Blog Fitness Workouts Military Press Vs. Overhead Press: Techniques, Common Mistakes, And Potential Benefits

Military Press Vs. Overhead Press: Techniques, Common Mistakes, And Potential Benefits

military press vs overhead shoulder press

Most fitness experts suggest doing the military press and overhead press to increase upper body strength and elbow range of motion. Following this suggestion, most individuals have added these two exercises to their workout plan. That said, these two exercises are too much for most to handle. They are overwhelming, so most people often find themselves doing just one of the two. This takes us to look at the question of which exercise is the most effective between the military press and the overhead press. Take a look at this detailed comparison between the military press vs overhead press.


Which exercise, when comparing military press vs overhead press, should you consider to build upper body strength? Well, there is a lot to consider. This article will help you make an informed decision by exploring all the differences between these two upper body exercises. We will also discuss the correct form, advantages, and potential risks of performing either of these two strength-building exercises. Let us dig in!

Military Press Vs. Overhead Press: What Is The Difference?

There are several differences between these two exercises. However, many are only familiar with the difference in how they are performed. This is one of the differences, but not the only one. Here are more primary differences to consider before you start doing the military press or overhead press.

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The Form Differences

As we all know by now, the overhead press is not performed in the same way as the military press. Both exercises are performed differently, as shown below:

How To Perform The Military Press

One thing you must note about the military press exercise is that posture is vital. So, pay attention to mastering the correct posture and exercise technique using this guide:

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Grasp comfortable weights in your hands and stand upright without arching your back. One mistake people make is in arching their back while doing this exercise. Arching your back while pressing the weights up will put a lot of strain on your lower back, resulting in lower back pain.
  2. Start to press the weights towards the ceiling in a slow controlled movement. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together when pressing to give them a thorough workout. Similarly, focus on slow controlled movements that reduce your risk of injuries.
  3. Lower your arms slowly to the starting position and repeat.

military press vs. overhead press

How To Perform The Overhead Press

The correct steps to help you do this exercise are as follows (2):

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grab a barbell or some dumbbells in your hands. If you are using dumbbells, hold them in a goal post position and in alignment with your ears. Your upper arms should be parallel to the ground and forearms perpendicular to the ground. If you are using a barbell, grasp it with a shoulder-width grip and have it rest on your collar bone.
  3. Slowly raise the barbell or dumbbells overhead in a slow controlled movement. 
  4. Make sure you extend your arms at the top of the movement without locking your elbows. Similarly, make sure you press the weights slightly in front of your forehead such that you can see them without tilting your head.
  5. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat ten times.
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Differences In The Targeted Muscles

The military press targets the shoulder muscles, triceps, and deltoid muscles, popularly known as the common shoulder muscles. However, this exercise does not only work your upper body muscles. It also targets your core and legs, helping you improve their stability.

On the other hand, the overhead press also works majority of your upper body muscles. It targets your deltoids, triceps, and pectorals (chest muscles). In addition, doing the standing overhead press also targets your trapezius or upper back muscles (6).

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military press vs. overhead press

Variation Differences

Like with any other exercise, these two workouts also have several variations. These variations have been set to help individuals in all fitness levels gain the most from doing these exercises. Take a look at some common variations of these exercises:

  • The Staggered Military Press Variation

In this exercise, you will maintain a staggered stance. This position is characterized by placing one foot in front of the other to make stability more challenging. You can walk your way through this exercise by slightly lifting the heel of your back foot off of the ground. Once you get the hang of the movement, perform it without lifting the heel for increased intensity.

  • The Seated Overhead Press

You will often find most people comparing the seated overhead press vs seated military press. Fitness gurus acknowledge that there is no seated military press variation. However, there is a seated overhead press variation.

In this exercise, you will perform the overhead press while in a sitting position. Make sure that your back is pressed against something back to avoid arching it, resulting in back pain or problems. Similarly, remember to engage your core for an added core workout.

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Read More: Side Plank Hip Lifts To Activate Your Obliques And Boost Your Core Strength


Similarities And Differences In Their Benefits

Although these exercises have different forms, they do result in similar benefits. Some of these include:

  • Increased Upper-Body Strength

These two exercises involve lifting weights. According to Medicine Net, you build muscular strength by lifting heavy loads (7). Since these two exercises use weights, you get to increase your upper body strength. However, you must be careful and remember to gradually increase resistance as advised by your trainer for strength development (7).

  • Bigger And Stronger Triceps

The military and overhead press exercises both target your triceps. It makes them effective tricep exercises to do if you want to get stronger and bigger triceps.

  • Improved Shoulder Balance

WebMD states that you must consider balance while working out the shoulder muscles, which means that shoulder exercises should be done evenly (5). Balancing the workout in both shoulder joints is crucial as it helps prevent straining one joint and improving shoulder balance (5).

These are two common similarities in the health benefits of doing the military and overhead press. Besides these gains, the two exercises also help you reap the following individual gains.

military press vs. overhead press

Extra Benefits Of Doing The Overhead Press

They include:

  • Reduced Back Fat

As mentioned earlier, the overhead press also targets your trapezius or upper back muscles. It can, therefore, help you tone this area by getting rid of upper back fat. 

  • Increased Core Strength

Performing the standing overhead press actively engages your core muscles. It works out your obliques and transverse abdominal muscles. Giving these muscles a workout helps increase your core strength.

Extra Benefit Of Doing The Military Press

The other added benefit of doing the military press exercise includes:

  • Increased Stability

The military press exercise also targets your core and leg muscles. Strong leg muscles are crucial for movement and stability.

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military press vs. overhead press

Potential Risks Of Doing The Military Press

Doing the military press exercise can also result in various health problems. Some of these include:

  • Shoulder Pain

Numerous things can go wrong when you are doing the military press. This is the primary aspect that most people forget, and it costs them shoulder pain from poor alignment. WebMD limits the performance of this exercise to individuals with strong, flexible, and mobile shoulder joints (3).

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Many people do not have flexible shoulder joints, so they have an increased risk of shoulder pain when performing this exercise. Similarly, other individuals might perform the military press with tight shoulder joints, increasing their risk of shoulder pain.

Shoulder pain caused when performing this exercise may result from a tendon tear or impingement. A shoulder tendon tear results when the shoulder tendons split or tear, resulting in partial or complete detachment of the tendon from the bone (9).

On the other hand, shoulder impingement refers to when the top of your shoulder blade rubs on the rotator cuff tendons whenever you lift your arm (9). Make sure you get treatment for shoulder impingement and tendon tears to avoid further complications.

  • Upper Body Injury

You can also walk away with an upper-body injury when doing a military press. This is irregardless of whether you are using comfortable weights or not. Experts state that the exercise requires shoulder strength, mobility, and stabilization, which most people lack (1). As a result, they usually miss the correct technique and mess up the proper form, which results in upper-body injury (1).

Instead of doing the behind-the-head military press, trainers recommend doing the Arnold press (1). According to them, this exercise recommends using a dumbbell, which helps target each arm and shoulder joint without excessively straining your shoulder joints like a barbell would (1).

military press vs. overhead press

Dangers Arising From Doing The Overhead Press

Like with the military press, doing the overhead press may also result in various risks. Some people believe the risks of doing the overhead press are less fatal. However, this is not always the case. Here are some potential dangers that may arise from doing this exercise:

  • Rotator Cuff Problems

Performing the overhead press can result in rotator cuff tendinitis because of the frequent movement of your arms overhead (4). This makes the tendons in your shoulder joints tear, resulting in pain and injury when these muscles are overused (4).

  • Lower Back Pain

When you perform the overhead press, your body will be forced to stretch your spine, especially if you are lifting heavy weights. Any sudden or strenuous lifting movement will pressure your lower back, resulting in lower back injury (8).

You can treat lower back pain at home by resting or using ice packs (8). However, if the pain persists, seek medical advice instead of self-prescribing anti-inflammatory or pain relief medications.

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Common Mistakes To Avoid While Doing The Military Press And Overhead Press

Press movements are a staple in any weightlifting or strength training routine. The military press and overhead press are two of the most popular variations of the press movement.

However, many people make mistakes while performing these exercises which can lead to injury or decreased results. Here are some common mistakes to avoid while doing the military press and overhead press:

1. Incorrect Grip Width

Most times, a lifter will grip the bar without thinking too much about it. However, the grip width that you use for the military press and overhead press can make a big difference in the results that you achieve.

If your grip is too wide, it will be difficult to keep your elbows close to your body while pressing the weight overhead. This can put unnecessary stress on your shoulders and lead to joint pain.

On the other hand, if your grip is too narrow, it can limit the range of motion in your shoulders and cause you to lean forward while pressing the weight overhead. This can also lead to joint pain or injuries.

The best grip width for the military press and overhead press is just outside shoulder-width. This will allow you to keep your elbows close to your body while still allowing for a full range of motion in your shoulders.

2. Bending The Wrists Excessively

While a full, firm grip with palms facing forward is important for the military press and overhead press, bending the wrists excessively can put unnecessary stress on the joints and ligaments.

Keep your wrists in a neutral position throughout the entire movement. This will help to keep the pressure off of the joints and allow you to focus on pressing the weight overhead.

3. Flaring Elbows Out

Flared elbows could mean that your back isn’t well-aligned and tensed up for the movement, which can lead to injury.

When performing the military press and overhead press, keep your elbows close to your body and under the bar. This will help to keep your back aligned and increase stability throughout the movement.

4. Over-Arching The Lower Back

Over-arching the lower back is a common mistake made while performing the military press and overhead press. Many times, people will arch their lower back in an attempt to get more power from their legs.

This can be a sign of poor core strength, inactive glutes or simply incorrect form.

When performing the military press and overhead press, keep your lower back neutral and engage your core muscles. This will help to prevent lower back pain and ensure that you are using the correct muscles to press the weight overhead.

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If you struggle to align your back, it might be a sign that you should reduce the weight before attempting the push press. Simply getting the weight overhead isn’t enough; good form is essential to avoid injury.

military press vs. overhead press

Military Press Vs. Overhead Shoulder Press: Which Is The Safer Bet?

Individuals frequently compare the overhead barbell press vs military press to help determine which one is the most effective upper body strength exercises. Looking at this discussion, it is safe to say that the two movements are both of value. They help increase your shoulder muscles size and strength and result in other advantages. 

However, they also have their cons, most of which arise from poor technique and control. It means that no exercise is entirely safe. It all comes down to your choice based on your fitness goals. Whichever exercise you choose, remember to pay attention to your form to maximize your gains and reduce the risk of injury.

The Bottom Line

Which is the safer upper body exercise when comparing military press vs overhead press? The answer to this question will vary, depending on who you are asking. If you prefer doing the military press, you will claim it is safer and more effective, and vice versa. 

However, of the two, there is no safe alternative, according to fitness experts. They both have their pros and cons, meaning neither guarantees you safety. It is up to you to choose the exercise that best suits your fitness needs and perform it in the correct form for reduced injury risk.



This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. 8 exercises trainers never do (and what to do instead) (2018,
  2. 15-minute workouts: This 31-day dumbbell routine will tone and strengthen your entire body (2020,
  3. 9 Least Effective Exercises (2008,
  4. Rotator cuff problems (2021,
  5. Shoulder Exercises to Sculpt and Tighten (2005,
  6. Shoulder Muscle Activation of Novice and Resistance Trained Women during Variations of Dumbbell Press Exercises (2013,
  7. Weight Lifting (Resistance Exercise) (2019,
  8. What can cause lower back pain? (2019,
  9. What can cause shoulder pain? (2019,
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