Seated Military Press

Exercise Setup, Proper Form, Muscles Worked, and Variations

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: September 2, 2023

Are you seeking a challenging, effective upper-body exercise to add to your workout routine? Look no further than the seated military press. This compound exercise targets multiple muscle groups while improving core stability and overall strength.

In this post, we’ll dive into the muscles worked by the seated military press, exercise benefits, and how to properly execute the exercise for maximum results. Whether you’re a seasoned weightlifter or a beginner looking to step up your game, the seated military press is a must-try for any fitness enthusiast.

Seated Military Press

What Is A Military Press?

The military press is a weightlifting exercise that involves lifting a barbell from your shoulders to a fully extended position above your head. This exercise is excellent for building upper body strength and improving overall shoulder mobility.

The terms “military press” and “shoulder press” are often used interchangeably to refer to an overhead press exercise. There are several variations of these exercises, including standing and seated versions.

This article will focus mainly on the seated military press, which reduces lower-body involvement while isolating the upper body.

Seated Military Press Muscles Worked

The seated military press is a powerful compound exercise that focuses on the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest, with an emphasis on the anterior deltoids located in the front of the shoulder.

Seated Military Press Muscles Worked

Seated Military Press Benefits & Limitations

The seated military press is a great exercise that emphasizes the upper body muscles more by reducing leg drive at the start of the movement. A bench with a backrest provides a stable body position compared to standing. 

Moreover, this exercise is highly adaptable, as you can modify it to work with the gym equipment you have available. You can use military press racks, power racks, or no rack at all, depending on what’s available to you. 

One potential drawback of this exercise is that it might be challenging for novice lifters who lack coordination. However, starting with lighter weights can help you quickly master the movement and gradually work up to heavier weights.

Additionally, the seated military press reduces the amount of weight you can lift. So it may not be as good as standing overhead presses for total body strength gains.


  • Isolates the upper body.
  • Provides a more stable base.
  • Adjustable to your equipment.


  • Requires intermediate motor skills.
  • Lower maximum power output.

How to do Seated Military Press

To begin with, let me guide you on how to set up the barbell and bench before performing the exercise. However, if your gym has a specialized military press rack, you can skip this part.

Moving on, I will provide you with a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to perform the seated military press exercise. Moreover, I have also included a brief video tutorial and some extra tips on maintaining correct form while doing the exercise.

Setting Up The Bar and Bench

To perform the seated military press, you need to adjust the rack so that the barbell is slightly above your head. Then, position a bench aligned with the center of the bar and perpendicular to it.

You can either use a fixed upright bench or an adjustable one. If you’re using a fixed bench, the backrest will be fully upright at 90 degrees, but the shorter height allows you to lean back.

On the other hand, if you’re using an adjustable bench, the added height prevents you from leaning back. So you should set the backrest at a steep angle between 75 and 85 degrees.

While you can position the bench facing towards the bar, it’s typically easier to unrack and rerack the weight when the bench faces away from the bar, as shown below.

Seated Military Press Set up

Performing Seated Military Press

To perform the overhead press exercise, sit on a bench with your feet flat on the ground and your back firmly against the backrest. Make sure your chest is up and your core is engaged. Reach up and grab the barbell with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Next, carefully unrack the barbell by pushing it up and slightly forward until it is directly above your head with your arms fully extended. Slowly lower the barbell in front of your face to just below chin level while keeping your elbows directly under the bar.

Now, push with your shoulders and extend your elbows to press the barbell straight back up to the starting position. At the top, make sure your elbows are fully extended, and the barbell is directly overhead.

Repeat these steps for the desired number of repetitions. When finished with your set, carefully lower the barbell back into the rack by reversing the unracking motion. Remember to keep your movements slow and controlled throughout the exercise.

Here are the basic steps to perform the seated military press exercise:

  1. Position the barbell and bench for the exercise.
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Urack the bar with arms extended overhead.
  4. Slowly lower the bar to about chin level.
  5. Extend your arms to press the bar back up.
  6. Repeat for the desired reps.

Seated Military Press Video Tutorial

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Seated Military Press Form

The description and video above should give you a great starting point for effectively performing the seated military press. But here are some additional tips to help you master perfect form.

  • Range of Motion – When performing a seated military press, lowering the bar to about chin level works the muscles through the full range of motion without putting too much stress on the shoulder joint. Also, fully extend your arms and squeeze your deltoids at the top.
  • Tempo – To maximize the effectiveness of the seated military press, perform it slowly and with control. Try a tempo of two seconds on the negative and one second on the positive, with a brief pause at the top and bottom.
  • Grip Width – Typically, your grip will be slightly narrower than a bench press. Use a grip width that makes your forearms vertical at the bottom of the movement.
Seated Military Press Form
Barbell Seated Military Press

Seated Military Press Variations

So far, the seated military press exercise has been demonstrated as a barbell press to the front. Still, additional variations can be performed to target specific areas of the shoulders or with alternate equipment.

Behind Neck Seated Military Press

The seated military press can also be performed by lowering the barbell behind the neck. This variation results in more significant external rotation of the arms, the anterior deltoid is more isolated, and the upper chest is less involved.

However, it is essential to note that the behind-the-neck military press is one of the most shoulder-isolating overhead press variations and can put more stress on the shoulder joint.

To avoid injury, it is important to use strict form and lighter weights. But when done correctly, this variation is safe and effective for building shoulder strength.

Smith Machine Seated Military Press

The seated military press can also be performed on a Smith machine, which is essentially a barbell on vertical guide rails. Thanks to the fixed movement path of the machine, there is less need to stabilize the weight, allowing the larger muscle groups to do more work.

This makes the Smith machine seated military press a great variation for targeting the deltoids. You can also choose to perform the exercise in front of or behind your head.

Dumbbell Seated Military Press

The dumbbell seated military press is an excellent exercise variation for enhancing coordination and functional strength.

By using dumbbells instead of a barbell, the exercise provides a more natural movement path and engages more stabilizer muscles. This makes it a great choice for anyone looking to build strength and stability in their upper body.

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Seated Military Press Alternatives

While the seated military press provides many benefits, it is not the only way to perform overhead press movements. Alternative shoulder press exercises may be better depending on your fitness goals.

Standing Overhead Press

The standing overhead press is a popular shoulder exercise for developing muscle size and strength. Even when using strict form, the standing position enables you to use more body movement and momentum to push the weight.

While this takes some of the load off the shoulders, it also enables you to generate more power and lift heavier weights, leading to more overall strength gains.

Push Press

The push press is another standing overhead press exercise that intentionally involves leg drive to start the movement. This additional momentum helps to increase the overall power output and works more muscle groups, such as the quads and calves.

Although the deltoids are not activated as much, this exercise can significantly increase power for Olympic-style movements like cleans and jerks.

Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a variation of the dumbbell military press that involves rotating the dumbbells as you perform the shoulder press movement. This rotation of the arms during the exercise increases the range of motion and activates more parts of the deltoids, making it a great shoulder workout.

More Shoulder Exercises & Workouts

The seated military press is an effective exercise for targeting the shoulders with a compound movement. But a complete shoulder workout should also include some exercises for the side and rear delts.

So here are some additional articles that should help you design your ultimate shoulder training routine.

Complete Compound Shoulder Exercises List

Best Side Delt Exercises for Wider Shoulders

Rear Delt Exercises for 3D Shoulders

Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises with Example Workout

9 Unique Landmine Shoulder Exercises for Circuit Workout

Push Press vs Overhead Press Muscle Activation & Power Output

Based on the information provided, you have a solid foundation for achieving your goals of building stronger shoulders. If you found this article helpful, I believe you may also find these additional resources to be valuable.

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By |September 2, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on Seated Military Press Benefits, Muscles Worked, & Variations
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