Why is the Military Shoulder Press a Pillar of Strength?
Before everyone started caring about big chest muscles, the shoulder press was THE press.
If you think about it, your shoulders are more useful as pushing muscles in life than your pectorals (chest). How often are you on your back needing to push something up (no, don’t make that dirty)?
Or…when do you need to push something horizontally without most of the force coming from your lower body (like a car in snow or something, stop being gross!!).
You’re far more likely to need to push something up vertically, or bring something down from on high, under a controlled manner. We’re thinking the box of home movies in the loft, some magazines from the top shelf (oo-er), a tiger stuck in your tree…that sort of thing.
And your deltoids are the set of muscles you will use to do all of that.
So, hopefully you realize it is an important muscle group to focus on, if you real intention is to increase your overall practical strength, but the beauty of strong shoulders only begins with their direct usefulness in pushing heavy things up and bringing them down.
Strong shoulders will allow for greater control and isometric force in your Deadlift (#1 Pillar). Not only that but it will also help your Bench Press (#4) and your Core Isometric (#5) work.
You really don’t want your shoulders to be the limiting factor in your other strength exercises, so if it isn’t already, we recommend pushing these up to priority status.
The military press is the anchor to all your other shoulder movements. If you could only do one, this would be it.
There is an interesting variation which you can introduce to it though, and that is by changing between a bar and dumbbells. The bar for the bigger, heavier lifts, and the dumbbells to really finish the job.
With smaller muscle groups, like the shoulders, compared to the big lower body stuff that the deadlift and squat work on, it’s advantageous to continue to muscle failure, or as close as possible, to really soak in the benefits.
With that said, it’s a good idea to put a good 25 minutes into your shoulders. The first 5 sets can be much like any of the big strength sets we have talked about in Deadlift and Squat.
You could then flow into the lighter dumbbell exercises and go for higher rep sets, until you are basically at muscle failure. The more endurance you build over time, the more of these sets you will be able to complete.
We won’t lie though, shoulders are possibly the most uncomfortable when they are burning. Stick with it, big delts are awesome to behold!!
For the barbell version of this you can be seated or standing. Beginners might want to start on the seated rack but if you’re more confident, you can use the same rack as the squat rack to position the bar for a standing shoulder press.
The bar should basically come down to the top of your chest each rep, without actually resting any weight on your chest. The positive portion of the rep – the push – should be raised directly above your head. You may have to move your head each time depending on how vertical the seat is or if you are standing.
Warm up to a weight that lets you complete 4 to 5 reps, so that an additional repetition would be almost impossible to complete. These are your strength sets.
Dumbbells can actually be used more to the side and be brought down almost level with the top of your shoulders, because there is no bar there to hit you on the head. The dumbbells can be pushed up and touched together at the top.
Working to muscle failure on your shoulders is quite easy with dumbbells: you simply won’t be able to push them up anymore. When this happens, take a break of about 60 seconds and go again. Do as many as can be done, and cycle down the weights as they become to difficult until you are at failure with a 10 lb dumbbell. Once that happens, call it a day on the weights and hit the cardio for 20 to 30 minutes.
(Video credit: bodybuilding.com)
The process described above will give you some great strength gains as well as some hypertrophic growth in the shoulders. Your deltoids are the most important shoulder muscles, so get this down before moving on to your support sets like side, front and bent-over side raises.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to see what your maximum lift or 1-Rep-Max (1RM) is.
IMPORTANT: A spotter is a must with the shoulder press 1RM. If you take the bar off the rack and immediately cannot control it, some bad things involving your head and heavy steel might occur.
Much like anything else, it is vital to be feeling your best when you attempt a 1RM. No niggles, pains, pulls, twinges, cramps or anything else that might be needlessly worsened.
Good luck and Safe Pressing.
CLICK HERE to move onto Pillar 4: the BENCH PRESS