August 21, 2021 9 min read

What if there was an exercise that was perfect for strengthening both the shoulder and core muscles? The kind of exercise that would help you combine your shoulder and core day workouts into one? It turns out that the z-press does just that!

The z-press is an advanced overhead press variation. Like the conventional overhead press, it helps you build muscle mass in your shoulders. Unlike it, it is done in a seated position and targets both the shoulders and core! Because you do it sitting down, it takes the work off of your lower body to power the lift overhead.

If your overhead pressing is just not doing it for you now, then we highly suggest trying the variation!

To help you get started, we are sharing everything you need to know about the z-press, including:

  1. How to do it with proper form
  2. The top benefits of the exercise
  3. Potential risks

If you want broad shoulders and a sculpted core, look no further than the z-press!

Muscles Worked From the Z-Press

The z-press is a compound exercise that targets your upper body and core at the same time.

didactic board of anatomy of human muscular system

Here are the primary muscles that it targets:

  1. Deltoids (delts): The deltoids are triangular-shaped muscles that lay flat on top of your shoulders. Deltoids are the muscle that does most of the work in the z-press and most of the overhead pressing variations. They have the essential job of initiating movements from the shoulder joint. Without the deltoids, you would not be able to make any movements from your shoulder joint, including lifting your arms. Not only that, but having deltoids of steel gives you that broad shoulder look that everyone is after. 
  1. Pectorals (pecs): The pecs are the largest muscles in your chest muscle group. They assist the deltoids in helping you press overhead. They are fan-shaped muscles that stem from underneath the armpit and fan out over your chest. Like the deltoids, their primary function is to help initiate movements from the shoulder joint. In addition to that, they also help with scapular retraction and moving the humerus. All three of these functions are in action during the z-press!
  1. Triceps: The last primary mover upper body muscle active in the z-press is the triceps. The triceps are smaller-sized arm muscles on the backside of the upper arm. They assist you in pressing into a lockout position. Therefore, the triceps are particularly important to keep strong because they come into action at the most challenging part of your overhead press! 

  2. Core muscles: Lastly, the overhead z-press is a unique exercise because it targets the upper bodyand core muscles. The core muscles are an entire network of stabilizer muscles in your midsection region. It includes the erector spinae in the lower back, transverse abdominis, and obliques, only to name a few. Having core strength is absolutely essential for being a lifter and healthy person in general. The core muscles enable you to have good posture, lift the heaviest weights, and reduce injuries.    

Benefits of the Z-Press

Since you've made it this far, you already know that we love the z-press for lifters like you. The reason we love it so much is because of its unique and diverse benefits. Here are some of those top benefits:

  1. Works primary mover and stabilizer muscles: As we mentioned above, the z-press goes hard on both your primary mover and core muscles. More specifically, it targets your primary mover shoulder muscles, chest, and arms, as well as your entire core stabilizer muscle region. The fact that the z-press targets primary mover muscles and stabilizer muscles makes it all the more beneficial. It is one of the only, if not the only, upper body exercise with this duality, hence why we love it so much.
  1. Ideal for shoulder muscle hypertrophy: The majority of the z-press initiated movement comes from the deltoids. That makes the z-press an ideal exercise for achieving maximum shoulder muscle hypertrophy. If your goal is to build as much muscle mass as possible in the shortest amount of time, the z-press is the way to go!    
  1. Switches up your lifting routine: Doing the same old lifting routine every week can get old. When things get old, it's easy to lose motivation to go to the gym. Therefore, we highly suggest switching up your typical routine by integrating unique exercise variations, including the z-press. For many lifters, showing up to the gym is more than half the battle in achieving goals. With that said, switching things up with the z-press can do wonders for motivation! 

Risks of the Z-Press

Is the z-press a risky exercise? While it does have excellent benefits, it does come with its own set of risks. Before getting started, be sure to consider these z-press downsides. That way, you can diminish the potential downsides of the exercise while maximizing the benefits. Here are the top z-press risks to keep in mind:

  1. Increases the odds of developing back injuries: The most evident risk of the z-press is the increased risk of getting injured. More specifically, getting a back injury. What about the z-press makes it so much more dangerous for your back?As you already know, in a conventional standing overhead shoulder press, you use your legs to help stabilize your upper body. However, the z-press takes your legs out of the equation and puts all the stability work on your core. While this can help strengthen it, some people underestimate the amount of work on the core muscles. As a result, they slouch their back, dangerously compress their spine, and crush their hip flexors. Resultantly, they get a terrible back injury that keeps them out of the gym long-term.With that said, it is critical that you watch your form while doing the z-press. Maintaining the proper upright posture could be the difference between a successful lift and throwing out your back.
  1. Requires extra safety protocols: As we just mentioned, the z-press commonly takes a toll on people's backs. Therefore, to protect yourself, you need additional safety tools in place. Unfortunately, having good form alone most likely will not completely protect you. With that said, consider taking these safety precautions:
  • Wearing a waist belt
  • Having a personal trainer spot you
  • Doing a complete core and shoulder warm-up with light weights
  1. Missing out on the lower body: Like the z-press, the conventional overhead press primarily targets the upper body. However, unlike the z-press, the OG overhead version does have some benefits for the lower body. Specifically, it fires up the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes for stability. Therefore, you miss out on those lower body benefits when doing the z-press. While you may not think that the legs do much for you in the overhead press, they actually do quite a bit. With that said, if you are going to do the z-press, make sure to hit a solid leg day on another day of the week to make up for the loss.  

How To Do the Z-Press With Proper Form

Given all the benefits of the z-press, it only makes sense that you would want to do it! However, given its risks, it also only makes sense that we share a step-by-step guide on how to do them!

There are a couple of ways you can do a z-press, including the:

  1. Dumbbell z-press
  2. Kettlebell z-press
  3. Barbell z-press

We're sharing how to do the z-press with dumbbells because it is the most popular and safe version. Here is how to do the dumbbell z-press with proper form:

  1. Do a short warm-up that stretches your lower back and core. After that, do some lighter-weight shoulder exercises to warm up the upper body.
  1. When you finish warming up, grab two dumbbells and sit on the floor. Set one dumbbell on the floor on each side of your body. Place them by your hips. 
  1. Extend your legs out in front of you and spread your feet to shoulder-width. Press your heels into the floor with straight legs for extra stability. Right now, you must make sure that your torso is tight and locked! Hold your entire back up nice and strong!
  1. Get into starting position by grabbing one dumbbell in each hand and holding them by your shoulders. Point your elbows forward so that your palms face each other and one end of the dumbbell touches your shoulders. Double-check that your core is braced and back held up straight! If it is challenging to have good back posture, switch to lighter-weight dumbbells.
  1. When you're ready, exhale, press your ribcage down, and squeeze your upper back and shoulders to press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are almost straight. Keep your elbows under your wrists as you press up to keep a straight dumbbell path. Generate power from your core to help you press upward. You do not fully extend your elbows in the lockout to achieve the full range of motion! Keep a slight elbow bend at the top.
  1. Squeeze your shoulders, upper back, chest, and core at the lockout for one to two seconds. Then, slowly release and lower back to starting position. As you lower, do the same straight path that you did in the upward press.
  1. Repeat! Do two to three sets of six to twelve reps to build as much strength as possible. However, only do as many sets and reps as you can with proper form! If your form starts to break, then immediately stop!

Extra Z-Press Form Tips

If you are a regular here on the Steel Library, you already know how we feel about form. Without proper form, you not only increase your odds of getting injured, but you also reduce the benefits of an exercise.

Therefore, keep these extra form tips in mind when doing the z-press:

  1. Keep a straight dumbbell path: As you press overhead, try to go in a straight line to prevent swaying your back. To do that, tighten your core muscles, chest, and back. That way, your shoulders can move in a straight line.
  1. Press down into your hips and heels: While it might seem that you don't use your hips and feet for a seated floor press, you actually do! Even though they don't move, your heels and hips create a stable foundation for your core to fire up. Before pressing overhead, drop your weight into your hips and heels to create a solid foundation for your core muscles.
  1. Keep a strong upper back: Keep your upper back muscles tight in order to create a strong foundation for the lockout. The more you channel strength in your back, the easier it will be to achieve the full range of motion. Your triceps will have an easier time pressing overhead and extending your elbows. 

Top Z-Press Variations and Cross-Training Exercises

If the z-press isn't working for you or you want to try additional types of overhead presses, then give one of these variations a try:

  1. Pin press
  2. Push press
  3. Seated overhead press
  4. Power clean and press
  5. Single-arm shoulder press

Additionally, if you want to improve your z-press, you can try cross-training exercises. Cross-training targets the same muscles that the z-press uses. The stronger those muscles get, the easier z-presses will become. Here are the top resistance training and weightlifting exercises that help you cross-train for the z-press:

  1. Tricep push-ups: The triceps are responsible for completing the end of the overhead press right before the lockout. For many people, this is the most challenging part of the lift. Therefore, try tricep push-ups to strengthen your triceps and make the end of the press easier.Get into a plank position on either your hands and toes or hands and knees. Make sure that your back is neutral. When you are ready, exhale and drop your chest down to the floor. Keep your elbows by the sides of your body to target your triceps. Hold your chest above the floor, then push back up into a plank.
  1. Deadlifts: Deadlifts are the best exercise for exercises in your posterior chain, including your delts. Not only that, but they also fire up the core, hips, and triceps.
    Deadlift. Sports Man Lifting Barbell Row At Gym
    Therefore, they are an excellent deadlift cross-training exercise! For more on deadlifts (one of our most favorite exercises ), check our
    complete guide to deadlifting!
  1. Hip stretches: In order to hold yourself up in the z-press starting position, you need good hip mobility. The way to increase your hip mobility is to do a wide range of hip stretches. Some of our favorite ones include:
  • Pigeon pose
  • Lunges
  • Cow face
  • Shoulder bridge
  • Figure four
Increasing your hip flexibility might not be the first thing you think of when improving your z-press. However, we highly suggest doing these stretches to not only improve your z-press, but also improve your overall health!
  1. Bench press: The pecs are not the dominant primary mover muscle in the z-press, but they nonetheless are essential. The bench press is perhaps the most popular exercise for strengthening the pecs. Get better at the z-press by building pecs of steel with the bench press!Lay on a flat bench underneath your barbell and plant your feet on the floor. Grab the bar overhand with your hands spread slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale to prepare, then exhale and slowly lift the bar off the rack. Drop the bar towards your pecs. Squeeze your chest at the bottom of the lift, then press the bar back over your chest.

Final Thoughts on the Z-Press

Whether you are into bodybuilding, CrossFit, or are just trying to reach your fitness goals, we highly suggest adding the z-press to your workout routine! This advanced lift challenges your upper body and core in ways that almost no other exercise does.

Do not hesitate! Follow our complete guide to get started with the z-press today!

Bonus tip: Want even more z-press cross-training exercises? If so, then check out our five favorite lifts for building better shoulders!


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