Military Press Benefits: The Secret to Strong Shoulders

There’s many a good reason as to why your grandfather would remind you to stick to the basics. The old man has been through the basics, experimented with a ton of things, and then returned back to the basics, all in a single life’s time.

You see, with the Military Press (also known as the Overhead Press), we’re sort of in the same situation.

The exercise is a classic – it’s one that has been there for a long, long time and is as old as the sport of Weightlifting itself, if not older.

Heavy objects have been shoved overhead for the longest time, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for pain.

However, this was when humans were generally more physically oriented, and less wimpy than they are now. As a result of the wimp-revolution that started with the commencement of the 21st century, the Military press had, in all misfortune, become a forgotten old-school exercise. People wanted things easy, and the Military Press is anything but easy.

But we can be happy about the fact that people are slowly starting to listen to grand daddy’s advice of sticking to the basics.

Over the last decade or so (2000-2010), programs like Starting Strength and Stronglifts 5×5 have popularized the overhead press, and people are realizing the value the exercise has to offer once again. Especially in Bodybuilding, lifters at one time had forgotten about the overhead press due to the widespread misconception of potential back injuries it may cause. Quality scientific research in the fitness industry has helped rule this myth out, and what was inevitable, is slowly starting to make its way back into fitness programs.

It’s made its way back into fitness programs because its basic, it’s effective, and because it simply works well in achieving the goal of building big and strong shoulders. In this post, we’ll take a look at the benefits of the Military Press to understand why it’s regarded as one of the best barbell movements.

Military Press – Defined

There’s a lot of mix up in the terminologies used for Overhead Presses, so let’s get that out of the way first. Overhead Presses refer to a family of various shoulder presses, including push presses, dumbbell presses, shoulder presses, Z presses, seated barbell overhead presses, and of course, Military Presses.

The Military Press is the most strict out of these variations, which is why it’s also called the Strict press. By default, Overhead Press also refers to a Strict press, but again it may also refer to any of the variations mentioned above since they all involve pressing weight overhead. But when you say Military Press, you know that you’re referring to the Strict Press, wherein you’re standing, and you don’t use your knees or hips for extra momentum.

Technically speaking, the Military Press is different from the standard Standing Overhead Press in one, and only one way: the feet position. With the Military Press, your feet are required to be put close to each other, and not shoulder-or-hip-width apart. This makes the lift even more strict by engaging the core more. That’s why the Military Press is hard, and that’s also why it’s used where its name suggests.

How to Military Press

This post is about the benefits, and not specifically about how to perform the Military Press, but we still need to make sure you know how to perform the lift before you proceed to learn about the benefits.

The video below by Alan Thrall is one of the best out there in teaching the Overhead Press. Take note that the Military Press is just the Overhead Press, but with your feet together (instead of the shoulder-width stance). So the Military Press is basically how Alan Thrall illustrates, just with the feet together. Again, this is not a hard rule. If you want, you can always use the shoulder-or-hip-width feet position instead, but that won’t be the strictest possible press, and won’t be a Military Press in true terms.

Alan Thrall teaches the Overhead Press

Military Press Benefits

Now that you’ve watched how to properly perform the Military Press, it’s about time we acquaint you with the benefits that make it a must-do exercise for every lifter.

Hits Multiple Muscle Groups

While the primary objective of the Military Press is to get you big shoulders, it is more than a shoulder exercise. What it is, is a compound multi-joint upper body exercise that will increase overall upper body muscle mass and strength.

Aside from the shoulders, military presses also heavily work your triceps, traps (at full stretch at the top), and core muscles. It works the entire kinetic chain that is involved in stabilizing your body throughout the pressing motion.

3-in-1 Deltoid Activation

The shoulder muscle group is composed of three heads: the anterior(front) deltoids, lateral(side) deltoids, and posterior(rear) deltoids. Unlike 95% of all shoulder exercises, the military press is able to work all three heads in a single movement. Most shoulder exercises including lateral raises, dumbbell shoulder presses, and upright rows will only work one or two heads, but never all three.

The posterior head, in particular, is almost always left out in training, which causes rotator cuff imbalances in the long run. With the military press, this won’t be a problem as the rear delt is worked significantly in the top part of the lift to the lock-out.

Improved Shoulder Health

The shoulder muscle group is one of the most complicated and delicate muscle in the entire body. It is so easy to mess your shoulder up with incorrect form and overuse. For instance, upright rows with exaggerated range of motion is recipe for disaster, just like how bench presses with flared out elbows is an invitation to shoulder impingement.

On the contrary, the Military press produces a flawless, smooth, and efficient range of motion that is healthy for your shoulder girdle. It is almost impossible to mess up your shoulders with the military press.  Military presses will help improve your shoulder health, fix your posture, and will also improve your scapula health and flexibility, just like shoulder dislocates would. 

And guess what? the improved shoulder and scapula health, paired with stronger traps muscles that the military press provides, will also carry-over to exercises like pull-ups, where shoulder and scapula health is of prime importance. Know anyone with a stellar overhead press? They’re probably really good at pull-ups too.

Incredible Carryover to Bench Press

Speaking of carryover to other exercises, the military press also has considerable carryover to the bench press. The inverse is also true – but to a smaller extent.

Since the bench press requires strong shoulders and triceps, the military press will help feed the strength gains in these muscles to the bench press.

High Levels of Core Activation

This one right here is what separates the Military Press from all other shoulder exercises. There are two things which promote high levels of core activation in the military press:

  1. The fact that you are standing as you press means that your abdominal muscles need to stabilize your upper body so you don’t fall over to either side. The abs take all the beating to help you maintain proper position. For this reason, military presses build incredible core strength. Check out Z-presses, if you want even more core activation.
  2. Remember that your feet are placed together, right next to each other, in the Military Press. This position only makes it harder for you to balance, which means, the core is activated even more. Compared to the standard overhead press, the military press works the core and obliques even more due to the foot position, to help you get those shredded abs.
Remedies Pushing Imbalances

Since the military press is fundamentally a pushing exercise, it will help balance all your pushing muscles (i.e. shoulders, triceps). If you noticed that your push is stronger in one arm compared to the other, the military press will help remedy this since it requires both arms to push the same barbell in a synchronized manner.

For most people, there dominant hand shoulder and triceps will always be stronger. Over time, this dominance will gradually settle down as you increase the weight in your push barbell movements like the military press as well as the bench press.


Increased Functional Strength and Muscle Mass

Military presses are also one of the most functional exercises, third only to squats and deadlifts. Developing a strong military press will undoubtedly help you in your day to day life. Heavy awkward boxes will be easier to move around, furniture won’t feel as heavy to push, and suitcases will be easier to move overhead. If overall strength is one of your main goals, this exercise is a must!

Moreover, military presses will help you quickly build upper body muscle mass, especially in the shoulders. If your shoulders are stubborn in terms of hypertrophy and don’t respond well to high-rep isolation exercises, military presses will surely change that. No matter who you are, a hard-gaining ectomorph, or a gifted mesomorph, military presses ought to build you big and strong boulder shoulders.

The Best Shoulder Exercise, Period.

And lastly, the military press is what it is – the best shoulder exercise, period. No other shoulder exercise comes close. Yes, it may be incredibly hard, strict, and taxing on the body, but the returns come in bounties. Big and strong shoulders, shredded abs, and immense functional strength are just some of the main benefits the military press will provide you.

It will also generally make a man out of you. Why do you think its called the “military” press? 

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