The Z press is an overhead press variation that targets the shoulders, triceps, and core due to the seated pressing position.
So, what is the Z press? The Z press (or Zydrunas press) is an overhead press variation that is performed from a seated position. It involves no leg drive, so all of the emphasis is on the core and pressing muscles. The Z press is also considered an advanced exercise due to the hip mobility and core strength required.
Before going any further, it’s critical to know that the Z press is not for beginners (more on this in the next section below). This is because of the increased hip mobility and greater core strength required for this exercise.
That said, there are also some unique benefits to the Z press that I’ll detail later in this article — especially relating to improving hypertrophy and reducing fatigue.
Let’s get to it!
Z Press: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the Z press are the:
• Front deltoids
• Upper pectoralis
• Scapular stabilizers
• Abdominals and obliques
• Erector spinae
Compared to the standing overhead press, the Z press recruits more stabilizing muscle groups. These include muscles of the scapulae (shoulder blades) and core muscles, primarily.
Don’t miss my article on the 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives (With Pictures).
In the Z press, the main pressing muscle groups that actually result in movement of the barbell overhead are the front delts, upper pecs, and triceps.
When analyzing the Z press, there are two main actions that occur. The first is shoulder flexion (upward movement of the upper arm), which targets the front delts and upper pecs.
The second action is elbow extension (straightening of the elbows), almost exclusively handled by the triceps.
The Z press requires additional work from stabilizing muscle groups, such as the scapulae (shoulder blades), abdominals and obliques, and erector spinae (lower back muscles).
The scapulae stabilizers are actively recruited to control the movement of the shoulder blades. When the barbell is pressed overhead, they rotate upwards and then swing downwards as the bar descends.
The musculature of the core (abs, obliques, and lower back muscles) are isometrically challenged to a high extent during the Z press.
Specifically, these muscle groups work hard to keep the torso rigid as the barbell is moved. However, their workload is increased in the Z press because the legs can no longer make small adjustments when the bar path is not perfect — the core muscles have to pick up the slack, instead.
How To Do The Z Press
Now that we’ve covered the muscles worked and benefits of the Z press, let’s go through the essential steps of the correct technique.
Remember, the Z press builds off your fundamental overhead press skills. So, ensure they’re well developed before trying this variation.
Step 1: Set the safety arms
While there’s nothing stopping you from muscling the bar up off the floor from a seated position, it’s incredibly difficult — not to mention, inefficient.
Instead, a much easier way to get in position for the Z press is by using the safety arms of a power rack. In this scenario, adjust the safety arms so they’re at the same level as your knees.
Then, set the barbell across the safety arms.
Step 2: Sit down and confirm safety arm height
Once the safety arms are in position, sit down on the floor.
Extend your legs straight in front of you and then spread your feet. Your legs should be angled about 30 degrees out from your midline.
Sitting up tall, roll the bar towards you and ensure that the barbell is just above the height of your armpits. If the barbell is currently too high or too low, continue adjusting the safety arms until you have them set at the correct height.
The Z Press is a great exercise if you have to shoulder press with low ceilings.
Step 3: Roll bar and establish grip
After you’ve set the ideal safety arm height and sat down, roll the bar towards you.
When the bar is almost touching your upper chest, stop it from rolling and put your hands on the barbell.
Your hands should grip the bar so that your forearms are vertical in the bottom position. Usually, this will require a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder-width.
Step 4: Hoist bar into position
With the bar close to you and your grip locked in, lean forward slightly.
In one fluid motion, dip your elbows directly under the bar and forcefully sit up. This sequence should result in the barbell hovering slightly above the safety arms with you supporting its full weight.
Step 5: Press the bar
Now that you have the bar in the starting position, take a deep breath into your abdomen and brace your core.
Press the barbell upwards, almost trying to skim your nose on the way up. As it passes your forehead, begin pushing the bar slightly back. Finish the movement by locking out the bar overhead with your elbows completely straight.
Step 6: Lower the bar and re-rack
Once you’ve completed the desired number of repetitions, return the bar to the safety arms. To do this, simply pause in the bottom position and lean forward as you allow the barbell to drop.
5 Benefits of The Z Press
While some components of this exercise look similar to the standing overhead press, the Z press has some unique benefits that make it a unique exercise.
The 5 benefits of the Z press are:
• It can enhance your overhead pressing strength
• It can activate your core muscles more
• It can be useful for hypertrophy purposes
• It can provide variety to your training
• It can be a solid exercise for a deload
1. It Can Enhance Your Overhead Pressing Strength
Since the Z press is performed from a seated position, it removes any possible leg drive. This means that the strength you build is solely due to enhanced overhead pressing strength.
When doing the standing overhead press, many lifters unconsciously apply some leg drive with their final reps in order to complete their set.
With the Z press, using leg drive isn’t possible. Instead, your seated position deliberately removes any ability to assist the movement with your lower body. Because of this, you can rest assured that the strength you build in the Z press is solely from improved pressing strength — not due to work from the legs.
This effect is similar to the purpose behind the bench press with legs up and Larsen press. Check out the linked articles if you’re looking for a bench press variation that emphasizes your chest muscles even more.
2. It Can Activate Your Core Muscles More
The Z press works your core harder, as your legs are entirely taken out of the movement.
After performing the Z press for the first time, many lifters complain about sore abs. This makes sense, as the Z press requires higher amounts of core strength compared to standing overhead press variations.
The main reason why this happens is that your core musculature must stabilize your torso when there are any bar path inefficiencies.
Typically, your lower body would have made those fine adjustments by shifting your weight to your heels, or letting your knees bend. However, they’re completely out of the equation here — making your core work much harder than in a standing overhead press.
3. It Can Be Great For A Hypertrophy Cycle
Due to the emphasis on the core and upper pressing muscles, the Z press can be useful for a hypertrophy cycle.
Many lifters mention that the Z press helps them feel their shoulders and triceps more than other pressing variations. In turn, the Z press could very well lead to more hypertrophy in your shoulders and triceps.
Check out my article on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises. This article focuses specifically on tricep exercises that will help increase your bench press.
4. It Can Provide Variety To Your Training
Increased exercise variety by adding the Z press to your program can promote strength gain, hypertrophy improvements, and psychological relief.
Recycling the same 2-3 overhead pressing variations is typical for many athletes. At best, this can lead to monotony in your training. At worst, it can result in blunted strength and hypertrophy gains.
Variety with exercises allows you to practice similar skills in alternate ways, which puts a new stimulus on your body. Incorporating the Z press allows you to still train your shoulders and triceps hard, but places a unique stimulus on your core muscles at the same time.
Looking for other overhead press variations? Check out my complete list of the 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives.
5. It Can A Solid Exercise For A Deload
Recall that deloads deliberately reduce your training volume (total reps performed) and/or your training intensity (% of your 1RM). Usually, they tend to be programmed for anywhere from 1-3 weeks in duration.
If you have a deload approaching and need an exercise that will put less stress on your pressing muscles and joints, the Z press is a solid choice. The added instability from the seated position and the fact that it’s a new exercise will automatically result in lighter weights being lifted.
As a result, accumulated fatigue will be able to dissipate from previous months of hard strength training.
4 Drawbacks of The Z Press
Due to its specialized purpose, the Z press, unfortunately, has a number of downsides.
Here are the 4 drawbacks of the Z press:
1. High mobility demands
The Z press is one of the few pressing exercises that requires serious lower body mobility to perform correctly.
Having to keep your legs extended while maintaining a braced torso position is no easy task. In fact, very few lifters can properly adopt this position — even with an empty barbell.
Adding extra weight to the bar often makes a poor position even worse, so make sure that your hip mobility is well developed before attempting the Z press.
2. Extra equipment for safety
Compared to the standing overhead press (which doesn’t necessarily need a power rack at all, just a barbell and weight plates), the Z press requires safety arms to perform safely.
The main reason why these are so strongly recommended is to make the un-racking and re-racking safer.
If they’re not present, you’ll need to muscle up into position from the floor which is extremely impractical. Alternatively, you can choose to forgo the safety arms and just use the j-hooks. That said, you’ll end up falling with the barbell in the event that you lose your balance instead of being able to rest it safely on the spotter arms.
3. Serious core strength required
The Z press demands a much more developed level of core strength than is needed in the standing overhead press.
For this reason, lifters who lack core strength (this is most obvious if ab work is regularly absent from your program) should be cautious when trying this exercise for the first time.
4. Less specific for strength sports
Strength sports like strongman/strongwoman, Highland Games, and Olympic lifting require the lifter to press weights overhead while standing.
If you choose to use the Z press in your training instead of a standing overhead press, you are placing yourself at a disadvantage. After all, you won’t be sitting down to press a weight above your head in your competition — so why train would you train that way?
Find out how much your overhead press strength carries over to your bench press in my article Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press?
Mistakes to Avoid
Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when performing the Z press:
Leaning too far back
Doing this makes the exercise easier, by turning it into a seated incline press of sorts.
Basically, leaning back while you press recruits more upper chest muscles to assist in locking out the barbell.
How to fix it: As you press the barbell up, think about “sit still” to avoid moving anything but your arms.
Bending your knees
Allowing your knees to bend reduces the hip mobility demands during the Z press.
Additionally, it makes the exercise easier on your core muscles since you can plant your heels or feet into the floor for added stability.
How to fix it: Throughout the exercise, repeat to yourself “straight knees” to keep the work on your core muscles.
Twisting your body
Letting your body twist during the ascent simply shows that you favour one side (one side of your body is weaker than the other).
While this is normal, it’s a less efficient way to press a barbell overhead because it tends to also cause the bar to twist.
How to fix it: During the lift, keep your shoulders and hips squat throughout. If you continue to twist, reduce the weight or stay further away from failure than you’ve been doing.
Check out my article How Do Powerlifters Train Shoulders? (Definitive Guide) to get the inside scoop on how elite-level powerlifters train their delts.
Who Should Do A Z Press?
The Z press should only be performed by intermediate or advanced level lifters.
In fact, even experienced trainees should avoid this exercise unless they have serious core strength and impressive hip mobility.
The main reason why the Z press is not for beginners is due to the mobility demands of the exercise. Achieving the hip mobility required to obtain the neutral back, chest-up position to excel with this movement is not easy. Further, the required core strength to avoid losing balance and compromising ideal mechanics is difficult to maintain.
For these reasons, I recommend almost all lifters avoid this exercise and opt for other overhead press variations instead.
How To Program A Z Press
Regardless of whether you compete in strength sports or not, I recommend that you incorporate the Z press as an accessory pressing exercise.
With this programming intention in mind, the Z press will benefit most from doing sets of >5 reps. Typically, it’s incorporated in a hypertrophy-style format where rep ranges of 8-12 reps are the norm.
The reason for this is simply due to practicality. Performing the Z press with high intensities (>90% of your 1RM) will likely result in your core strength and/or hip mobility being the limiting factor instead of your pressing strength.
Alternatives To The Z Press
Dumbbell Z Press
The dumbbell Z press is a great alternative to the barbell variation when you don’t have access to a barbell or a power rack to perform it safely.
Using dumbbells also promotes more freedom in the range of motion (you can rotate the implements as you move them) which might be a more shoulder friendly option for some lifters.
Kettlebell Z Press
The kettlebell Z press features the same benefits in range of motion as using dumbbells. However, kettlebells are often considered a more difficult implement to use.
Since the bells will rest on the top of your forearms, the weight distribution is changed slightly. Many lifters find this more challenging than dumbbells at first, but quickly adapt to them within 1-2 weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about the Z press:
What is the Z press good for?
The Z press is good for providing variety to the standing overhead press. Being done from a seated position, the Z press targets the core musculature and pressing stabilizers more than its standing variations.
Who is the Z press named after?
The Z press is named after professional strongman Žydrūnas Savickas. According to a podcast posted to this reddit thread, Savickas did not actually invent the Z press — nor does he perform the exercise regularly. How the Z press grew to be named after him is unknown.
The Z press is an advanced overhead press exercise that is performed by pressing a barbell overhead from a seated position.
While it works similar muscle groups as the standing overhead press, it also hits the stabilizing muscles to a greater extent — specifically those of the core and shoulder blade region.
Only strength trainees with great hip mobility and core strength should perform the Z press.
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.