If you want to gain both strength and mass in your shoulders, the military press is the way to go. It’s the perfect shoulder-building exercise, as it activates every area of your deltoid, leading to greater muscle growth .
“It’s one of the most functional exercises in the book,” says Cody Braun, fitness specialist at Openfit. It doesn’t just build mass, but it also strengthens basic overhead movements. That’s why it’s crucial to incorporate exercises like this one into your weightlifting routine to improve overall shoulder strength, Braun says.
Here’s how to do the dumbbell military press with proper form, and how to make it a part of your fitness routine.
How to Do the Dumbbell Military Press With Perfect Form
- Adjust an incline bench so the back is vertical and sit on the seat, holding two heavy dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
- Slowly press the dumbbells upward until your arms are straight.
- Lower your hands back to your shoulders and repeat.
How to Make the Military Press Easier
- Use lighter weights. This is a good option if you’re worried about putting too much strain on your shoulder joint.
How to Make the Military Press Harder
- Use heavier weights.
- Performing a standing military press to engage your core more.
- Perform an alternating military press, pressing one arm at a time.
- Slow your lifting tempo to increase time under tension.
Bonus Tips for Doing the Military Press
“To get the most out of this exercise, I recommend pairing it with shoulder mobility and core stability exercises to improve your efficiency,” Braun says. Here are a few ways you can improve your mobility, and a handful of the best core exercises to get you started.
Military Press Variations
The military press has numerous variations to choose from. You can do it seated or standing. You can use dumbbells, a barbell, or a resistance band. All together, this makes it an extremely accessible move to work your shoulders, whether you’re working out at home or in the gym.
Benefits of the Military Press
Shoulders are one of the most frequently used muscle groups in the upper body. You use them anytime you pull, push, press, or lift something. The military press strengthens your shoulders, making everyday activities like putting groceries away on the top shelf or picking up your toddler so much easier.
In fact, the military press targets your entire deltoid (the front, middle, and rear fibers of the muscle). While the three sections always work together, some movements emphasis certain fibers more than others. But with this move, you’ll get maximum muscle-building benefits out of just this one move.
What Muscles Does a Dumbbell Military Press Work?
The military press works every part of the deltoid muscle, and it engages your triceps and traps. The standing variation also activates your core.
Your deltoids make up the bulk of your shoulder muscle, and each one has three heads: the front (anterior) head raises your arm up and in front of you; the middle (lateral) head moves your arm directly out to your side; and rear (posterior) head moves your arm behind you when you’re standing to the side when you’re on your stomach. Since the shoulder is one muscle, the three heads never work individually, although certain exercises can emphasize certain fibers more than the others.
Triceps and Traps
Military presses also activate a few other muscles, but to a lesser extent. This includes your triceps (which originates at the humerus and scapula, and attaches to the elbow) and your trapezius (a kite-shaped sheet of muscle that runs vertically along your upper spine and fans out toward your shoulders). All together, they help you complete each rep of a military press.