The shoulders: they’re a critical muscle group for chiseled, toned arms. Unfortunately, they can also be pretty hard to develop!
If you’re sick of standard shoulder exercises and are in search of something better, we’ve got good news for you. We call it the seated barbell military press, and it’s here to overhaul your upper body training program.
Seated Barbell Military Press
The seated barbell military press is one of the most effective shoulder exercises you can do.
This compound shoulders exercise works several major muscle groups simultaneously:
- Shoulders (all three deltoid muscles: anterior, posterior, and lateral)
- Lower Back
In fact, many fitness experts believe that your overall shoulder and upper-body strength will be determined by how well you progress with the seated barbell military press.
If that’s not a reason to master this exercise, we’re not sure what is!
Seated Barbell Military Press Vs. Standing Overhead Press
Both exercises have their pros and cons.
The standing overhead press is harder than the seated. By standing during the press, you engage more of your shoulder muscles, lower back, and core.
But the standing press does have its limitations.
The seated barbell military press has significantly less risk of injury. Because the movement is more controlled, you’re able to lift heavier amounts of weight safely. Unless you’re an Olympic weightlifter with professional coaches, you can only lift so much weight over your head without support.
That’s why the seated barbell military press is a much more practical exercise to help you build boulder shoulders!
This exercise helps to target your shoulder muscles while still giving other supporting muscles a great workout.
Barbell Overhead Press Vs. Dumbbell Overhead Press
Research shows the dumbbell overhead press activates slightly more shoulder muscles than the overhead barbell press, but the difference is minimal.
Both exercises require stability to balance the weight over your head, but balancing two separate dumbbells engages your shoulder muscles a little more.
But similar to the overhead press, sacrificing stability will also require you to surrender more weight.
The seated barbell overhead press will continue to allow you to maximize your volume and push your shoulders to their absolute limit.
How to do the Seated Barbell Military Press Correctly
Seated Barbell Military Press: Setup
- Start with your feet on the ground about shoulder-width apart. Point your knees and toes slightly outward.
- Drive your heels into the floor and keep your upper back and butt pressed firmly against the back of the bench.
- Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart, with your wrists directly above your elbows. Make sure you grasp the bar with your wrists on bottom (not your fingers).
Seated Barbell Military Press: Going Down
- Take a deep breath. Contract your abs and glutes while pushing your chest up.
- Bring the bar down to the top of your chest in a straight line. Keep the bar close to your chest with your elbows tucked directly underneath your hands, close to your sides.
- To move the bar down in a straight line, you’ll need to tilt your head backward and out of the way. Keep your face looking forward, not towards the ceiling.
- Naturally, your lower back will arch at the bottom of this movement. If you arch too much and feel any pain, decrease the weight.
Seated Barbell Military Press: And Now Up
- Push straight up, tilting your head slightly back to allow the bar to pass your chin.
- Drive your feet into the floor to generate power and stability.
- Your shoulders, back, and core should be contracted during the movement.
- Raise the barbell above your head until your elbows lock.
The 3 Most Common Seated Military Press Mistakes
Avoid injury and see results faster by steering clear of these common mistakes.
1. Not using full-range of motion
Many lifters lower the weight until their arms reach a 90-degree angle, barely moving past the top of the head.
But this only engages 1/2 of the muscles that could be targeted with this exercise.
You should at least be bringing the bar down to your chin, and if your shoulders are injury free (bless you), then you should bring it down to the top of your chest.
If you’ve been guilty of this mistake, don’t be ashamed. Just buck up and start doing it correctly. You’ll have to take some weight off your usual sets, but it’s worth it to get the full-range of motion.
2. Letting your elbows flare out
To avoid letting your elbows flare out, keep your elbows under the bar throughout the entire lift.
At the bottom of each rep, your elbows should be slightly in front of the bar. Not quite like a front squat, but they should not be in line with your shoulders.
This quick, minor fix will prevent shoulder pain and even wrist pain. Don’t forget to follow similar form for your bench press, too.
3. Looking up instead of forward
Resist the urge to watch the bar move up! It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
If you tend to do this, position yourself in front of a mirror. That way, you can still watch yourself and monitor your form without craning your neck backward.
Building solid shoulders is a process, but these smart tips are here to help. Follow them to the T for shoulder boulders in no time at all!
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.