How To Do The Seated Barbell Military Press

military barbell press exercise

With a barbell, bench and weight plates, you can create impressive shoulders!

Searching for information on the Seated Barbell Military Press? Hoping to jack up your shoulders and get more defined? Need some tips for growing your delts?

If the answer is yes, you’ve come to the right place.

For years, I experimented with different exercises to build my shoulders. But no matter how hard I tried, the result were always the same – crappy.

Feeling frustrated, I decided to take a step back and reassess my approach. And let me tell you – I’m so glad that I did because it afforded me the opportunity to learn about the military bench press!

Yep, that’s right. I was completely ignorant of how this exercise helped guys grow their shoulders. It wasn’t until I consulted with an expert that I became fully aware.

“It’s all about the shoulder press dude!” said Mike, a friend of mine who trains bodybuilders and is a former Marine. “If you can include this exercise in your routine at least once a week, you’ll see serious results,” he said.

And here’s the thing – according to scientific research, Mike was totally right (Fahey, 2013).

Once I learned how to do the military press with a barbell the right way and began including them in my regular gym routine, I started to see meaningful change.

I’m not going to tell you the results happened overnight. Let’s be real – anyone who suggests an exercise provides “instant” anything isn’t leveling with you.

More: Bigger biceps through concentration curls

The hard truth is the shoulder muscles are complex and not the easiest to grow. But once you grasp how they work as a system, you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The definition of the seated barbell military press
  • The benefits of doing these types of exercises
  • Muscles that make up the shoulders
  • Equipment needed for the military press
  • Step by step “how to” instructions
  • Example barbell press exercises via video

What is the barbell military press?

In plain-speak, the barbell military press is a compound exercise that involves raising a barbell over the head using the muscles of the shoulders, back, and triceps during execution.

This exercise can be conducted in either the seated or standing position. Almost always, free weights are involved that rest on a universal bar.

Benefits of the military press

The biggest benefit of doing military presses is the muscle growth that happens in the shoulder region. When conducted properly, specific muscle fibers are targeted and broken down.

Over the course of time, these fibers rebuild themselves into larger, more sculpted muscles through the process of protein  synthesis.

In turn, growth is possible by engaging in progressive overloading.

shoulder muscles for military barbell press seated
Shoulder muscles

Muscles involved with barbell presses

A lot of people think the barbell press only benefits the deltoid muscles. But that’s really just a misnomer.

In truth, there are several muscle groups involved that experience gains from military presses. Let’s take a closer look.

Muscles exercised:

  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Brachial
  • Trapezius

Military barbell press equipment

Military Press Bench

To conduct this exercise, you’ll need to position yourself on a military press bench. You can easily identify this piece of equipment at your gym because it has a back that goes half-way up. Sometimes, foot posts are positioned at the bottom for added balance.

Military press benches are usually made from high-grade steel and do not have the ability to adjust.

Standard Barbell

In addition to the bench, you’ll also need a standard barbell. At some gyms, the barbell is already weighted, meaning you don’t have to add plates. However, this is the exception and not the norm. In most cases, you will need to add plates to each side.

weight plates universal bar
Standard universal bar with weight plates

How to do a seated military barbell press

1. Sit on bench

Take a seat on the bench. Make sure you are in a comfortable, upright position and that your shoulders aren’t arching forward.

Have a spotter standing behind you. The person can either give you the weight or help you during lift-off.  Position your palms on the bar with a forward facing grip.

Tip: Avoid using a flat bench. The back support offered from a military press bench can help you to avoid lower lumbar injury, which happens to be one of the main reasons people get hurt with this type of exercise.

2. Grab the bar

Using a low weight, position your hands on the bar in a way that is wider than your shoulders, creating a 90-degree angle that takes on a “Y” shape in appearance.

3. Lift the bar

Once your hands are properly in position, lift the bar using your shoulder muscles (not your back). Slowly raise the bar over your head until fully extended, locking your arms at the top. Consider this your starting position.

4. Lower the bar

Inhale and slowly lower the bar down to your collarbone. It’s OK to have your spotter help you with balance.

5. Raise the bar

Exhale at the bottom of this move and slowly raise the bar back to the starting position.

6. Repeat

Continue to do this exercise for the number of reps in your routine.

Workout recommendations

You will read all sorts of information on the web about this exercise so all I can tell you is what I know, based on experience.

If you are new to the military barbell press, you are better off using a non-weighted universal bar at the beginning. This will allow you to experience the full range of motion.

Once you feel comfortable with the upward and downward movements, you can then start to add weights. The trick is to do it slowly and lightly.

After you master the moves, you can then move on to using the technique of progressive overloading – again, slowly and lightly.

Optional gear

In my experience, this exercise is easier on your hands and back if you use several pieces of optional gear. I’ll walk you through each one and explain why.

Gym gloves

If you aren’t already using gym gloves, I encourage you to pick up a pair. Here’s why: over the course of time, free weights have a funny way of ripping your palms up.

Weights also place a lot of pressure on sensitive hand muscles, which are prone to injury when working out.

By using gym gloves, you afford yourself extra grip while providing padding to the palms. There are tons of weight lifting gloves on the market. Personally, I like the Gym Rat Suede Glove because its mesh construction offers ventilation. See Amazon for price.

Elbow compression gear

If you have elbow problems (or want to avoid them), wearing compression gloves while doing the military press might be a smart move.

I use them because I need the extra support around my elbow joints during heavy lifting. The compression sleeve helps me to avoid pain and assists me with getting the full range of motion during contraction.

You can get these at some drug stores or order directly online. See Amazon for pricing.

Lifting belt

The final piece of gear you should consider getting is a lifting belt. This may seem counter-intuitive for these types of exercises but here’s why belts are a good idea.

To be sure, the bench itself does provide upper back support. It also keeps your spine straight so that you don’t arch. But what the bench doesn’t do is provide lower lumbar support.

By using a lifting belt, you fortify your back where it needs it the most – midsection. See this post on back exercises to learn more.

You can find lifting belts at most sporting goods stores. They are also available from various online retailers, including Amazon.

Wrap Up

When you see guys with killer shoulders, it’s important to recognize they are probably doing a variety of exercises. The military barbell press is most likely one of them.

It’s one of the best compound moves that has the advantage of hitting the delts, traps, triceps, and the brachii.

When combined with other upper body exercises, military barbell presses can give you impressive results.

For additional pointers on adding muscular size to your frame, be sure to check out all of the bodybuilding tips on this website.

Thanks for stopping by.

Fahey, T. (2013). Basic weight training for men and women. New York: McGraw Hill.

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast