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September 02, 2022 6 min read

The strict press is an exercise with many names and can also be referred to as the military press, the shoulder press, or the overhead press. No matter what you call it, the mechanics remain the same.

This upper body exercise tests strictly your upper body strength, though you do gather support from your core and lower body. Although the strict press may seem straight forward, many lifters still perform it incorrectly due to lack of strength, mobility, or knowledge.

In order to reap the benefits of any exercise, you first must have the knowledge behind the what, the why, and the how.

What is a Strict Press?

If it’s called so many names, then how do we actually know what it is? Whatever you decide to call the strict press matters much less than the movement. Typically, what you call the exercise is based on your background in the gym.

In CrossFit, the term “strict press” is more common to help differentiate between the other presses movements, like the push press or push jerk. 

In the push press and push jerk, you use your hips and lower body to help drive the weight up, but the strict press does not use any momentum, and you must rely solely on your upper body to press.

In bodybuilding, the term “military press” is more common because this exercise adopts a narrower stance of the feet, making the press even more difficult. 

A bodybuilder’s goal is to maximize hypertrophy. By eliminating the support you may get from a wider stance, you can better use and build the muscles in your upper body.

In the commercial gym, you’ll likely hear it referred to as the “overhead press” or “shoulder press”. 

However, the shoulder press is more commonly associated with dumbbells, where the overhead press uses a barbell.

Benefits of the Strict Press

When using heavier weight, it can be tempting to use momentum to help press the weight overhead, but by keeping the press strict, you have more potential to build upper body strength and muscle.

  • Upper Body Hypertrophy:In order to maximize muscle growth, you must focus on targeting the muscle group without the help of momentum or other surrounding muscles. 

Unlike some other types of press variations, the strict press pushes the barbell overhead by just using the upper body muscles.

Your deltoids are a huge part of this movement, so if you’re looking to build muscle mass, the strict press can be a great exercise to add to your shoulder workout.

  • Better Pressing Strength: The bench press, push-ups, and other pressing movements can require an immense amount of pressing strength, especially when heavy weight or fatigue play a factor. 
  • Since the strict press relies on the strength to press without the help of the lower body or momentum, it can be a great way to increase overall pressing strength.
  • Pressing strength is used in the gym, but it’s also used in daily life to push open a door, push furniture around, and anything else you may push around in your day.
  • Stronger Bench Press: In powerlifting, one of the big lifts is the bench press, and the strict press helps to target some of the muscle groups used in this lift. 
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    The shoulders act as stabilizers in the bench press, the triceps help finish the lockout phase, and the upper chest helps make for a bigger and better press overall.

  • More Stable Shoulders: The shoulder joint is an extremely important part of movement and stability in your upper body, and if the muscles surrounding it are weak, you can put yourself at a greater risk of injury. 
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    The delts play a role in joint and rotator cuff stability, and incorporating the strict press can help strengthen this muscle group.

    Strengthening your shoulder muscles can help create more stable and functional shoulders for movements in and outside the gym.


    In strength training, an important cue for many lifts is to engage your core for added stability and safety.

    During the strict press, it can be easy to arch your back when pressing the weight up, but this can cause an injury, and at the very least can take the focus away from your shoulders, defeating the purpose of the exercise.

    By keeping your core tight, you can help create a better lift, and you can also build your core stability.

    Muscles Worked by the Strict Press

    The strict press focuses on your upper body and can be a great way to build muscle and strength in specific muscle groups.

    Deltoids

    The deltoids or delts are the biggest muscles in your shoulders, and they’re responsible for stabilizing and protecting the shoulder joint and for movement of the arms.

    Three heads make up this muscle group: the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids, and all three heads contribute to the movement pattern of the strict press.

    Triceps

    Making up 2/3 of your arm are the tricep muscles, and they’re responsible for extending the arm and helping to stabilize the shoulder.

    The triceps are important during the final push and extension of the arms in the strict press, so if that’s your sticking point, strengthening this muscle group may help.

    Trapezius

    The trapezius is located on the upper back, and it’s responsible for moving and stabilizing the shoulder blades.

    When you lift your arm or when you need to keep your posture up, as in the strict press, this muscle group is involved.

    Upper Pectorals

    The pectoralis major is the large muscle that spans across your chest, and it’s responsible for moving and rotating the arms.

    Although the upper pecs are not necessarily a separate muscle, there are certain exercises like the incline bench press or the strict press that can emphasize this area more.

    How to Do the Strict Press

     

    Keeping proper form during the strict press is extremely crucial to its effectiveness and your own safety.

    Here’s how to do the strict press:

    • Position yourself in front of the bar with it set on the squat rack at shoulder height, and your feet hip-width apart.
    • Grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. Place yourself underneath it, so it’s resting on your shoulders before you unrack it.
    • Flip your elbows up into almost a front rack position but don’t keep your elbows as high and unrack the bar.
    • Keep your chest up, core pulled in, and glutes tight as your prepare to press the bar overhead.
    • Without using any help from your lower body, press the bar straight up overhead.
    • When your arms are fully extended, slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.

    Common Strict Press Mistakes

    Although the strict press may seem straightforward, there are a few mistakes that lifters commonly make that you should be aware of.

    Arching the Back Too Much

    If the weight is too heavy, or if you’re not engaging your core properly, your lower back may have a tendency to arch. This can cause strain or injury in your low back as the force of the weight is coming right down on your spine.

    You can help avoid this by keeping your core tight or by trying a lighter weight.

    Pressing the Bar Forward

    Shoulder mobility can play an important role in strict pressing because if the mobility isn’t there, it can cause the bar path to go out of line. Instead of pressing straight overhead, you may notice the weight goes slightly forward.

    You can help fix this by practicing shoulder mobility exercises, and by using lighter weights in the meantime.

    Using the Lower Body

    It can be tempting to recruit the hips and the legs for a little extra boost during the strict press, but the point is to completely avoid that. You want to keep your hips extended and your knees in the same position throughout the entire movement.

    You can help fix this by lightening the weight and continuing to practice just using your upper body.

    An Uneven Press

    You may notice when you’re pressing that the right arm presses the bar fully up before the left arm does, or one side has a harder time pushing than the other. This can be due to imbalances in the body and can cause poor lifts and even injury.

    You can help fix this by implementing the dumbbell overhead press, so both sides of your body can be worked equally.

    Not Warming Up

    When your adrenaline is pumping and your pre-workout kicks in, it can be tempting to jump straight into your workout without warming up first. A proper warm up is essential for better and safer exercise. 

    Shoulder injuries are common, but taking the proper precautions can help you avoid one.

    To maximize your workout, make sure to warm up and check out Amped-AF advanced energy and focus pre-workout for extreme energy, lasting endurance, and strength.

    Strict Press to a Better Upper Body

    The strict press looks simple, but looks can be deceiving. Just a few reps of this exercise can prove how taxing it can be on your upper body and is sure to challenge your strength.

    If you’re used to Olympic lifts or weightlifting exercises that use explosive power, the strict press is a great move to incorporate and build brute strength.