Strict Press (Military Press) – Benefits & How to Perform

Overhead Press Featured Image

The strict press (also known as the military press, overhead press, and shoulder press) is what most people refer to as the overhead shoulder press.

Did you know this is a great exercise for the often neglected serratus anterior muscle?

In this guide, you’ll learn how to perfect the strict press with perfect form.

Strict press benefits

  • Builds bigger shoulders and moves you closer to the golden ratio Adonis look.
  • Helps you lift heavier than you would with dumbbells.
  • Gives you a great core workout, too.
  • Great strength and muscle-building exercise for the serratus anterior muscles.

How to do the strict shoulder press

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to perform this upper body workout.

The Set-Up


Position the bar

Position the bar on the front of your shoulders (between your chin and chest). Keep your grip narrow so that your forearms are almost vertical with your elbows pointing out at a slight angle.


Gripping the bar

You should grip the bar so that it is stacked over your wrist and elbow. If it’s too far back (resting on your fingers, for example) you’ll put unnecessary stress on the wrist joint which will soon lead to injury.


Tuck your bum in & tighten your core

Tuck your bum in and squeeze your glutes to form a stable starting point. If you don’t do this, you will end up pushing the bar out in front of you, rather than in a straight line above your head.


Lift your chest

Lift your chest a little (think about trying to get your upper chest to touch your chin).

Performing the strict barbell press


Pushing the bar

Take a deep breath in to brace your core and push the bar up in a vertical line. Lean forward a little after the bar moves above your forehead.


Lock your elbows

You should lock your elbows out at the top with the bar directly over your shoulders and middle of your foot. This will help better activate the serratus anterior muscles.


Return to starting position and repeat

Slowly lower the bar back to the starting position, shifting your torso back to allow the bar to pass. Exhale, lift your chest again, take a deep breath, and repeat.

Common Mistakes

Not locking out the elbows

You might have read that locking out the elbows is bad. In most situations, this is not true.

Hyperextending can be dangerous, but you should look to lockout at the top because it is safer for handling the weight, without falling forwards (or more likely, backwards).

Also, I find that I only really get DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) in my serratus anterior when I lockout at the top. If you want to build these muscles, then make sure you lockout!

Using leg drive

Your legs should remain in position while performing the strict barbell press.

Bending your knee and using leg drive makes the exercise easier and means it is no longer a strict press, but rather a push press.

If you want to maximise shoulder muscle gains and improve strength, make sure you avoid this mistake.


  • Include the strict overhead press at the start of your workout.
  • You want to lift heavy and should include this on upper-body days, push days, and shoulder days.
  • This exercise is best performed in a lower rep range – four to eight reps per set. If you’re looking to build bigger shoulders then this move will certainly do the trick within this range.
  • Mixing up your rep range is also great to get more volume and “pump” in your shoulders. You can aim for ten to twelve reps to achieve this; however, the higher rep range is better suited to seated barbell presses and dumbbell alternatives.
  • Lower rep ranges (one to three reps) is only advisable if you’re going for pure strength, have a spotter available, and are already well-versed in performing the strict press

Barbell strict press muscles worked

The strict barbell press is a compound move. This means it works a wide range of muscles.

The strict press is a full-body workout primarily targeting the deltoids, engaging all three heads (front, side, and rear delts). This excellent upper-body move also works the serratus anterior, abs, obliques, triceps, pecs, and traps.

Even your legs get an isometric workout as well!

Serratus Anterior Muscles - Anatomy Muscles

Serratus Anterior Muscles

Equipment required

Overhead strict press variations

The strict press is the most popular form of the overhead press; however, there are a couple of alternatives you can try. They are:

  • Push press – use leg drive to help get the bar up.
  • Seated overhead press – removes the ability to cheat with leg drive.

Overhead strict press alternatives

You can work your shoulders in a multitude of ways. Other shoulder presses you can try include:

  • Arnold dumbbell press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Single-arm landmine press

Overhead Press Video Tutorials

Perfect your form and find workout ideas with these useful YouTube videos.

Robin Young

Robin is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy. As a freelance writer he has written for publications such as Muscle & Strength, Sparkpeople, Inquisitr and many more. If he's not collating product reviews or working directly on improving the website, he is creating innovative content for the website's blog and Fitness Savvy YouTube channel

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Fitness Savvy
Compare items
  • Total (0)