Are you able to suggest an alternative to barbell pressing to benefit my right, “good” shoulder, without jeopardizing my left further?

    • Unfortunately rehab/working around injuries isn’t really my specialty.

      If I were you, I’d see a good PT/sports doc and see what can be done about it…

  • CMB

    Hey Mike,

    I don’t have a squat rack or a bench press rack in my home gym to hold the bar for doing these exercises, so I run into difficulty getting into the starting position. Sometimes I pull the bar up onto my shoulders but at the heavy weights I’m getting into it, it uses all my energy just to get it up there

    Any tips or advice, or anything affordable I can buy to help me with this?

    Thanks!

    • Yeah that’s not workable as you go heavy on those lifts.

      You’ll need to pick up a rack or stand of some sort. You can see what I recommend here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/recommendation/equipment/

      What do you think? My pleasure!

      • CMB

        Hmm.. you’re right. Reading the article you linked me I guess a squat stand would solve my problems. I could use it for bench too, right?

        The only problem is that, being quite young, it’s a bit out of my price range. Do you know of any budget types that would do the trick, or techniques to get the bar unto myself?

        • Yeah you could.

          Hmm no but if you poke around on Google I’m sure you can find something.

  • CMB

    Hey Mike!

    Mark Rippetoe does these a little bit different to how you’ve explained – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnBmiBqp-AI

    He kinda uses his legs to push the weight up and he has a different grip.

    What do you think on his way? Is it better/worse, are they both effective?

    Thanks!

    • I think this is totally fine. I guess I do a bit of hip motion myself without even really noticing/realizing it.

  • ChasBono

    One caveat about whether seated or standing military press is harder. Despite the study cited -which looked at seated press on a bench with a back – I believe the seated can be way harder than standing if you have no upright back on the bench.
    This is the way I do them, and I learned this from a power lifter years ago. When one uses an upright back on the bench there’s all sort of cheating that goes on and moving towards making it an incline bench press. I know many who’ve tried seated with no upright back and they have to lower the weight a lot.

    • Oh yeah that’s very true. I’ve always done seated with a back.

  • Matt

    Hey Mike! I’m having an issue with the OHP and while it will be hard for you to possibly diagnose my issue without watching me do it, I’m gonna give it a whirl anyways because this is really starting to piss me off.

    Whenever I work up to heavy-ish weight with this damn exercise, I’m doing *something* that’s causing some sort of…discomfort to either my upper traps or my neck. At first I wanted to believe it was my neck but now I’m fairly confident it’s my upper traps. Basically it doesn’t hurt a ton per say, but it can be hard to turn my neck for example to check blind spot while driving. It’s pretty much a stiffness/discomfort lasting for about 3-5 days or so.

    Is this something you have heard people having problems with before and what are possible causes of it? I do NOT think it’s because I’m arching my lower back too much, IMO it’s got to be something else, I just can’t pinpoint it and it is really frustrating!

    • It doesn’t sound like it but is it a shoulder impingement? AC joint?

      • Matt

        Any specific way to know for sure if it’s shoulder impingement? I don’t think that’s it as I’m feeling it higher up but I’m not an anatomy expert

        https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/99/df/cc/99dfccb6011e0a235f4f74a76e964689.jpg

        The levator scapulae arrow is where I tend to be having this issue, that and a bit to the left of it perhaps next to the center/base of the neck and upper traps.

        • Oh okay yeah that’s not a shoulder impingement, then.

          Sounds like it might just be random muscle issues? Back off the weight for a few weeks and see if that takes care of it?

          • Matt

            I have tried that multiple times, same thing still happens when the weight goes back up again. One thing I did notice is that was trying to figure out what was wrong, I tried mimicking overhead shrugs with no weight at all, it seemed to make the discomfort dissipate more quickly. I’m not sure if that’s just a sign that possibly I’m trying to involve my upper traps in the movement too much and they are too weak, therefore are getting tweaked a bit?

          • Interesting. I hate little niggling issues like this because they can be hard to self-diagnose and treat.

            Have you considered seeing a sports PT? A handful of sessions could give you everything you need.

          • Matt

            That might be the next step to be honest because I’m not sure what the fuck else to do, it’s just a nuisance that’s stopping me from progressing on an important lift. Just had to ask to see if you or any clients you have had have experienced this before

          • Yeah, that’s what I recommend. LMK how it goes.

          • Matt

            Will do! In to meantime, what are your thoughts on this sample 3x a week PPL routine? It’s basically the same as your 3 day a week but slightly different. I’d replace flat bench with incline for a bit more shoulder work seeing as I can’t OHP in the meantime.

            http://jacktylerperformance.com/push-pull-legs-split/

            Or I could just run your 3 day a week and just do incline presses and dips along with lateral raises, I dunno what’s a better option.

          • That’s way too much volume… Here’s the 3-day split I recommend:

            http://www.muscleforlife.com/muscle-building-workout/

            What do you think?

          • Matt

            Awesome, thank you! Like it

          • Great! YW.

          • Davus

            Hi Mike, first let me say I just read your book Bigger Leaner Stronger and thought it was great – very comprehensive. Look forward to trying your approach. With respect to the comments above, I think these guys have the same issue as me, diagnosed by PT, which is recurrent injury to the levator scapulae, a muscle at the back and side of the neck that assists in the shrugging motion. The root of my issue stems from poor deskjob posture which leads to poor mobility / muscle recruitment, but can be triggered / exacerbated by weight lifting overhead press and similar exercises. I have unfortunately tweaked my levator scapulae doing the end motion of the overhead press, i.e. the shrug part. Here’s my question on this front – my injury aside, it seems like a questionable motion to finish with if you’re doing really heavy weight, because it does put a lot of stress on some smaller muscles in the neck (in addition to the big ones in the traps). So is it really a true shrug up that we should be doing or just squeezing the traps at the end of the motion? Scott Herman really seems to exaggerate that shrug – not sure if I’ve ever seen anybody else do it that way (or maybe its because he has his shirt off you can see it so plainly). Thanks!

          • Hey Davus, it really depends on personal biomechanics. Some people are able to get their shoulders up much higher during shrugs, whereas for others it’s a shorter range of motion. If you have issues with any movements, there are almost always alternatives you can try, but that’s probably best discussed with your PT. Keeping your shoulders back can also reduce the strain on the neck muscles and emphasize the traps more, but to what extent that will help in your case, it’s hard to say. I think for most people, they’re still a good finishing exercise. Glad you enjoyed the book! Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Trevor

      Hi Matt, I know exactly what you are going through but I don’t have a term for it. I suffer the exact same issue and have done so for about 15-20 years. Unfortunately I don’t think it will ever go away whilst you are doing weights. I had a pretty good run recently and hadn’t ha dthe issue for quite a few months but it tends to flare up when I try to start going heavy on certain exercises. I generally know what my trigger exercises are and avoid trying to go too heavy – but of course this doesn’t help when you are wanting to make any progress.
      Basically the heavier you try to go the more strain and tension you place on that area. I can often feel it coming on for a few days prior and then during a particular lift it will just go snap – gym session over. And like you said it makes driving very difficult for a few days after. It sometimes clears up after 3-4 days and then sometimes (like now) it can hang around for weeks at varying pain levels and discomfort – though I can still lift with a slight amount of discomfort – but I just don’t go too heavy.
      I have had a variety of therapists look at it with varying temporary success but I believe nothing will actually fix it. The only way to really stop it is to stop lifting – and that ain’t gonna happen. I have just learned to live with it and take it easy during those periods.
      As an example I was doing incline cable fly’s for a couple months with no dramas then went back to incline dumbbell fly’s as I really wasn’t feeling or getting much response with the cables and after a week or so I started to get the neck/upper back strain back and it has now been with me for a few weeks – though only mild this time.
      I don’t know if it is caused by my form breaking down when trying to go heavy or what actually causes it but as I have had it ton and off for about 20 years I don’t think it is ever going to be permanently gone.
      Hopefully you get yours sorted and don’t have a recurring issue like mine.

    • JunkMonkey

      I used to have similar problems. What I have found is that with muscle pain, the fix is often in a place quite different from where you feel the pain. When I have difficulty turning my head due to pain in the right side of the back of my neck, I have to massage a spot on my left shoulder blade. It takes a little work to figure out the spot, but when you find it, you know. It’s usually a place near the middle of my blade. After a minute of deep massage (I can reach it myself), the muscle in my neck opens right up. Remember that your muscles are interwoven (lack of a better word, sorry) and soreness or problems in one can be traced back to a completely different source. My neck pain always comes from tightness in my shoulder blade – without fail.

  • Julio

    Hey Mike, if I just do dumbbell pressing variations (for both Overhead Pressing and Bench Pressing) can I get the same results as with barbell pressing? The barbell really irritates my joints while the dumbbells feel fine.

    Thanks

  • Dan

    So, looked at this pretty carefully, and there are some differences with Rippletoe’s approach, mostly in the grip and grip width. I’ve been going pretty narrow per Mark’s suggestion, with forward rotation, chest high, and a little pump from my glutes to start the movement. And still cant seem to progress. Sometimes a rep will seem super easy then the very next one will be almost impossible…trying to keep the bar path vertical, close to my face…sigh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnBmiBqp-AI&feature=youtu.be

  • Jason

    I find it really funny that so many appearance oriented guys focus heavily on chest training and neglect shoulder & back training when the shoulders & back are most important muscle groups to have an attractive V shape male body. Chicks also dig the butt more than pecs according to science so they might wanna start doing lower body work as well…

  • In the standing military press video he say’s not to stop at the top, but to keep going and “shrug” your shoulders however he doesn’t do that for the seated press. Should the shrug be done on both?

  • Angelica F Cazares

    I was doing the exercise correct then Today a skinny guy told me that I shouldn’t bring the bar too low that I should keep it half way.. if he was in better shape then me I would listen 😂

  • Rick

    I’ve found doing a single arm dumbbell overhead press allows you to lift heavy. You use your free hand to set the dumbbell into place without wasted energy, rather than trying to clean two heavy dumbbells into place. For a good example of the single arm db ohp look up Jeff alberts of 3dmj. He has a video showing proper form and I’ve found it’s a really nice option for overhead pressing with a dumbbell. I like to rotate between standing barbell ohp and standing single arm dumbbell ohp. Although I find the latter to be easier on the back and shoulders, for me personally. People are built differently so having plenty of “vertical pressing” exercises to choose from is nice because different variations can work better for different people. The biggest difficulty with dumbbells is they increase in 5 lb/side increments where barbells increase by 2.5 lb/side, which makes it easier to progress.

  • Ebs

    Thanks for the article it’s very helpful. I am trying to loose body fat at the moment and look toned therefore I am confused whether to isolate muscles especially arms and shoulders or whether to stick with big compound exercises e.g. Squats and deadlifts and clean and press.

  • Steve Scheckner

    I have two benches in my home gym, one being a full bench that goes completely upright (90 degrees) and another bench which I can tilt my head back for the seated military press, but it only inclines to 65 degrees. Should I just start doing standing military presses? I have too much invested in the two benches I already have and not enough space for a third bench. Thanks.

    • You can do standing, but you wont be able to go as heavy, most likely. I would just use the upright bench that goes 90 degrees, though.

  • Ondreij Schevchenko

    Ive seen some Physical Therapy videos that say to stay away from the military press bc shoulder impingement will become a life-long issue esp as you get to mid-50’s. Any opinions?

    • As long as you use proper form (your traps should be shrugged at the top of the movement), you won’t get any shoulder impingement.

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