Military Press VS Overhead Press. Why is it Called Military Press?

A true military press, no matter what you heard, seen, or been taught, is a standing press with the heels together (even more than I demonstrate in the video) and the hands are wide on a bar, or when using kettlebells/dumbbells the weights travel up laterally and target the lateral deltoids.


The Advantage of the Military Press

Due to the feet being placed closely together you’re removing stability. Stability is great to focus on heavy presses, but challenging stability also helps press heavier because moving the heels together requires more core stabilization, and as we all know, a strong core is the key to pressing heavy kettlebells.


Why is it Called Military Press?

There are several thoughts on why it’s called the military press, one being; because this variation of the overhead press used to be the general indicator or test of one’s strength in the military. The other is that the heels are together like standing to attention and the press itself could be seen as a military salute.

Arthur Saxon Military Press‘The best Two Hands Press I saw [Saxon do] was between 250 and 260 lbs., accomplished as if he had a lot in hand and let it be known that he did not bend back an inch or sway or move in any way, just forced the bell up with sheer power in a perfect “military” style of press as we then called that style of lift. He could have raised much more by leaning back.’

–Thomas Inch

You could say that the current press variations that people confuse with the Military Press are a dumbed-down version of the Military Press. The Military Press is a lot harder than the regular shoulder press. Sure, the Military Press is also a variation of the shoulder press.


Why is the Military Press Harder?

The military press requires a lot more core stabilization than a normal press where the feet are wider to create a stable base. A lot of work goes into the stabilization underneath the weight which makes this lift a lot harder than a normal shoulder press. Secondly, the press is driven more by the lateral deltoids which are usually less conditioned. In everyday life when we lift stuff over our head it’s usually directly up, hence, not an angle we’re conditioned for, neither from the gym as most presses focus on the front. The side press usually gets a bad rap because it easily produces injury, which is not due to the press itself but due to not properly progressing or choosing the right weight. The side press/military press is a movement you should include in your training if you want awesome shoulders.


Military Press standards

  1. Heels together (or with minimal space between them)
  2. Knees and hips locked
  3. Weight racked
  4. Elbows under the weight
  5. No momentum
  6. Strict press overhead till elbows are locked


Seated Military Press

There is no seated military press. There is a seated side press.


Staggered Military Press

You can do the military press with a staggered stance as well, this is where one foot is in front of the other and makes the stability even more challenging. You can lift the heel of the back foot slightly off the ground to make the stance easier to achieve. Check out the video below with a lot of kettlebell press variations. Make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel for over 1,000 kettlebell videos.

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Military Press Workout

The Iron Man Kettlebell Workout is a kettlebell workout that involves the military press. If you’ve not tried this kettlebell workout, you should! It’s an awesome but slightly more advanced workout, so, make sure you adjust the reps, weight, and even the exercises when needed.


What Does the Military Press Work?

The Military Press works the full body. The prime movers are the deltoids. All the muscles in the legs are worked to stabilize and provide a solid base to press from. The same applies to the torso/core. The emphasis is on the lateral portion of the deltoids, especially when performed with kettlebells or dumbbells. The barbell provides additional stability which makes it easier to perform with the barbell than kettlebells or dumbbells. The unilateral aspect of the kettlebells or dumbbells allows for a more natural movement though.

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