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Seated Military Press: The Best Shoulder Exercise

What is the Seated Military Press?

The seated military press is the best exercise for building upper body strength, especially the shoulder muscles. The military press was one of the original Olympic lifts. Over the years, the bench press overtook the military press in Olympic lifts because of its higher popularity and increased strength of the chest, core, and arms.

Military presses are a variation of the shoulder overhead press. The seated variation does a better job of targeting only the upper body muscle groups and adds a stronger base of support while performing the lift.

For this lift, you will need an adjustable bench that can adjust between an angle of 70 to 85 degrees. A 90-degree angle will work, but it is very uncomfortable.

For this exercise, you will be able to use a barbell or dumbbells. If you are performing this lift at home, I recommend using dumbbells.

Muscles Worked

Seated Military Press Muscles Worked

The seated military press incorporates a lot of muscle groups to perform the lift correctly. The primary group being worked during this lift is the anterior deltoid (front and part of the top of the shoulder).

The secondary muscles that assist the anterior deltoid during this lift are the lateral deltoid (the outside portion of the shoulder), supraspinatus (upper shoulder blade), lower and middle traps (large upper back and neck muscle), and triceps (back of arms).

The last muscle group included during this lift is the stabilizers. The stabilizers support posture during the lift. The stabilizer muscles include the levator scapulae (side of the neck), the triceps (back of the arms), and the upper traps (large upper back and neck muscle).

Who Is It For?

The seated military press is known for being one of the main lifts for athletes especially basketball, baseball, and football. Coaches love this exercise because it mimics a lot of sport-specific movements such as blocking in football, grabbing rebounds in basketball, and following through contact in basketball.

If you’re not an athlete, don’t worry this is a great lift for anyone. This lift will build stronger shoulders that will help supplement other exercises like power cleans, bench press, and even deadlifts.

I highly recommend that beginners start with seated barbell military press or seated dumbbell military press. This will be one of the safest exercises to do. If the weight is too heavy you won’t be able to pick it up to get to the start point.

Benefits of The Seated Military Press

The benefits of the seated military press compared to other overhead press variations are:

  • The bench takes the core, legs, and low back out of the lift to put all the resistance on the shoulders and upper back. Other overhead press variations will include lower body and core muscles to stabilize posture during the lift.
  • It’s the safest overhead press to do. When performing other overhead press variations, the barbell or dumbbell will be directly over the head. On the bench, the barbell and dumbbells will be in front of the head due to the angle of the bench being less than 90 degrees.
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How To Do The Seated Military Press

Below I will break down this lift by seated barbell military press and seated dumbbell military press because both have different setups.

Seated Barbell Military Press

  • To set up, place weight and clips on the bar.
  • If you’re using a stationary overhead press station skip to the next step. If you’re using a squat rack, you will probably have to readjust the bench multiple times to get it at the perfect spot underneath the bar. The key is to set the bench in the middle of the barbell. Then set the bench angle between 75 to 85 degrees.
  • After setting up, you will grab the barbell with both hands at shoulder width. Most barbells have grips that begin at shoulder width.
  • Once you have the hands set, begin to lift the barbell off the rack. If the weight is too heavy have a spotter help you lift it up. If you are by yourself, don’t lift the weight if you can’t lift the bar off the rack.
  • Bring the bar to the upper chest around the collarbones. This will be your starting position.
  • From the starting position, extend the bar straight up (watch out for the chin). Try to only push through the upper body and try not to lean or use the core to lift up.
  • Slowly lower the bar back down to the collarbone.
  • After completing the repetitions, lift the bar back to the rack.

Seated Dumbbell Military Press

  • To set up for the seated dumbbell press, first begin by adjusting the bench, if needed, to a 75 to 85-degree angle.
  • Grab the weights and swing them up to shoulder height. Then sit down on the bench.
  • The lift is going to be similar to the seated barbell military press. Starting at the upper chest, extend the elbows to lift the dumbbells all the way up.
  • When lifting up, it’s ok to bring the dumbbells toward the middle. This will work more of the lateral deltoid.
  • After fully extending the elbows, slowly bring the dumbbells back to the starting position at the upper chest.
  • Once you have completed your reps, slowly bring the dumbbells down to the sides of the hips to drop to the floor or carry them back to the dumbbell rack.
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Alternative Exercises to Perform With Home Equipment

If you’re unable to perform the seated military press at home due to lack of equipment, don’t worry there are different variations to do overhead presses.

1. Z Press

The Z Press is one of my favorite exercises to do. Essentially this is just a seated press from the floor. All you need is dumbbells to perform this exercise. I like this exercise because it engages the core and hips as stabilizers.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your feet straight out.
  • Grab your dumbbells and move them to the shoulders.
  • Make sure you’re sitting straight up and extend the elbows for a full range of motion.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbells back down to the starting position at the shoulders.

2. Dumbbell Arnold Press

One of the most popular overhead press variations is the Arnold press. This exercise created by Arnold is a dumbbell press, with a twist. This workout is popular for building lateral deltoid strength.

How to do it:

  • Grab the dumbbells and move to an adjustable bench or you can do this exercise standing up.
  • Move the dumbbells to the upper chest but have the palms facing towards you.
  • To begin the lift slowly start extending through the elbows while twisting the palms to face away.
  • At the top of this lift, your palms will be facing away from the body.
  • Going back down twist the palms back toward the body.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Doing the Seated Military Press

The common form mistakes I see when people perform the Seated Military Press are:

  • Lower back lifts out of the seat caused by either too much weight or you need to strengthen your abs. Lower the weights or do more sit-ups for great form.
  • Feet come off the floor – This is also caused by too much weight. Most will get stuck during the lift and start to move around to lift the weight higher. Lower the weights and focus on keeping your feet on the floor to maintain good form.
  • Not extending the elbows all the way – You guessed it, this is caused by heavy or bad form. Not extending through the full range of motion of the workout will limit the growth of the muscles. Don’t cheat yourself extend the arms all the way to get stronger and defined shoulders.
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3. Push Press

This lift is one of the most popular overhead press variations to do. It’s popular because it allows you to lift heavier weights for full-body strength. This workout is very similar to a standing press but with a little help from the legs. This lift can be performed as a standing barbell press or standing dumbbell press.

How to do it:

  • Grab the barbell or dumbbells. With the barbell make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift weight up to the shoulder height.
  • Begin to slightly bend at the knees and hips.
  • Push upward through knees and hips. Use the momentum to push through the arms and begin extending the dumbbells or barbell overhead.
  • Extend the elbows through a full range of motion to the top.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down to the upper shoulders.
  • After completing the repetitions bring the weight down to the hips and then to the floor.


The seated military press is the best variation of the overhead press for building upper body strength. The key to this lift is to stay slow and in control movements and lift weights that you can handle. Adding this lift to your workout plan will guarantee you will have strong defined shoulders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Seated Military Press the Best Shoulder Exercise?

Out of all of the shoulder exercises, the seated military press is the best exercise because it targets shoulder strength more than any other exercise. The only other exercise that compares is the standing military press but this lift activates the core, which takes the target off of the shoulders.

Most people have a bad form with the standing overhead press and use momentum to lift the weights up. The momentum takes the weight off the shoulders, which leads to less targeting of the shoulder muscles.

Is a Seated Military Press Harder Than a Standing Shoulder Press?

The seated position is more difficult to lift the heavier weight out of because less muscle is being used compared to the standing position. The standing position also allows for momentum to lift the weight up.

John Broadway

John is an experienced health and wellness professional with a history of working in corporate wellness, clinical research, fitness equipment, and non-profit organizations. With his knowledge and passion, John strives to help others achieve goals and success in health and all areas of life.

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