How to Master the Military Press

The military press is a strength training staple — but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?

For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form. Let Men’s Health Fitness Director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Grab your dumbbells (or barbell), then get ready to press. If you pay attention, you’ll be setting your shoulders and traps up for big gains. Remember, posture is key — be careful to squeeze your core to protect those shoulders.

Paolo Testa

Don’t Arch That Back

Eb says: You’ll see a lot of people arching their backs when they’re pressing upwards, especially when they’re working with heavier weights. This compromises you in several areas. First off, it’s putting a lot of strain on your lower back and can easily lead to injuries. It’s also placing your shoulder blades in less-than-ideal position. Focus on keeping your pelvis right under your torso (squeeze your glutes to get here), and keep your abs tight. Think about using your abs to pull your ribcage down. Maintain this tension throughout the movement.

Squeeze Your Shoulder Blades

Eb says: Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together as you’re military pressing. This will help you finish the motion properly, and it will help you drive your arms straight up. The tension you create in your rhomboids and throughout your back is what helps you truly get your arms perpendicular to the floor (and protects your shoulder joints as you do so).

Elbow Position Is Key

Eb says: Elbow position is critical when you’re doing the military press, and it’s often misunderstood. Don’t start with your elbows out wide, in the same plane as your shoulders. Rotate your elbows forward a few degrees. This will keep you in the scapular plane, and allow you to start the press upwards in a more natural arc. Finish the press by driving your biceps right by your ears; think about poking your head through the “window” you create with your arms.

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