How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (2024)

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (1)

The Z press (or Zydrunas press) is an overhead press variation that targets the shoulders, triceps, and core since it's 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 not for beginners due to the increased hip mobility and core strength required.

I would only recommend the Z press to experienced lifters looking for variation, hypertrophy, and increased overhead press strength.

Below, you'll learn how to do the Z press correctly and avoid mistakes that could lead to injury. Let’s get to it!

Table of Contents

How To Do The Z Press

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 nothing stops you from muscling the bar 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 to 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 too high or too low, continue adjusting the safety arms until they are set at the correct height.

The Z Press is a great exercise for shoulder press with low ceilings.

Step 3: Roll the bar and establish grip

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (2)

After you’ve set the ideal safety arm height and sat down, roll the bar towards you.

When the bar almost touches 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

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (3)

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

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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.

Z Press: Mistakes to Avoid

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Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when performing the Z press:

  • Leaning too far back: Leaning back during the Z press makes it easier, essentially turning it into a seated incline press. This recruits more upper chest muscles and compromises the exercise's effectiveness. To fix it: Focus on keeping your body stationary while pressing the barbell.
  • Bending your knees: Allowing your knees to bend reduces hip mobility demands and makes the exercise easier on your core muscles. It provides additional stability by letting you plant your heels or feet. To fix it: Maintain straight knees throughout the exercise to engage your core muscles properly.
  • Twisting your body: Twisting during the ascent indicates a preference for one side, often due to muscle imbalances. This inefficiency can also cause the bar to twist, affecting form. To fix it: Keep your shoulders and hips squared during the lift, and reduce weight or avoid failure to address twisting.

Check out my article How Do Powerlifters Train Shoulders? (Definitive Guide) to get the inside scoop on how elite-level powerlifters train their delts.

How To Program a Z Press

Whether you compete in strength sports or not, I recommend incorporating the Z press as an accessory pressing exercise.

With this programming intention in mind, the Z press will benefit most from doing sets of greater than 5 reps. Typically, it’s incorporated in a hypertrophy-style format where 3-4 sets and 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.

Related Article: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: How To, Pros, Cons

Z Press: Muscles Worked

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (6)

The muscles used in the Z press are the:

  • Front Deltoids: Targeted through shoulder flexion when moving the arms upward during the lift.
  • Upper Pectoralis: Engaged alongside the front deltoids during shoulder flexion.
  • Triceps: Responsible for elbow extension, straightening the elbows to press the bar overhead.
  • Scapular Stabilizers: Work to control the shoulder blades' movement, crucial for maintaining proper form.
  • Abdominals and Obliques: Isometrically challenged to keep the torso rigid, compensating for the lack of leg assistance.
  • Erector Spinae: Actively support the spine, ensuring the back remains straight and stable throughout the lift.

Pro Tip: Maintaining good posture is crucial during the exercise due to the increased muscle activation of your core and torso.

Don’t miss my article on the 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives (With Pictures).

Z Press: Benefits

While some components of this exercise look similar to the standing overhead press, the Z press has some unique benefits that make it a good exercise.

  • It Can Enhance Your Overhead Pressing Strength: The Z press, performed from a seated position, eliminates leg drive, focusing solely on improving overhead pressing strength. Unlike standing presses, where leg drive can assist in completing reps, the Z press ensures strength development in the upper body.
  • It Can Activate Your Core Muscles More: With legs entirely out of the equation, the Z press intensifies core engagement. This exercise demands greater core stabilization to compensate for potential bar path deviations. Your core works harder compared to traditional standing overhead presses.
  • It Can Be Great For A Hypertrophy Cycle: The Z press targets shoulders and triceps, making it valuable for hypertrophy training. Lifters often feel increased engagement in these muscle groups, potentially leading to greater shoulder and tricep growth.
  • It Can Provide Variety To Your Training: Introducing the Z press to your routine diversifies your exercises, benefiting strength and hypertrophy gains. A varied exercise selection challenges your body in new ways, stimulating muscle growth and preventing training monotony.
  • It Can Be A Solid Exercise For A Deload: If you require a low-impact exercise during a deload period, the Z press is an excellent choice. Seated positioning and the exercise's novelty naturally result in lighter weights, allowing accumulated fatigue to dissipate while minimizing stress on pressing muscles and joints.

Looking for other overhead press variations?Check out my complete list of the 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives.

Z Press: Drawbacks

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Due to its specialized purpose, the Z press, unfortunately, has several downsides.Here are the 4 drawbacks of the Z press:

  • High Mobility Demands: The Z press demands significant lower body mobility, making it challenging to maintain proper form. Extending your legs while bracing your torso can be difficult, especially with added weight. Adequate hip mobility is essential before attempting the Z press.
  • Extra Equipment for Safety: Unlike the standing overhead press, the Z press requires safety arms for safe execution. These arms aid in unracking and reracking the barbell, ensuring your safety. Without them, you'd need to lift the barbell from the floor, which is impractical and risky.
  • Serious Core Strength Required: The Z press demands core strength more than the standing overhead press. If your core isn't well-developed, especially if you neglect ab exercises, proceed with caution when attempting this exercise.
  • Less Specific for Strength Sports: Strength sports like strongman, strongwoman, Highland Games, and Olympic lifting involve overhead pressing while standing. Opting for the Z press over the standing overhead press may put you at a disadvantage in such sports, as the Z press does not replicate the standing competition scenario.

Find out how much your overhead press strength carries over to your bench press in my article Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press? And if you have long arms, here are 7 Tips to Improving Your Overhead Press With Long Arms.

Z Press Alternatives

Dumbbell Z Press

The dumbbell Z press is a great alternative to the barbell variation when you can’t access 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.

Pro Tip: You can also do this exercise with one dumbbell and turn it into a unilateral Z Press to challenge your core stability further.

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.

Single Arm Landmine Press

The Single Arm Landmine Press is a great exercise that is much more beginner-friendly than the traditional z press. It’s great for both developing upper body strength and incorporating the core.

Just like the Z Press, keep your core locked in as you press the barbell forward.

Other Upper Body Exercise Guides:

  • Diamond Push Up: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked

Frequently Asked Questions

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 invented the Z press?

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.

Is Z press harder than an overhead press?

The Z Press is typically a harder exercise because of the stability demands on core stability and hip mobility.

About The Author

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (8)

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 onFacebookorInstagram.

How To Do The Z Press: Increase Your Overhead Press Strength | PowerliftingTechnique.com (2024)
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