Like making espresso or riding a bike, some actions that look simple, can actually be deceptively challenging. And that goes for the military press—that move where you press weights from your shoulders over your head.
While this exercise is great for sculptingmuscles,if you don’t nail the basic form, this simple movement can tear up your shoulders, says Rachel Straub, CSCS, a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist and author of Weight Training Without Injury.
Get it right, though, and you have a secret weapon for sexy, strong shoulders.
How To Do A Military Press
How to: Begin in a seated or standing position with your neck long and arms in a cactus shape (open to your sides with elbows bent at 90 degrees and pointed toward floor). Brace core and lift hands straight up above head, arms fully extended and palms facing forward. Lower back to the starting position, ensuring your hands don’t go lower than your shoulders and that you squeeze your scapulae (i.e. shoulder blades) together and down your back at the bottom of every rep.
Reps/sets for best results: Generally, aim for three sets of 8 to 12 reps. If the last 3 reps of any set aren’t challenging, increase your weights or reps (max 20), Straub says.
Military presses primarily work your shoulders, but they also target your triceps.
Form tips: If you want to add weight, hold dumbbells or a barbell in the same position. Just make sure everything stays in front of your face or you risk irreparable damage to your rotator cuff and neck, Straub says. The weight at the top of the move and your elbows on the way down should both never move behind your head (this is most common with a barbell or a machine).
Benefits Of Military Press
Military presses are primarily a shoulder exercise, though they also work the other muscles in your arms, like the triceps. You *can* do it while standing on an uneven surface to incorporate balance, or as part of a circuit for more cardio, but generally the military press is a move strictly for strength, Straub explains.
There are endless shoulder exercises to choose from, but because the military press uses a major functional movement (pressing) from an advantageous point of leverage (at the shoulders), this allows you to lift more weight than other shoulder moves, like raises.
But be careful—even though it’s a very basic move, people often do it wrong, which, when combined with weight, ups your risk for injury. Also, doing it too often can lead to shoulder problems, like tearing your rotator cuff. And you should skip it entirely if you have shoulder issues, Straub advises.
Make Military Presses Part Of Your Workout
Military presses shouldn’t be your go-to shoulder move—you need strength in the major muscles to safely hold a weight above your head without risking your rotator cuff health, Straub says. And skip it during a full-body workout—you’re better off hitting the larger muscle groups like chest and back.
But it does make for a great addition to a regular upper-body routine.
The military press is ideal as part of a superset or HIIT workout, alongside chest exercises like flies and presses, back exercises like rows and reverse flies, and arm exercises like tricep extensions and bicep curls.
For a complete upper-body workout, check out this routine:
Beginners should start without weights, then once your biomechanics are nailed down, progress to doing it with dumbbells, a barbell, or resistance bands. Sitting keeps you more stable, but for more of a challenge, Straub suggests trying the press while standing. No, sweat!
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