Z Press – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, Benefits, and Variations

The Z Press is one of the most functional (and challenging) overhead pressing movements done across most power and strength sports. Whether you decide to use a barbell, kettlebells or dumbbells, the Z Press will surely help you gain upper body strength, stronger abs, and better overhead health.

Muscles Worked

The Z Press targets a great deal of muscle within the upper body and core. By forcing the lifter to be seated in an upright position, without the usage of the legs for added stability and base of support, you force upper body strength and postural control to a greater degree. Therefore, the below muscle groups are highly targeted throughout Z Presses and the below variations.

  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Upper Pectorals
  • Upper Traps
  • Rhomboids
  • Erector Spinae
  • Posterior Shoulder
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Obliques
  • Rectus Abdominus

Z Press Exercise Demonstration

The below video is of the barbell Z Press, a common variation (see below). To start, take a loaded barbell in similar to hand placement on a front squat or standard overhead press while in the power rack or in front of  squat rack. By sitting in the legs straight position, with heels pressing through the floor, the lifter should extend the spine vertically, brace the core, and press the bar/load overhead so that the biceps are by the ears and the bar over the back of the cranium/neck.

Benefits of the Z Press

Below are four benefits of the Z Press in which coaches and athletes can come to expect when performing any of the below versions of the Z Press. It is important to note that depending on the variation selected (see below) some of the below benefits may be more drastic that if using another variation.

Upper Body Strength

Like most pressing movements, when done correctly using moderate weights to build muscle mass and increasingly heavier loads to increase strength, benefits are sure to be had. The Z Press can really increase strength due to the limited involvement of the legs and any momentum in the press, making the lifter learn to brace and accelerate the load in a stable and vertical path.

Upper Trap and Scapular Stability Development

Proper overhead pressing mechanics will do wonders form scapular stability and upper trap development. By using the wide array of Z Press variations below, you can work to increase strength and stability of the upper traps and the entire shoulders. Without strong upper traps and scapular stabilization, the load will either be lost out front or will go to far bending forcing the lifters to fall backwards.

Core Strength and Control

The core is a foundational muscle group needed to first allow the lifter the press the weight. In the Z Press, the lifer cannot use any momentum, not additional force and stability from the logs and hips, and/or any type of movement patterning to help compensate for weaknesses in strength, overhead mobility, or core strength. The Z Press has a way of forcing lifters to fully contract the abs, obliques, and lower backs so that the lifter can find the most rigidity in the set up.

Overhead Pressing Performance

The Z Press leaves very little margin for error when taking a load from the chest to the overhead position. By performing Z Presses, the lifer cannot excessively lean backwards, fall forward onto toes, or use any leg and hip dip to help gain momentum on the barbell. All of this will force the lifter to find upper back and upper trap strength and movement to take the barbell in the exactly plane it needs to travel. It is important to note that this is extreme challenging. Be sure to continually practice the press, maintaining smooth and full control at the tip of the lift, and stay as upright as possible.

Z Press Variations

Below are five common Z Press alternatives that can be done to vary programming up, challenge lifters, and more.

Barbell Z Press

The barbell Z Press is done with a lifter using a barbell (either loaded or unloaded) as the resistance. This can be a good starter movement as it does not require as much individual coordination as the kettlebells and/or dumbbells.

Dumbbell Z Press

Dumbbells can be used in the Z Press to challenge unilateral strength, stability, and increase overhead performance.

Kettlebell Z Press

Kettlebells can be used in the Z Press to increase similar benefits as the dumbbells, however they can also increase wrist and shoulder stability due to the uneven loading of the kettlebell.

Unilateral Z Press

Unilateral Z Presses has a lifter or athlete only using one limb during the press, rather than loading both hands. By doing so, this will drastically increase the need of core stabilization and body awareness.

Asymmetrically Loaded Z Press

By using uneven (asymmetrical) loading, many of the same benefits seen in the unilateral Z Press occur. In addition however, the asymmetrical loaded variation does help to add quality load to both sides at once and can be extremely challenging on the nervous system and body awareness, necessary for heavier lifts using barbells, etc.

Creative Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

Check out some of the below articles discussing creative ways to increase shoulder strength and health!

Featured Image: @pgilles on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.