Exercise 101: Military Press Using Free Weights

large image for military press

Name of Exercise —Free weight military press

Type of Exercise —Multi-joint

Muscles Used —Shoulders and arms

Starting Position

  • Sit down on a vertical shoulder press bench.
  • Lean your back against the bench, keeping your feet on the floor with your buttocks, back, shoulders, and head on the bench during the entire exercise (this position is known as five-point contact).
  • Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, with hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Push the bar upward until your elbows are fully extended and the bar is over your head.
  • Use a spotter if necessary, and have the spotter help lift the bar.

Downward Movement

  • Slowly lower the bar toward your head and extend your neck forward so that the bar can pass behind your head.
  • Inhale while lowering the weight toward your shoulders.
  • Keep your wrists directly above your elbows.
  • Maintain five-point contact during the movement.

Upward Movement

  • Push the bar upward until your elbows are fully extended and the bar is over your head.
  • Exhale while pushing the weight upward.
  • Maintain five-point contact.
  • Use the spotter for assistance, if necessary.

Trainer Tip

As you press the bar overhead, remember to move your head forward to ensure proper positioning of the arms upon completion of the motion. The goal is to have your arms in line with your ears once your arms are fully extended.

Repetitions, Sets, and Weight:

The number of repetitions (reps) and sets you should do depends on your strength goals. In general, muscle strength works to increase basic function of the muscle and is the typical workout choice. Muscle endurance is important to people who participate in endurance activities such as running or biking, and muscle power is beneficial for athletes who need to use sudden quick movements (eg, sprinting, basketball, football). Beginners should begin with a basic routine and gradually move toward a strength, endurance, or power routine.

Beginner : 1 set of 8 to 10 reps
Muscle Strength : 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Muscle Endurance : 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Muscle Power : 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps

Use a weight that is heavy enough to perform the desired number of reps and sets for your skill level using good form. Once you are able to perform more reps and sets than is outlined in your category, try to increase the weight you lift by 5% to 10%. Your strength goals may change as you progress.


American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise


Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology


Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics; 2000.
News and Publications. American College of Sports Medicine Website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/ . Accessed January 17, 2008.

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