Made popular by Strongman Žydrūnas Savickas, the Z press is a pressing variation that works the back, shoulders, and core. It facilitates better overhead mechanics, upper body hypertrophy, and control. If you’ve done the barbell overhead press before, this exercise will look similar to it. But it has a few tweaks that make it more advanced. Although a seemingly simple pressing movement, the Z press relies only on your upper body to push the weight up. Because you’ll be seated, you won’t have the added balance and stability from your lower body.
If the upper body is a limiting factor in your lifts, the Z press can help improve the strength needed for better overhead presses or Olympic lifts. This article will take you through eight of the primary benefits of the Z press. You’ll also learn how to perform the lift, as well as some variations to try out.
Benefits of the Z Press
Performed in a seated position, the Z press completely relies on the upper body. This takes the lower body out of the equation. Although it’s not an isolation exercise, the Z press is more isolated to the upper body than the overhead press due to the lack of lower body support. One of the main muscles worked is the upper trapezius.
The upper traps contribute to stabilization and movement in the scapula, making it an important muscle to keep strong. Bodybuilders, athletes, and everyday gym-goers might strive for larger traps because of the aesthetic. But, they are also important for daily functions like lifting something overhead. The Z press can target the upper traps and upper back muscles effectively. This makes it an effective way to add quality functional and hypertrophy work for those areas.
Pressing strength can be important for overhead lifts, as well as other presses like the bench press. The Z press can build quality movement patterning and muscle. Therefore, it can be used over time to increase strength and performance. The Z press manages overhead pressing integrity and forces you to maintain stability in your shoulders and upper back and scapular stabilizers.
You can translate that movement patterning and stability into lifts like barbell overhead presses, jerks, and push presses. Without the help of the lower body, you have to rely on your upper body strength alone, which can help improve overall pressing abilities.
Bracing and contracting the abdominals, obliques, and even erector spinae is necessary for this seated overhead pressing movement. Studies suggest that overhead pressing from a seated position may activate the core muscles more than in a standing position. (1)
The Z press does not allow you to compensate for poor overhead mobility or lack of scapular control by arching your lower back like other movements. Building stronger core muscles can boost overhead strength and performance, and potentially increase your resilience against injury to the spine while lifting heavy.
Maintaining proper overhead pressing mechanics, balanced muscular development, and proper scapular control and strength can play a huge role in the longevity of the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues and ligaments. Without healthy shoulders, the risk of injury in and outside the gym can increase.
Studies suggest that shoulder injuries due to overhead motions are one of the more common training injuries. (2) The Z press can help bulletproof shoulders and help athletes and coaches get more out of their pressing programming.
Your posture can be compromised by sitting in front of a computer all day, staring down at your phone, or a lack of general physical activity. As a result, you might experience back, neck, and head pain, as well as more serious conditions like arthritis and poor circulation.
Studies suggest that improved posture can help reduce musculoskeletal pain and help improve balance and movement. (3) The Z press recruits muscles like the erector spinae and latissimus dorsi, which are big muscles in your back that contribute to posture and spine stability.
You may have noticed that athletes who play contact sports, like football or wrestling, have large muscles around the neck. These are the upper traps, and they can be essential for helping absorb blows to the head and neck area. The Z press helps develop those precise muscles.
Aside from athletes, studies suggest that neck and shoulder pain can be common in everyday workers, which is often due to weakness of the upper back muscles. According to these studies, exercises that help strengthen the upper traps may help improve pain and function. (4)
Studies suggest that lifters with more core stability have a greater chance of being more balanced in everyday life. These lifters can also develop more trunk muscle endurance in Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean & jerk. (5)
The Z press targets the upper body muscles that are needed for strength and stabilization of overhead Olympic lifts. In addition, it strengthens the core, which plays a key role in getting those heavier weights up. Performing the Z press can help produce the upper body strength that may be the limiting factor in your lifts.
This may seem strange since you’re using your upper body, but the hips play an important role in the Z press. Hip mobility can improve your power and movement, as well as your everyday function. Poor hip mobility can cause unstable movements, potentially painful posture, and weakened spine stability.
To perform the Z press properly and safely, you must stay upright with your legs flat on the floor. If your mobility is not there, your legs might want to come up off the ground. Keeping your legs on the ground will give an extra challenge to your core while also helping your hips become more mobile.
How to Do the Z Press
If you’re familiar with the overhead press, the Z press can be a smooth transition. Still, you’ll need to pay even stricter attention to upper body tightness and form. It’s important to perform this lift properly for safety and efficiency. Use a lighter weight than normal, especially at first, to master the movement.
- Position a barbell on a squat rack so it’s resting on the safety guards or on a stable elevated surface. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you or spread wider to make a “V” for more stability.
- Grab a barbell with your hands just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your legs flat on the ground, your chest up, back straight, and core tight as you hold the bar.
- Press the bar straight overhead, maintaining your upright position and tight core. Do not use your legs to push the bar up. Instead, drive your heels into the ground while sitting up straight.
- Slowly lower the bar down in a straight line and back to the starting position.
- Reestablish your brace and repeat.
Z Press Variations
The Z press is an advanced lift and can be challenging for lifters of all fitness levels. Maybe you’re not quite there yet, or the Z press isn’t for you right now. Either way, check out some variations to help recruit some of the same muscle groups.
Chances are that if you haven’t mastered the overhead press, you probably won’t be able to perform the Z press. Even though you’re not necessarily using your lower body in the overhead press, it’s still there for support and stability.
The more stability and balance you have, the less difficult it can be to press the weight up. So, if the Z press is too difficult, keep practicing the overhead press.
Dumbbell Z Press
Although you may not be able to push as heavy of a weight, challenges aren’t always about how heavy you can go. In this case, the dumbbells can challenge more of your stability, balance, and unilateral strength.
Kettlebell Z Press
Similar to the dumbbell Z press, the kettlebell Z press can sometimes be more comfortable on the wrists.
Unilateral Z Press
Unilateral exercises can help you exercise each side of your body equally. You can help to improve muscle or strength imbalances by performing one side at a time.
The unilateral Z press can be done with a dumbbell or kettlebell and is performed the same way. But in this variation, only one arm works at a time. This will increase the challenge to your core’s anti-rotation strength and stability.
The sots press is similar to the Z press, but instead of being seated, you hold a squat position. This is a great variation as it also helps strengthen the upper body without the stability of the lower body. It also helps target hip and shoulder mobility.
Build Stronger Shoulders Now
The Z press benefits your entire upper body and core. But it also has undeniably powerful benefits for your shoulders specifically. If you’re ready to try the Z press, it means you’re ready to build shoulders that are strong and stable. Check out the articles below for more on training your shoulders to their fullest potential.
- McKean, Mark, Burkett, Brendan J. Overhead shoulder press – In-front of the head or behind the head? Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2015; 4(3).
- Radwan, Ahmed, Francis, Jennifer, & Green, Andrew. Is There a Relationship Between Shoulder Dysfunction and Core Instability? International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2014; 9(1).
- Cramer, Holger, Mehling, Wolf E., & Saha, Felix J. Postural awareness and its relation to pain: validation of an innovative instrument measuring awareness of body posture in patients with chronic pain. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2018; 19.
- Anderson, Lars L., Andersen, Christoffer H., & Zebbis, Mette K. Effect of physical training on function of chronically painful muscles: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2008.
- Szafraniec, Rafal, Bartkowski, Janusz, Kawczynski, Adam. Effects of Short-Term Core Stability Training on Dynamic Balance and Trunk Muscle Endurance in Novice Olympic Weightlifters. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2020; 74.