T Nation

Seated Military Press: Dangerous for the Spine?


Hey there Thib (salut Christian),

I read your post regarding how overhead work will tremendously help with horizontal pressing. However, I'm only doing seated military pressing (I work out at home and the ceilling is too low, fml). I've read a couple articles saying that once you reach certains weights on the seated press, the compression on your spine can become ''dangerous'' and it can compress your disks.

I do plenty of core work so I'm not ''missing out'' on the blance benefits from doing standing vs seated, but I'm more concerned about the health of my spine and I'd like to have your opinion concerning this issue since I put much faith in your opinions.

If it does turn out that seated is harmful, I can find a way to do standing presses.


Very few people can actually reach a strength level that makes this exercise potentially more dangerous. Most injury risks come from bad positioning (not keeping the whole back in contact with the bench, arching the lower back).


how would a standing OH press differ from a squat in compression of the spine ?


There is no direct contact with the spine in the overhead press and the squat uses a lot more weight. BTW, the standing overhead press doesn't load the spine that much compared to the seated version.


First of all, thanks a lot for the fast and precise replies. I would have one last question though if you don't mind: You said that if used correctly, the seated position shouldn't / won't be dangerous, BUT you also mentionned in your second post that the standing position dosen't load the spine as much (is this regardless of how good your form is on the seated press?), so if you had to pick one for the best strength advantages and least injury risks, which one would it be?

Merci pour ton temps Christian et continue ton bon travail.


It's just that in the standing version the load is partially absorbed by the lower body whereas in the seated version the spine is directly compressed by the seat of the bench.

It's not 'that much' more dangerous, but I personally prefer the standing version, probably because of my background as an olympic lifter.


Some of the shock loading is absorbed by the knees, when performing the exercise standing.

Also, the abdominal muscles (which are activated much more strongly when standing and doing OH work) Can act to stabilise the spine (reducing risk of injury) as well as to increase intra-abdominal pressure, thus mildly reducing compressive loading on the IVD.

But CT essentially nailed the answer already :wink:



Why is arching your back dangerous when performing overhead presses?

Would doing seated overhead presses or overhead lockouts without back support be a bad idea?


This may seem like a dumb question and may not even belong here, but it is interesting and worrying for quite a few people.

Does lifting heavy (as in 500lbs on squats and deadlifts, and 225lbs on military press on a regular basis, say 3 x a week) make you lose height and get shorter? Is there any scientific basis for this, or indeed any anecdotal evidence? It sounds like a dumb question but would it lead to disc compression etc which over time could cause hardening and compression and therefore shrinkage over time? It seems plausible. Although is this counterbalanced by sleeping at night, in that I believe it's possible to effectively 'shrink' almost an inch during the day and for it to be restored overnight, something to do with fluid in the spine. I'm sure my science is more 'bro-science' so please excuse that!

Any answers are much appreciated.



Two questions:

1) Why is arching the lower back good when loading the spine with lifts such as squats, yet bad when loading the spine with seated overhead presses? My guess is that the compression is more severe when seated (which is why some people dislike box squats), but like I said, just a guess.

2) I prefer overhead pressing while standing, and find I can go heavier when pressing on one side at a time. However, this one-sided loading places a lot of torque on my hips, making it difficult to keep my spine straight laterally. I can compensate for this by shifting my weight to the opposite leg (e.g., right leg if pressing with left hand), but is this a bad idea?


Because of that but also because when seated, the core switches off to a degree, leading to a tendancy towards spinal hyperextension. This compresses the facet joints.

Correct technique when squatting involves maintaining a [/i]neutral[/i] lumbar spine, meaning that load is evenly borne.

But here's a thing: If you lack the appropriate degree of shoulder ROM (external rotation) and/or thoracic mobility, then you will compensate by leaning backwards. This creates the same hyper-extension as seen in seated paressing with poor form.

I lack shoulder ROM, and have come up with a way of preventing arching of the back whilst seated pressing: Put your feet up on another bench, with knees bent.

Hard to say without seeing your specific technique.



Thanks for the helpful reply.