Barbell Military Press (Overhead press)

Exercise / Shoulders

Barbell Military Press

The barbell military press, also known as the standing barbell shoulder press or overhead press, is a popular strength training exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the shoulders, but also engages the triceps and upper back muscles. The exercise involves standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasping a barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width, and pressing the barbell overhead in a vertical plane until your arms are fully extended.

How to do:

Barbell Standing Military Press

Starting Position: Grasp a barbell or body bar with an overhand grip. Your hands should be wider than shoulder width.

Raise the barbell so that it is just below your chin, and keep your knees slightly bent.

Form: While keeping your core muscles engaged, exhale and press your arms over your head. Hold for a brief second at the top and then slowly lower back to the starting position.

2 Different Leg Positions

You can perform this exercise with your feet parallel or with your feet staggered. When your feet are parallel there is more challenge on balance and there is also more challenge on your lower back.

If you want to take some pressure off your lower back use a staggered stance.

Personal Trainer Tips: As with all exercises, posture is very important. Make sure that your back does not arch excessively when you press over head.

It is important to note that proper form and technique are crucial when performing the barbell military press to avoid injury. It is recommended to start with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as your strength and technique improve.

Barbell Military Press – Benefits

Shoulder Muscle Development: The barbell military press is a compound exercise that primarily targets the three heads of the deltoids (anterior, lateral, and posterior). By performing this exercise, you can effectively stimulate these shoulder muscles, leading to improved size, strength, and overall development. Well-developed deltoids not only enhance your physique but also contribute to better posture and shoulder stability.

Upper Body Strength: The barbell military press is a demanding exercise that engages multiple muscle groups in the upper body. While the primary focus is on the shoulders, it also activates the triceps (back of the upper arms) and the upper back muscles (such as the traps and rhomboids) to assist in stabilizing the movement. Additionally, the core muscles are engaged to maintain stability throughout the exercise. Strengthening these muscle groups collectively improves upper body strength and functional performance in various daily activities and sports.

Functional Movement: The barbell military press mimics a pushing movement pattern that is commonly encountered in daily activities and sports. Whether it’s pushing heavy objects, lifting overhead, or performing movements that require upper body strength, the barbell military press helps develop the necessary strength and stability for these tasks. It translates well into real-life movements, making you more capable and efficient in everyday tasks and improving sports performance.

Improved Posture and Shoulder Stability: Weak or imbalanced shoulder muscles can lead to poor posture and compromised shoulder stability. The barbell military press targets the deltoids, which play a significant role in maintaining proper shoulder alignment and stability. As you strengthen and develop these muscles, you can improve your posture, reduce the risk of shoulder injuries, and enhance overall shoulder stability.

Progressive Overload and Adaptation: The barbell military press allows for progressive overload, meaning you can gradually increase the weight over time to continuously challenge your muscles. This progressive overload stimulates muscle growth and strength gains, leading to further improvements in shoulder development and upper body strength.

Increased Bone Density and Joint Health: Weight-bearing exercises like the barbell military press contribute to increasing bone density, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones and preventing conditions such as osteoporosis. Additionally, the controlled movement of the exercise promotes joint health by improving joint stability and mobility.

Incorporating the barbell military press into your shoulder training routine can yield numerous benefits, including well-rounded shoulder development, increased upper body strength, improved functional movements, enhanced posture and stability, and overall joint and bone health. Remember to perform the exercise with proper form and gradually increase the weight as you progress to maximize these benefits.

The Bottom Line

The standing military press is an advanced exercise because it requires good balance, good core strength, good shoulder flexibility, and good shoulder stability.

If you lack shoulder flexibility and shoulder stability, you should use caution when performing this exercise. Also, if you have a history of lower back pain, you should also use caution and build up slowly if you include this exercise in your workout routine.

Every exercise has benefits and risks, and some people can really benefit from this exercise.

Barbell Military Press – Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked during the barbell military press include:

  1. Deltoids (Shoulders): The barbell military press primarily targets the anterior (front) head of the deltoids. When performing the exercise, the movement involves pressing the barbell overhead in a vertical plane, which emphasizes the activation of the anterior deltoids. However, it’s important to note that the lateral (side) and posterior (rear) heads of the deltoids also contribute to the movement as secondary muscles, providing stability and assistance. While the anterior deltoids are the main focus, the barbell military press engages all three heads of the deltoids to varying degrees.(1)
  2. Triceps Brachii: The triceps muscles located at the back of the upper arm assist in extending the elbow during the pressing movement.
  3. Trapezius: The upper trapezius, which runs along the upper back and neck, is involved in stabilizing and supporting the shoulder girdle during the movement.
  4. Rhomboids: The rhomboids, located between the shoulder blades, assist in retracting and stabilizing the scapulae during the exercise.
  5. Serratus Anterior: The serratus anterior muscles, located on the sides of the ribcage, help stabilize and protract the scapulae during the upward phase of the exercise.
  6. Core Muscles: The muscles of the core, including the abdominals and obliques, play a role in stabilizing the trunk and maintaining proper posture throughout the movement.

While these are the primary muscles targeted during the barbell military press, other smaller muscles such as the rotator cuff muscles, biceps, and forearm muscles also contribute to the exercise to a lesser extent. It’s important to maintain proper form and technique to effectively engage these muscles and avoid compensatory movements.

Target - Anterior Deltoid
Synergists - Lateral and Posterior Deltoid
Synergists - Triceps
Synergists - Trapezius
Synergists - Serratus Anterior
Stabilizers - Levatos Scapula
Dynamic Stabilizers - Biceps Brachii
shoulder press muscle worked