Z Press vs Overhead Press – Which Is Best for Strength and Sport?

In an earlier article we discussed the Z Press and the impact it can have on overhead strength development, movement integrity, and scapular stability/overhead health for strength and power athletes. In this article, however, we will compare and contrast the Z press with another popular pressing movement, the overhead press. Both movements are discussed below, complete with movement demonstrations and a full breakdown on the  Z Press versus overhead press results.

The overhead press can be done with a wide array of equipment (like the Z Press), however some of the most popular forms include the barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell overhead press. Like the Z Press, this movement works in the vertical plane, challenging overhead strength and stability of the shoulders and scapular stabilizers (posterior shoulder and upper back). Below is a video tutorial on how to perform the standing overhead press by Brian Shaw, “Silent” Mike Farr, and Mark Bell.

Z Press vs Overhead Press

For the sake of this comparison we compare the barbell Z Press with the barbell overhead press to keep the equipment that was used constant and to rule out any other differences not depending on the actual movement of the lift (benefits of kettlebell training vs barbell training). It is important to note that this comparison is solely looking at the exercise and the movement itself, both the additional differences and benefits of whether a barbell or dumbbell/kettlebell was used. Below are five training variables that are compared between the Z Press and the overhead press.

Maximal Strength

When maximal strength is a concern, both of the movements can be used to diversify pressing strength, teach proper overhead mechanics with heavy loads, and help lifters brace with the core; all of which necessary for the heaviest of barbell overhead presses. That said, maximum strength requires a lifer to lift the heaviest amount of load, and therefore the standing (or seated) barbell overhead press will often allow more for kilos (or pounds) on the barbell relative the the Z Press.

Muscle Hypertrophy

When looking to beef up the deltoids, upper traps, and upper back muscles that assist in overhead pressing, I find it best to use both movements equally in a pressing program. Both of these movements, while overhead pressing in nature, do target slightly different muscles groups, and therefore can accompany one another in a well written program. Performing Z Presses prior to your overhead presses can also help to prep the overhead pressing mechanics and really activate the stabilizer muscles of the upper back.

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Movement Patterning

While anything overhead (done correctly) can help to increase shoulder movement, restore stability overhead, and help to increase core strength, the Z Press does offer more benefits in relation to movement patterning. Due to the lifter not being able to push the loads too forward or backwards since doing so will result in the heavy load being lost out front and the lifter losing balance, the Z Press can do a better job at isolating poor movement mechanics and reinforce better ones.

Joint Health

Building stronger muscles and sound movement patterning throughout a full range of motion can do wonders for joint health. For those reasons, I do believe that both movements can promote better joint health and injury, however the Z Press does have a larger margin for error, meaning that those who may have slight movement issues/imbalances may not be able to performing Z Presses yet still be find with overhead pressing. Therefore, I feel it is best to incorporate both movements into a pressing program as either main strength lifts, accessory lifts, or simply primer sets to take place prior to overhead pressing.

Sport Specificity

Overhead pressing may have the slight edge here when it comes to sport specificity only in the most strength and power sports involves a lifter to use the overhead press or similar movement (jerk, bench) as the metric in which their sport is measured. That said, strength and power athletes do rely on joint integrity and muscular balance (between the back and front of the body), making the Z Press a fine training exercise to build all of the above attribute above.

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