How to Do a Military Press

The military press is a popular compound exercise that is used to increase power and strength in many muscles of the upper body. The muscles that are targeted by this exercise are the medial and anterior deltoids of the shoulders, the upper trapezius and scapular stabilizers of the back, the triceps of the arm and the pectorals of the chest. As well, the abs and glutes are activated for stabilization.

The military press was so named for its use in determining fitness in the armed forces. Although not originally intended for the everyday fitness enthusiast, this exercise can help to build strong supported shoulders and aid with lifting down heavy loads from overhead.

How To

  • The standard military press takes place in a standing position with feet planted firmly on the floor at about shoulder width apart. Raise the dumbbells to about shoulder height, and resist the urge to rest the weights on your shoulders. Palms can be facing toward each other or facing forward.
  • Engage your core and exhale as you slowly press the weights above your head until your arms are fully extended. Be careful not to snap your elbows into a locked position at the top of the movement. Hold this position for a beat.
  • To complete the maneuver, inhale as you slowly lower the weights back to shoulder height. Again, resist the urge to prop the weights on your shoulders, especially if you are using heavier weights.  


Lifting overhead can be especially taxing on the body. When you are performing military presses as a beginner, aiming for one set of 8-10 repetitions is all you need per session. You can increase the number of sets as you get stronger and more comfortable with the exercise.


Using a barbell: This exercise can be performed just as well with a barbell instead of dumbbells, and is usually the preferred choice for those looking to lift heavier weights, as the bar offers greater stability.

Seated press: For those unable to stand or who simply need to give their lower body a break, this exercise can be performed from a seated position. Always check your form to make sure you have a straight back and avoid slouching or arching the back.

Staggered step: This is purely a matter of preference. Some people feel more stable planting one foot just slightly ahead of the other rather than having their feet parallel to each other.

Resistance band: If you don’t have access to weights, you can use a resistance band instead. Stand in the center of the band and take hold of the ends of the band. Lift your arms up to shoulder height as you would with weights and then press your arms overhead. You may need to adjust where you grip the band to find the correct tension.

Cautionary Notes

Always be aware of your form. Keep your abs and glutes engaged to protect your back. If you feel your back rounding than you should decrease the amount of weight you are using. Allowing the lower back to round can lead to injuries if left unchecked.

Rocking and swaying to complete the motion is another indicator that you are using a weight that is too heavy.

Make sure to breathe. It can be tempting to hold your breath, and this can be beneficial when lifting extremely heavy weights, but it’s important to remember that muscles require oxygen to perform at their best.

Other Exercises for the Deltoids

Front Raise
Lateral raise
Rear delt raise
Shoulder press
Upright row

More Military Press Related Resources

Military Press: Shoulder Exercise – PopWorkouts
Standing Military Press | Exercise Videos & Guides |
How To Master The Military Press | Instructions, Form Tips And Variations | Coach Exercise Guides
3 Ways to Do a Military Press – wikiHow
The Ultimate Guide to the Military Press: The Key to Great Shoulders – Legion Athletics
Shoulder Press: Overhead / Military Press Exercise | Pop Workouts
How To Perfect The Overhead Press | Coach
Military Press Exercise – Basketball HQ
How to Do a Perfect Military Press – Overhead Press Workout

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