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Overhead Military Shoulder Press E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

The shoulder press, aka the military press, is a great exercise for shoulders and triceps. Doing the predumbbell_military_pressss standing demands that your torso muscles (abs, lower back, obliques, spinal stabilizers, and transversus abdominis) work harder in order to help stabilize your body. It's also a much more functional movement; consider how often you reach for things and press things overhead when standing compared to seated.

Shoulder Presses are a basic compound exercise (involves two or more joint movements) that require muscles on both sides of the shoulder joint to fire, but they primarily recruit the anterior (front) deltoids. Because the lift is performed standing, it also develops the arms, the abdominals, the obliques, the costal muscles, and the back, which all act as stabilizers.

Muscles Worked when Performing the Military Press (Shoulder Press)

Target Muscles

  • Deltoid, Anterior


  • Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
  • Triceps Brachii
  • Deltoid, Lateral
  • Trapezius, Middle
  • Trapezius, Lower
  • Serratus Anterior, Inferior Digitations

Dynamic Stabilizers

  • Triceps, Long Head
  • Biceps Brachii, Short Head


  • Trapezius, Upper
  • Levator Scapulae
  Military Press (Shoulder Press)Form
  • Grasp barbell from rack or clean barbell from floor with overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Position bar in front of neck.
  • Inhale.
  • Press bar while exhaling until arms are extended overhead.
  • Lower to front of neck.
  • Repeat.
Common Errors when Performing the Military Press (Shoulder Press)
The following errors are potentially dangerous and can result in injury. Avoid them at all costs.
  • Touching Behind the Neck. One of f the biggest mistakes people make is doing the shoulder press behind the neck. While many people have been able to do the press this way without problems, many other people have experienced shoulder trauma (ranging from mild to severe) from behind the neck presses. The problem in this case stems from the requirement of your shoulder to exert the most force (in order to stop and reverse the weight's downward motion) when it is at the most awkward and biomechanically disadvantaged point of the movement. That position is abducted (upper arm held away from body) and externally rotated (upper arm rotated backwards).
  • Overarching the back. The other common error is hyperextending (over-arching) the back. This places an unnecessary strain on the lower back.
  • Not wearing a lifting belt. This places an unnecessary strain on the lower back.
Possible Injuries when Performing the Military Press (Shoulder Press)

Incorrect form may lead to multiple types of injuries including:

  • torn ligaments/tendons in shoulders.
  • back injuries.
Variations of the Military Press (Shoulder Press)

The Military Shoulder overhead press has several variations. All of these exercises can be performed either seated or standing. With seated exercises you will be able to handle more weight if you lean back against a pad. With a standing or seated unsupported press you'll need more muscles for stabilization, and the extra work will demand lighter weights.

Variations are intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. Try these variations of the press:

  • Military press: heels together
  • Olympic press: laying back while pressing
  • Push press: using leg drive
  • Sots press: from the bottom squat position
  • Bent press: pressing the weight overhead while twisting the trunk
  • Shank Press: using a neutral grip while pressing the barbell overhead on a smith machine while standing with your side to the barbell
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