Adding weightlifting to your training program is an excellent way to build strength, muscle mass, and self-confidence.

One exercise you might opt for is a dumbbell military press. This is an overhead press that mainly targets the arms and shoulders but can also strengthen the chest and core muscles.

As with any type of weightlifting exercise, understanding the correct technique and maintaining proper form can help prevent injury.


Dumbbells allow for more range of motion than a barbell and are sometimes easier on the joints.

Was this helpful?

Some people have a personal trainer who can advise them on the correct ways to perform different exercises. If you don’t have a trainer, here’s how to complete a seated and standing dumbbell military press for the best results.

You’ll need a pair of dumbbells and an incline bench to do a seated dumbbell press.

Grab two dumbbells and sit on an incline bench. Make sure the back of the bench is set at a 90-degree angle.

  1. Once you’re seated, rest one dumbbell on each thigh. Sit with your lower back firmly against the back of the bench. Keep your shoulders and back as straight as possible.
  2. Raise the dumbbells from your thighs and bring them to shoulder height. If you have heavy dumbbells, raise your thighs one at a time to help lift the dumbbells. Raising a heavy dumbbell with only your arm could cause injury.
  3. With the dumbbells at shoulder height, rotate your palms so that they face forward. If you prefer, you can also complete a dumbbell press with your palms facing your body. Make sure your forearms are perpendicular to the ground.
  4. Begin to press the dumbbells above your head until your arms fully extend. Hold the weight above your head for a moment, and then lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height.
  5. Complete the desired number of reps. If you’re a beginner, start with 1 set of 8–10 reps.

For more on how to do the seated dumbbell military press, also called a seated shoulder press, check out this video:

Completing a standing dumbbell military press is similar to completing a seated press. The main difference is how you position your body.

  1. Bend down with your knees to pick up the dumbbells.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise the dumbbells to shoulder height. Your palms can face forward or toward your body.
  3. Once you have the correct stance, begin pressing the dumbbells above your head until your arms fully extend. Hold this position for a moment, and then bring the dumbbells back to shoulder height.
  4. Complete the desired number of reps. If you’re a beginner, start with 1 set of 8–10 reps.

Stand in a staggered stance

You can also use a different stance. Take a small step forward with one foot. Standing firmly with both feet, with both knees slightly bent, complete the dumbbell press.

In addition to the basics of how to complete a dumbbell military press, it’s important to understand the correct form.

Tighten your abs and glutes

To prevent injury to your lower back and neck, keep your glutes and abs contracted as you complete the dumbbell press.

Try different hand positions

Some people keep their palms facing forward the entire time while lifting, and others prefer to have their palms facing their body.

You can also start with your palms facing your body and slowly rotate your hands as you press the dumbbells over your head, so that your palms face forward. It’s important to fully extend your arms without locking your elbows.

Look forward and keep your neck straight

You can also avoid injury by keeping your head and neck straight while completing the exercise.

Let the bench support you

Using an incline bench helps prevent injury while completing a seated dumbbell military press. A bench supports the lower back, keeping it straight. Don’t complete this exercise on a chair that doesn’t have a back.

Exhale on the up

Proper breathing is also important. It can improve circulation as you work out and enhance your performance.

When completing a seated or standing dumbbell press, inhale as you pull the weight toward your body and exhale as you push the weight above your head.

If your back is rounding, lift a lighter weight

Some people make the mistake of rounding their lower back when lifting the weight. This puts too much stress on the lower back and can cause injury. To avoid rounding your back, don’t use a weight that’s too heavy.

If you’re swaying, lift a lighter weight

You should also avoid swaying or rocking your body while lifting the dumbbells above your head. Too much rocking indicates the weight is too heavy, which can lead to injury.

If you feel your seated or standing dumbbell military press is too easy, you can make it more challenging by increasing the weight. Don’t go too heavy too soon. Gradually increase the weight to build endurance, strength, and muscle mass.

If you’ve completed only seated dumbbell military presses, switching to a standing press can also make the exercise harder. When standing, you engage more muscles for balance and stability.

In addition, instead of lifting both arms over your head at the same time, try lifting one arm at a time.

On the other hand, if a dumbbell military press is too hard, you can make it easier by using a lighter weight.

You don’t always need dumbbells to perform a military press. You can use a resistance band instead.

To start, stand with both feet near the center of the band. While holding one end of the band in each hand, bring the end you’re holding to shoulder height with your arms at a 90-degree angle. From here, raise your hands above your head until your arms fully extend.

If you prefer, you can also do a military press with a barbell.

Both types of weights help increase muscle mass, but a barbell can make it easier to lift heavier weights compared to a dumbbell. Heavier weights help build muscles faster.

A dumbbell military press is an excellent exercise if you’re looking to increase muscle mass and strength in your arms, shoulders, core, and chest.

As with any weightlifting exercise, proper technique and form are crucial for the best results and to prevent injury.