Is the Military Press the Best Shoulder Exercise?

by Anthony Marrone

About Anthony Marrone

Anthony Marrone holds a Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Michigan where he worked in both the athletic and nutrition departments. He began writing in 1985 and his writing has appeared in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" and the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."


When Olympic weightlifting was the common method of training, military pressing was considered the standard of strength. Pressing a large weight overhead, particularly while standing, takes not only great shoulder strength, but arm, chest and back strength as well. The shoulder press, or military press, allows you to use more weight than any other shoulder exercise, working your muscles with greater intensity than smaller exercises. Consult a health care provider before beginning any strength-training program.


With the exception of stance, assuming you perform the exercise standing, the terms military press and shoulder press are interchangeable. The actual military press was first performed in competition with the heels together and the bar raised in a controlled motion. Over time, the stance was relaxed, but shoulder pressing still remained a contested lift, and a lift used to build strength and power. The more weight you use on this lift, the more you stress the largest muscle fibers in your triceps. The ability of a muscle to grow is in part determined by the amount you stress it. So, exercises that provide less stress provide less stimulus for growth and strength.

Benefits of Shoulder Pressing

The agonist, or prime mover, in any type of shoulder press is the anterior deltoid, or muscle on the front of your shoulder, according to a 1995 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research." The degree of recruitment of your shoulders is directly proportional to the degree of incline you press at, so the greater the incline, the greater the recruitment of your shoulders. This means that when pressing vertically, your shoulders are recruited more heavily than any other type of pressing.

Variations of the Press

There are ways to get more shoulder work out the press, primarily by widening your grip. A closer grip will cause you to press over a greater range-of-motion, increasing the workload if you keep the weight constant. The degree of elbow flexion and extension has a direct correlation with the degree of shoulder recruitment, according to a 2010 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research." Pressing can also be done with dumbbells, which can be used for a greater range-of-motion, but this limits the amount of weight you can use.

Other Shoulder Exercises

Lateral raises work the sides of your shoulders. To perform this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging down at your sides. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms until they are parallel to the ground, then return to the starting position. Bent laterals are a good variation and work the back of your shoulder. This exercise is performed in the same manner as lateral raises, but lean forward until your torso is just above parallel to the ground. While pressing is the best shoulder exercise, for healthy shoulders you must train all aspects this area.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or