Is the Military Press the Best Shoulder Exercise?

Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that best suits your fitness needs.
i Hemera Technologies/ Images

In a world of pink rubbery weights and constant bandying of the phrase “low weight, high reps,” many women have come to fear weight training. Despite locker room gossip, lifting will not turn you into a she-Hulk -- only steroids can do that. What it will do, however, is blast away calories, create lean muscle and bolster your bones. Plenty of lifts and other exercises claim to be the “best” for a certain muscle group, but there's no definitive barometer here. Nonetheless, the military press is a tried-and-true resistance-training exercise that undeniably comes with its fair share of perks and professional recommendations.

Shoulder Muscles Worked

    The military shoulder press puts its focus on a very important -- and very visible -- group of shoulder muscles: the anterior deltoids. Also known as the front delts, this muscle runs from your collarbone to your bicep. The exercise also engages the lateral, or side, delts, the middle and lower trapezius and the levator scapulae of the upper shoulder. So while “best shoulder exercise” is a personal judgment call, the military shoulder press certainly does cover the bases when it comes to shoulder sculpting.

Other Benefits

    In addition to shoulder muscles, the military shoulder press works the pecs and the triceps brachii as synergists, or muscles that help other muscles achieve a certain motion. Likewise, this gym staple employs the long head of the triceps and the short head of the biceps brachii as stabilizers -- muscles that help others hold a position during an exercise.


    The words of fitness professionals hold some water when it comes to determining the value of any exercise. On that note, Muscle and Strength calls the military press “one of the best old school shoulder building exercises,” noting that this lift serves as a great core exercise to build a shoulder regimen around. Aerobics and Fitness Association of America-certified personal trainer Alissa Carpio puts the exercise at the very top of her list of the best compound shoulder workouts. Likewise, former U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team coach Jim Schmitz tells Iron Mind that this exercise is not only excellent for developing your shoulders, but that it also develops strength and muscle throughout your entire body.

Other Options

    Even if the military shoulder press serves as the cornerstone of your shoulder regimen, you'll need to augment it with a few more shoulder-centric exercises. Carpio recommends the behind-the-neck press, dumbbell press and front, lateral and bent-over raises, while TV trainer Jessica Smith, in an interview with ABC News, touts body-weight workouts such as pushups and dips, including them on her list of the top five upper-body exercises for women.

the nest