Military Press Vs. Overhead Press [Best Lift for Shoulders] – Raising the Bar

Military Press Vs. Overhead Press

Fellow Lifters! So, your’e sick of your frame looking like a coat hanger and you’re looking to grow those shoulders. But now you have the dilemma of how to structure your workout.

Among the myriad of exercises targeting the shoulders, two stand out prominently: the Military Press and the Overhead Press. Both are key players in the realm of shoulder workouts, but what sets them apart?

Military Press

Military Press

The Military Press, often hailed as the king of shoulder exercises, is a classic move that’s been around for ages. Here’s how to nail it:


  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Start with the barbell resting on your collarbone.
  • Press the barbell upwards until your arms are fully extended.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Pro Tip: Keep your core engaged throughout the movement to protect your lower back.

Muscle Engagement

  • The Military Press primarily targets the anterior (front) deltoids but also engages the medial (side) deltoids and triceps.


  • Overall Shoulder Development: This exercise provides a comprehensive workout for the entire deltoid region.
  • Strength: Regularly performing the Military Press can significantly boost your shoulder strength.
  • Posture: It aids in improving posture, especially for those who spend long hours at a desk.

Overhead Press: Technique and Advantages

Overhead Press

Often used interchangeably with the Military Press, the Overhead Press (OHP) does have its nuances. Here’s the lowdown:


  • Similar to the Military Press, but with a more flexible stance. Some prefer a slightly wider stance or even perform it seated.
  • The grip can vary based on comfort, from narrow to slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • The movement remains the same: press the barbell from collarbone height to full arm extension.

Pro Tip: Breathing is crucial. Inhale as you lower the bar and exhale powerfully as you press upwards.

Muscle Engagement

  • The OHP targets the anterior and medial deltoids, but due to its flexibility in stance and grip, it can also engage the posterior (rear) deltoids to a certain extent.


  • Stabilization: The OHP requires more stabilization, engaging the core and lower back muscles.
  • Muscle Engagement: Offers a slightly broader range of muscle activation compared to the Military Press.
  • Versatility: Can be performed standing or seated, allowing for variations based on individual needs.

Dissecting the Differences

Military Press Vs. Overhead Press Differences

When it comes to the age-old debate of Military Press vs. Overhead Press, it’s a bit like comparing squats to lunges. Both are fantastic, but each has its unique flavor.

Head-to-head comparison:

  • Military Press: This is the strict, no-nonsense cousin in the pressing family. It’s all about power and precision.
  • Overhead Press: A bit more flexible in terms of stance and grip, the OHP is the cool, adaptable sibling.

Variations in grip, stance, and equipment usage:

  • Military Press: Requires a more rigid stance and a specific grip width.
  • Overhead Press: Offers flexibility in stance (can be done seated) and grip.

Pros and Cons

Exercise Pros Cons
Military Press – Comprehensive shoulder workout – Can be challenging for beginners
– Improves posture – Strict form required
– Boosts shoulder strength
Overhead Press – Engages a broader range of muscles – Requires more stabilization
– Can be done standing or seated – Stabilization can be tricky for some
– Versatile in terms of variations

Further Variations of Overhead Press

Further Variations of Overhead Press

Exercise Variation Difference from Standard Presses
Push Press Uses lower-body momentum to drive the weight overhead.
Arnold Press (Dumbbell only) Involves a rotation of the wrists, targeting different deltoid parts.
Z Press Seated on the floor, challenging the core and upper back stability.

Push Press

Like the Overhead Press’s adrenaline-junkie cousin. By using a bit of momentum from the legs, you can drive more weight overhead. This not only builds explosive power but also allows you to work with heavier weights than a strict press.


  • Increases pressing strength.
  • Enhances overall explosivity and upper body power.
  • Direct carryover for competitive strength athletes.

Arnold Press

Named after the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, this variation involves a rotation of the wrists. As you press the dumbbells overhead, you rotate your palms from facing you to facing forward. It’s like the OHP went to a dance class!


  • Targets different parts of the deltoids.
  • Enhances shoulder mobility.
  • Great for muscle definition.

Z Press

Imagine doing an overhead press while sitting on the floor with your legs extended. That’s the Z Press for you! It’s like the zen meditation version of pressing exercises.


  • Challenges the upper back and core stability.
  • Teaches proper overhead lockout mechanics.
  • Increases shoulder and overall upper body strength.

Pro Tip: If you ever want to feel humbled, try the Z Press. It’s like the universe’s way of saying, “You thought you were strong? Think again!”

Ancillary Exercises for Complete Shoulder Development

Deltoid Anatomy

The deltoid muscle, commonly known as the shoulder, is like the three musketeers of the body, composed of three distinct heads: front (anterior), side (lateral), and rear (posterior). To achieve those rounded, boulders, it’s essential to give each head its due attention.

Deltoid Anatomy

  • Front Deltoid: Responsible for lifting your arm forward.
  • Side Deltoid: Helps in lifting your arm to the side.
  • Rear Deltoid: Plays a role in pulling your arm backward.

Front Deltoid Exercises

  • Front Shoulder Raises: Stand with a dumbbell (or a cable) in each hand, palms facing down. Raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height and then lower them back down.
  • Front Plate Raises: Hold a weight plate with both hands in front of your thighs. Keep your arms slightly bent and raise the plate up to shoulder height. Slowly lower it back down to the starting position.

Side Deltoid Exercises

  • Lateral Shoulder Raises: With a dumbbell (or cable) in each hand and palms facing inward, raise your arms to the side until they’re at shoulder height.
  • Upright Rows: Using a barbell or dumbbells, pull the weight up to your chin, leading with your elbows.

Rear Deltoid Exercises

  • Face Pulls: Using a rope attachment on a cable machine, pull the rope towards your face, separating the two ends as you do.
  • Bent Over Raises: Holding dumbbells, bend forward at the hips and raise the weights to the side, targeting the rear deltoids.

Rear deltoids are the unsung heroes of the shoulder. They might not always be in the spotlight, but boy, do they make a difference! In the wise words of Jeff Cavelier, you can and should finish every workout with Face Pulls.

The Science Behind Shoulder Exercises

Science Behind Shoulder Exercises

Now, let’s geek out a bit

Muscle Activation

Military Press vs. Overhead Press

While both exercises activate the anterior and medial deltoids, the Overhead Press, due to its flexibility, can also engage the posterior deltoids to a certain extent.


The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, allowing for a wide range of motion. The various exercises target different parts of this joint, leading to extensive shoulder development.

Neural Adaptation:

As you consistently train your shoulders, your nervous system becomes more efficient at recruiting muscle fibers. This means you can lift heavier and perform more reps over time.

Fun Fact: Neural adaptation is like your muscles having a lightbulb moment: “Oh, so that’s how we lift that weight!”

The Importance of Proper Warmups

Shoulder Exercises Proper Warmups

We’ve all been there: walking into the gym, feeling invincible, and thinking we can just load up a barbell and start lifting without a proper warm-up. But, as many of us have learned the hard way, our muscles and joints need some TLC before we ask them to go all out.

Pro Tip: Skipping your warm-up is like skipping breakfast. Sure, you can do it, but you’ll regret it later!

Your shoulders, being the most mobile joints in your body, require special attention. Here are some of the best warm-up exercises for your shoulders:

  • YTW: This exercise prepares your joints to be mobile and your muscles to be stable. It’s especially great for waking up the often-neglected rear delts.
  • Band Pull-Apart: A classic warm-up move that activates your rear delts and upper back.
  • Face Pull: An excellent warm-up for both the shoulder and upper back, ensuring your rear delts are ready for action.
  • Banded Lateral Raise: This move focuses on waking up your lateral delts, preparing them for pressing movements.
  • Scapular Slide: A mobility-focused exercise that helps improve your range of motion.
  • Banded Overhead Reach: A functional move that prepares your shoulders for pressing and overhead carries.

Remember, warming up isn’t just about preventing injuries; it’s about optimizing performance. So, give your shoulders the warm-up they deserve

The Importance of Training Mobility

The Importance of Training Mobility

“Mobility” is the buzzword in the fitness world these days, and for a good reason. Think of mobility as the range of motion your joints can move through without any restrictions. For the shoulders, this is crucial. Imagine being able to reach the top shelf or throw a ball without feeling like your arm might just pop off.

Pro Tip: Mobility is like Wi-Fi. You only notice it when it’s gone!

Why Mobility Matters

  • Performance: Improved mobility can lead to better performance in your workouts. It allows for a greater range of motion, which can lead to more muscle activation.
  • Injury Prevention: A mobile shoulder is less likely to get injured. It’s as simple as that. When the joint can move freely, it’s less prone to strains and overuse injuries.
  • Daily Life: From reaching for that jar on the top shelf to playing catch with your kids, shoulder mobility plays a role in many daily activities.

Mobility Exercises to Incorporate:

  • Wall Angels: Stand with your back against a wall. Raise your arms to the side, forming a “W” shape. Slide your arms up and down the wall. It’s like making snow angels but without the cold and wet part.
  • Thread the Needle: Start in a tabletop position. Slide one arm under the other arm while rotating the torso. It’s a great stretch and also a fun way to peek at what’s happening on the other side of the gym.
  • Shoulder Pass-Through: Using a resistance band or a broomstick, hold it in front of you and then raise it overhead and behind you. It’s a fantastic stretch for the front of the shoulders.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the shoulder joint has the most extensive range of motion of any joint in the body? It’s like the gymnast of the joint world!


Which exercise is better for building shoulder size?

Both the Military Press and Overhead Press are effective for building shape and size. It often comes down to personal preference and individual biomechanics.

Can beginners perform these exercises safely?

Absolutely! However, beginners should start with lighter weights and focus on proper form. It’s always a good idea to consult with a fitness professional when starting out.

Are there any alternatives for people with shoulder injuries?

Yes, there are many alternative exercises for those with shoulder issues. It’s essential to consult with a physical therapist or fitness professional to find the best exercises for your specific injury.

Should these exercises be included in a full-body or split routine?

Both! They can be incorporated into a full-body routine or a split routine focusing on the upper body or just the shoulders.


In the grand gym of life, the shoulders are like the unsung heroes, carrying the weight of our world (and sometimes groceries). The Military Press and Overhead Press are two fantastic exercises to keep them strong and robust.

But remember, like any hero, they need their warmup and mobility training to perform at their best. Always consult with fitness professionals for personalized guidance and never skip the warmup, no matter how tempting it might be!

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