Head Back: Build a Bigger Military Press

The military press is one of the forgotten exercises that many don’t do. Back in the day a bodyweight military press was the norm and now there’s few in a gym that can press correctly, let alone anything close to their bodyweight.

Building a bigger military press has many advantages to your training which include more core and stability training, building a bigger bench press, and setting yourself apart from the others in your gym.

Log Your Workouts

Logging your workouts is important because if you really want to get stronger and build muscle, you can’t just “go by feel” and expect changes. The iron is unforgiving, if I trained with weights going by how I feel, I wouldn’t be close to half of where I am today. Log workouts and keep track of your progress.

Record Your Sets

Along with logging your workouts, you should record at least your working sets. When you record your sets you have a video of your form and progress. This is a huge tool so you can spot weaknesses and flaws in your technique.

Progressively Overload

You can’t get stronger unless you add weight to the bar or add reps to your sets. In order for your body to get stronger, strive to add 5 pounds to the bar every week.

Treat Every Rep the Same

When you treat your warm ups the same as your top end heavy set, you are making your form habitual and enforcing safe practices. When you don’t perform strict form on your warm ups, you are opening yourself up to crap form on your heavy sets.

Believe in Your Form

When the weight gets scary heavy, you must trust your form to push this weight. You’ve been working hard to get better at this movement and if you stay out of your head and just do the damn weight you will surprise yourself on how much you can really press.

Training Frequency

I’ve found that two sessions a week pressing works well. Try to press two times a week with at least 2 days in between sessions and see how you respond. Training once a week works, but presses can be hard for some people to increase and they can benefit from pressing twice a week.

Train Heavy

Heavy military presses are going to be your friend. I’ve found more people respond well to heavy weight and low volume. I’ve always trained at 5 reps per set and sometimes I’ll train a higher rep day with lighter weight. Try out different rep and set schemes and find what works for you.

Head Back, Not Chin Up

If you properly do a military press, you’re going to have to get your face out of the way of the bar. I teach a “head back” form instead of a chin up. I’ve bled many a time before I learned this technique from hitting my chin on the bar.

Just think of a chicken how they shoot their neck and head back. If you’re a “head up” guy and try this new technique I bet you will love it.

Grip Width

Grip width is finicky on this particular lift and will take some testing to find what works best for you. A good start of the grip width is to reach straight out in front of you and grab the bar there. Mine is awfully close to my close grip bench and feels the best for me.

Generally if you think you are too wide you probably are. Going wide can “hit the shoulder” more but this is a compound exercise, why would you put yourself at a mechanical disadvantage?

Try False Grip

If you do not know what a false grip is, grab the bar like you normally would and then pull your thumb around the other way. A picture is worth 1000 words so I’ll just show you what I mean.

How to False Grip

I’m using my PVC pipe I use to stretch. This helps get the bar back a little bit more closer to your center of gravity.

Two reasons to be careful with false grip:

  • You could dump the bar and lose grip easier. This is why most feds don’t allow false grip on bench.
  • Your wrist can really get tweaked. If you aren’t careful you can feel some strains in your wrist.

False grip does give you more pressing power, if you or someone you know says that it doesn’t, you are probably doing something else wrong.

Squeeze Tight

Squeezing the bar tight causes your whole body to react and you will achieve a tighter form. Sloppy form could result in injury or dropping the bar on your noggin.

Full Body Tight

The tighter your whole body is, the more powerful your press will be. More stability and rigidness will result in more power.

“Chest Up, Squeeze Glutes, Quads, & Abs”

If you want to get the best leverage on your press, remember these cues and you will be in good shape. Chest up is going to help keep your body in a position to have the bar closer to your center of gravity and giving you a better leverage.

Squeezing your glutes and quads are going to keep you from using leg drive and helps keep you rigid to get strict military presses out. Tight abs = tight core = good.

Stronger Upper Back

“Building a stronger upper back will help you with all presses.” – Jonathan Byrd

Long story short, do your rows and do them often.

Stronger Legs

Stronger legs  will result in a more sturdy base to press from. A strong body starts from the ground up. Don’t skip leg day.

Stronger Lats

Stronger lats build one hell of press so work on your pull-ups and other rows. The stronger your back is, the stronger your pressing will be. Practice with an empty bar to engage the lats when you lower the bar and pressing from the hole. You will feel a sweet spot and work with it.

Bar Close to Your Center of Gravity

The closer the bar is to being directly over your feet, the more pressing power you will get. If you notice people who do the military press correctly, the bar is directly over their head as soon as they can get it there.

The Snatch and Clean & Jerk are two Olympic lifts that emphasize the center of gravity.

Don’t Lean Back

If you’ve ever watched YouTube videos of someone doing a military press, odds are you have seen someone lean so far back you think their back might break. Leaning back changes the dynamic of the lift and makes it more like an incline bench more than a shoulder compound lift.

Turning this lift into something it’s not will help you press more but will not be beneficial to building a bigger military press. Don’t lean back unless you want to cheat yourself and probably get hurt eventually.

Be Careful of Push Press

The push press is a great exercise but when training the military press you should restrict leg drive. A push press is a military press with assisted leg drive.

The only time I would say using a push press would be fine in military press training is to get that one last heavy ass rep in your set or to really overload your pressing. No slop and don’t cheat yourself if you really want to get the military stronger.

Open Up Chest

All of these pressing movements will make your chest area really tight and can cause your shoulders to rotate in and cause some posture problems. Along with these posture problems, you will get “bench press shoulder” and other imbalances which will make your training hell and hurt you in the long run.

Stretch your chest, pecs, and shoulders as much as you can. When you do this you are ensuring shoulder health and putting them in a safer axis of movement. This is also why heavy rows are extremely important to your pressing. The body works best when everything is balanced.

Rotator Cuff Work

I’ve been lazy and never worked rotator cuffs as much as I should and now I have a negligible injury that took almost a year to get back to my pressing ability. Shoulder health, mobility, and strong rotator cuffs are important if you want to stay in the iron game a long time.

Assistance Work

Assistance work for the military press is going to involve anything that strengthens the shoulder and helps them stay healthy. Obviously rotator work, front, side, and rear delt work, dynamic stretching, seated overhead press, and mobility will help. Try out some Arnold presses next time you’re in the gym.

“Muscle Confusion” – Switch to DB, Thicker Bars

Something that will also help with shoulder stability is to practice with different types of variables can help build your military press. Try incorporating dumbbell overhead presses in your workouts and to add more stability work, do each side individually.

More things to consider is to try different thickness of bars and axles if you have access to them. All of these add a different dynamic to them and can really give you some poundage on your press.


Some gear that can help you press more safely would be getting some wrist wraps and a belt. A good pair of hard soled shoes is a great investment as well.

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