The Z press is one of those moves that is hyped up a lot in the world of lifting weights. Interestingly, however, not everyone knows what it is.
This move is essentially a different version of the overhead press. It’s designed to work the muscles in your core, triceps and your shoulders, and this is all thanks to the fact that you are supposed to be sitting down when you perform the move.
This move is especially useful for people that don’t want to deal with leg drives. All you will be using when doing a Z press is your core and the muscles that are used during the press, like your arms and your shoulders.
In truth, this move is typically considered to be quite advanced. It requires a lot of movement in your hips and a great deal of core strength is needed, meaning that it may not be the best choice for your average beginner.
For that reason, here’s a quick warning: if you’re a beginner, you may want to click away until you get a little more experience under your belt – we’ll explain why in the following sections. In a nutshell though, many beginners simply don’t have the advanced core strength and heightened hip mobility needed to safely execute this exercise.
With that in mind, however, it is important to note that there are a wide range of benefits that you will get specifically from performing the Z press – more on that later! In specific though, you can expect a reduced amount of tiredness and your hypertrophy will be significantly better after performing the exercise.
So, without further ado, here’s everything that you need to know about the Z Press!
What Muscles Does The Z Press Work?
There are a number of muscles worked in the Z press. In specific, these key muscles are worked:
- Erector spine
- Obliques and abdominals
- Front deltoids
- Upper pectoralis
- Scapular stabilizers
As it turns out, you will be able to target far more of your stabilizing muscle groups when you are doing the z press than you would if you were doing a standard overhead press while standing.
Muscles for Pressing
When you move the barbell or dumbbells over your head, there are three main pressing muscles that you are targeting. These are the upper pecs, triceps and the front delts.
But why is this, exactly? Well, it’s because you are doing two key things when you are doing a z press. First, shoulder flexion is occurring – this is when the upper arm moves upwards. This will then work the upper pecs and your front delts.
The next action is an elbow extension. This is exactly as it sounds – you straighten your elbows as you push the barbell upwards. This will work your triceps.
The Stabilizing Muscles
The pressing muscles aren’t the only star of the show, mind you! The stabilizing muscles also take center stage. Your stabilizing muscle groups need to work hard when you are doing a z press. In specific, you are working your obliques and abdominals, scapulae and the erector spinae. In reality, you’re essentially working your entire upper body!
So, what exactly happens to your muscles? Well, the movement of your shoulder blades is influenced by the scapulae stabilizers. As you move the barbell over the top of your head, these muscles start to turn upwards. They will then swing back down as you pull the bar back down.
Then, the muscles in your core – namely, the lower back muscles, abs and obliques – are put under strain to a huge degree when you are performing the z press.
In particular, all of the muscles are strained in order to keep your torso straight as you are moving the barbells. They work even harder when doing a Z press since the legs can’t make even tiny movements. This means that a strong core is required in order to get the results needed.
Performing the Z Press
So we’ve explored just a few of the muscles that the Z press works and what you can gain by doing the exercise. Now it’s onto the most important part – what do you need to do in order to execute this particular move?
It’s worth noting that in order to be successful at the Z press, you also need to have mastered the techniques of the overhead press. If you haven’t then you are much more likely to get injured from improper technique. Make sure that you have done plenty of training on the overhead press before you even attempt this advanced move.
1. Make Sure the Safety Arms are Set Up
In theory you could just grab the bar from the floor and lift it over your head that way. It’s probably not the best idea, however, and it’s honestly just a waste of your energy and strength.
When it comes to lifting weights, you should work smarter, not harder! For that reason, you should set up a way to make the Z press much easier for you. Make sure that the safety arms in the power rack are at the correct height for you to perform the move. Ideally, the safety arms should be positioned at the same height as your knees.
Once you have done this, you simply need to put the barbell on the safety arms before you get started.
2. Take A Seat, Make Sure the Safety Arm Height Is Correct
Hopefully by this point you’ve taken our advice and set up the safety arms. If you have done this, then take a seat on the floor. Then, simply stretch your legs out in front of you, spreading your feet slightly apart. You need to make sure that the legs are angled roughly 30 degrees from the midline.
Make sure that you’re sitting up straight, then start rolling the bar in the direction of your body. When sitting, the bar needs to be positioned slightly higher than your armpits. You may find that the bar is slightly too low or high, in which case you can just adjust the arms until you get to a height that works for you.
3. Roll the Bar and Arrange Your Grip
You’ve now sorted out the arm safety height to your liking. Go You! Now that you’ve done this, begin to roll the bar in your direction so it’s ready to grab.
Eventually, the barbell will be at a point where it’s almost directly next to your upper chest. At this point, stop it in its tracks, placing your hands onto it.
You should be gripping the bar in such a way that the forearms are in a vertical position from the bottom of the bar. You may need to widen your grip slightly. The arms will generally need to be wider than shoulder width apart.
4. Put The Bar In Position
Now that you’ve got the bar next to you and you’re gripping onto it, it’s time to begin the move. To start, begin to lean forward just a tiny bit. Then, quickly dip the elbows right under the bar, sitting up in the process. The bar will then be a tiny bit higher than the safety arms, since it is now being held up by your arms.
5. Time To Press
Now it’s time for the hard stuff! When your grip is locked in and the bar is in the correct starting position, take a moment to breathe in deeply. Prepare your abdomen and core, then press the bar up into the air. It may skim past your nose as you move it upwards. Once it starts to pass the forehead, you can then put the bar slightly back – the whole movement should resemble a Z shape in terms of motion. Then, lock the bar over your head, making sure that the elbows are totally straightened out.
6. Rack It
You can do this for a number of reps until you feel satisfied. Afterwards, simply lower the bar back to the safety arms. Just lean forward when you’re in the safety position and allow the bar to drop onto the safety arms. And with that, you’ve done the Z press!
Advantages of Performing the Z Press
In many respects, the Z press can look rather alike to the standard overhead press. With that being said though, there are a number of benefits that you can only get from performing the Z press that you couldn’t get from the normal overhead press.
There are a few key benefits to doing the overhead press
First, the exercise is great for making you even stronger when doing the overhead press. Secondly, it’s much better for activating the muscles in your core.
Not only that, but this is a great way to add a little bit of diversity to your training regime – you can even use it for hypertrophy purposes!
Finally, if you are looking to deload then the Z press is a good choice for that.
Here’s more on each of the individual reasons.
1. It’s great for improving the strength of your overhead press
The main thing to note about the Z press is that you don’t need any leg drive since you are sitting down when performing the move.
As such, any strength that you gain is specifically because you are pressing the barbell overhead. More upper body gains? Yes please!
It’s worth noting that a lot of people that do an overhead press while standing will put a little bit of dive onto their legs automatically when they are doing the last couple of reps. This helps them to get the set done.
This is completely eliminated with the Z press. When you are sitting down, you cannot move your lower body at all. This is fantastic if you are looking to build on your upper body strength, since that’s all you are working. The legs are taking a back seat, so to speak!
2. It’s great for the core muscles
If you want an exercise that works not only your arms and shoulders but also your core, you are in luck with the z press. Your legs can’t help you out when you’re doing a z press, so the pressure lies on your stomach.
In fact, a common complaint after a lot of people do a z press is that their abs end up being sore afterwards. This movement requires a substantial amount of resistance in the core – significantly more than when you’re doing a standing overhead press. This is usually because your core muscles have to stabilize the torso in order to keep you upright.
In a normal overhead press, the muscles in the lower half of your body would make minute adjustments to help support the weight, since the weight would shift to the heels or you could bend your knees. This isn’t even a choice when you are doing a z press – the weight shifts to your core instead.
3. It’s useful for hypertrophy
When you’re doing a Z press, you’re putting a lot of pressure onto both your core and the pressing muscles in your upper body. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s also a fantastic movement for the hypertrophy cycle.
You will find that a lot of people that participate in weight training will tell you that they feel their triceps and shoulders for more than they do from any other kind of pressing movement. As such, there’s a good chance that you may have better hypertrophy in your triceps and shoulders from doing the movement.
4. Variety – It’s the Spice of Life!
Do you know what makes training really boring? Yep, it’s when you do the same move set day after day.
There are a lot of benefits to switching up your routine, including mental satisfaction, better hypertrophy and strength gains.
Now, it’s worth noting that a lot of athletes will vary their routine with around 2 to 3 different variations of the overhead press. This may work for some people, but for a lot of people it can get rather tedious. Who wants to do the same thing over and over again?
The worst case scenario is that you limit your strength and hypertrophy gains from doing the same movements over and over again.
If you vary your movements, you are able to create a more robust skill set, which ultimately helps you to improve your gains. When you do the Z press you are training the triceps and the shoulders efficiently, but you’re switching it up by putting extra strain on the core. There are a lot of benefits to doing this!
5. It’s a great choice for deloading
The whole point of a deload is to reduce the volume or the intensity of your workout. This may mean that you have fewer reps or you reduce your intensity based on a percentage of your 1 rep max. They are designed to be done for roughly 1 to 3 weeks every once in a while.
It’s always good to program a deload into your training regime every once in a while. If you’re looking for some good exercises for a deload though, it’s certainly worthwhile to incorporate the Z press into deload weeks.
You will also get instability from sitting down, and the variation in exercise means that you will automatically need to lift lighter weights for the sake of your safety. It’s a great way to deload after a couple of weeks of hitting the heavier weights.
Cons of Doing a Z Press
While there are a lot of benefits to doing the Z press, it is certainly not without its negative aspects. This highly specialized movement comes with a range of downsides that are worth noting before you get into the training process.
1. Mobility Concerns
You’re going to need to have some degree of mobility in your lower body in order to do the Z press. It’s important to extend the legs when doing this move, all while you are bracing your torso. This is not a simple thing to do. There are many lifters that even find this movement incredibly challenging. And that’s just with a basic barbell, no extra weight involved!
If you really want to make your form suffer, try being a newbie at the Z press and adding a tonne of weight onto the bar. You’ll find that you’re going to really struggle with this. For this reason, you need to be absolutely certain that your hip mobility is in top shape before you try to perform this exercise.
2. More Safety Equipment Required
All you need for a standard overhead press is a barbell and some weight plates. If you want to stay safe while doing the Z press, however, you are going to need to have safety arms.
If you have safety arms while doing this move then the racking and unracking process will be a lot safer for you. If you don’t have them then you are going to have to reach down to the floor. In most situations this is just inconvenient, but it can also be dangerous if you aren’t careful. It is possible to use j hooks instead, but this also isn’t the best choice for the movement since you may end up losing your balance.
3. You’ll need good core strength
You can’t rely on your legs when you’re doing a Z press. Instead, you’ll need to have pretty serious strength in your abdominal muscles to execute this move.
If you don’t have a lot of core strength then you need to be extra careful when you are doing this move, especially if you are a beginner.
4. It isn’t specialized enough for strength based sports
If you’re doing things like strongman/woman, Olympic lifting or Highland Games, the Z press may not be the best choice. Usually these sports require you to lift the weights over your head, but you’ll need to be standing to do it.
Using the Z press can therefore be disadvantageous in your training. What’s the point in doing that?
Things to Avoid When Doing the Z Press
There are a lot of common mistakes that people make when doing this movement. Here’s what you need to know.
Leaning Backwards too Far
Sure, you will probably find the move a lot easier to do if you move further back. It’ll essentially be like a seated incline press. You’ll also use a lot more of the muscles in your upper chest doing it this way.
Instead though, you should try to sit still. Don’t move anything except your arms as you are pressing the barbell upwards.
Bend The Knees
This is not Game of Thrones – this is not the time to bend the knee! The problem with bending your knees is that it means you don’t need as much hip mobility, which is an issue. It also won’t work your core as well, as your heels or feet can press into the floor to make it easier for you.
Instead, you should just remind yourself to keep your knees straight. This helps to work the core instead.
Twisting the Body
One side of the body usually is stronger than the other. That’s precisely why twisting your body is a bad idea when you are doing a Z press.
Alternatively, you should be keeping the shoulders and the hips in a stable position the whole time. Reduce the weight if you find yourself twisting.
If you’re an advanced lifter, it’s certainly worth your time to do the Z press. It works the stabilizing muscles, which is perfect especially if you want a stronger core.
It isn’t the best choice for a beginner, but you should give it a try if you have some experience under your belt and you want a new overhead press variant for your workout routine.