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Shoulder strength is vital for everyday movements.
The overhead press is one of the best ways to improve strength and hypertrophy. However, it can be be difficult and one other press type has added benefits.
If you’ve never heard of a Z press, you’re not alone.
It’s an exercise that is not commonly included in people’s gym routines.
But whether you prefer using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells, the Z press is going to provide many benefits for you.
So what is the Z press? The Z press (or Savickas press) is a variation of the overhead press done while sitting on the floor. Due to this position, the Z press involves only the core and shoulder pressing muscles. Lifters can't use legs to help with moving the weight up. It's considered to be an intermediate to advanced exercise due to the core strength and hip mobility required.
Hopefully by the end of this article, you will want to give this exercise a try for yourself!
What Is The Z Press?
Most avid lifters love the standing overhead press because of its ability to stimulate hypertrophy and overload the muscles.
The Z press is a variation of the overhead press, which is a key component of any effective upper body workout and is a movement pattern that is used in daily life outside of the gym.
This lift is an upper body pressing movement that is performed sat on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your upper body upright.
History Of Z Press
Although your body forms an L shape, the exercise got its name ‘Z Press’ from a Lithuanian record holding strong man competitor called Zydrunas Savickas.
He popularized the exercise over 10 years ago. The exercise is sometimes called the Savickas Press because of this very reason.
Zydrunas has an incredibly strong overhead press so many people trust his advice. To be clear, he didn't invent this exercise but it became attributed to him over time.
He promoted the lift as a way to improve overhead pressing strength and build the upper body muscles and still uses this exercise a lot in his workouts.
This exercise is popular amongst powerlifters and strongmen because of its challenging nature and it is a great alternative to do instead of a traditional overhead press.
Most lifters include it in their gym routine alongside other pressing variations as an accessory movement to gain the full benefits from it.
Ultimately, it is a shoulder press just like the standing overhead press, military press, or dumbbell overhead press exercises, but it involves sitting on the floor.
Muscles Used In The Z Press
The Z press is an upper body movement. Due to the sitting position, the leg muscles are not used at all. Instead, the lower body acts as a base, allowing you to drive into the floor as you push the weight up.
The primary muscles targeted with the Z press include:
The secondary muscles targeted with the Z press include:
How To Perform The Z Press
This lift is a straight forward exercise that confers several benefits to the upper body.
It is performed sat on the floor with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Here’s how to do the Z press correctly.
1. Start On The Floor
Sit on the floor with your torso upright and your legs straight in front of you and your heels digging into the floor
2. Load Your Weight
Load a barbell or place dumbbells or kettlebells on a low rack and sit just underneath it. You could lift the weights off the floor, but be careful when doing so
3. Grab The Weight
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, or alternatively grip a barbell with both hands using an overhand grip
4. Press Up
Starting with the weight at your shoulders, push the load upwards until your arms are fully extended.
Your elbows should remain under your wrists during the press. Keep your heels and the back of your knees touching the floor.
5. Brace Tightly
Engage your lats, core muscles and hip flexors and keep your spine neutral throughout. Do not lean back or slouch
6. Hold And Return
Pause for a second before returning to the starting position under control
Continue for the desired number of reps and sets.
7 Benefits Of The Z Press
The Z press has several benefits. Here are 7 of the top benefits that this exercise provides.
1. Improves Overhead Pressing Technique
The Z press is a variation of the overhead press, so although you are in an unconventional position by being sat on the floor, you still get the benefits of the pressing movement.
Due to the lack of lower body involvement, you can’t overload the Z press very much, which forces you to use a lighter weight and focus on technique instead of weight.
This exercises therefore promotes controlled movement. There is no room for error because the weight is directly above your head.
2. Increases Upper Body Strength
The lift can be included as part of any strength and hypertrophy program as it improves your pressing strength.
Any pressing variation that is performed with a heavy load for 6-8 reps will increase your strength.
This exercise will significantly stimulate hypertrophy in the shoulders when done correctly because the deltoids are isolated and are doing most of the work.
3. Improves Core Strength
The Z press is almost as much an ab exercise as it is a shoulder exercise.
It requires a lot of core strength to keep your body upright whilst moving the weights. Sitting on the floor removes the ability to use momentum from the legs and hips during the exercise, forcing you to fully engage your core.
In fact, any pressing movement will require a good level of core strength, and even more so when you remove your lower body from the equation.
4. Targets Multiple Muscles
Although this exercise primarily targets the deltoids, there are several other muscles that are used.
The upper back muscles including the traps and rhomboids are actively engaged when you perform a Z press, stimulating hypertrophy in these muscles.
Don’t forget the core engagement that you get with this movement too.
5. Can Correct Spinal Hyperextension
Many people excessive arch their lower spine whilst performing overhead press variations.
The Z press does not allow you to do this, and instead it forces you to focus on proper form and technique.
Your spine should be neutral throughout the majority of gym-based exercises or you risk getting injured. The Z press requires you to use your core to keep your upper body straight.
6. Can Be Modified
The Z press can be changed in a number of ways. The option to progress and regress the exercise is perfect when you want to make the exercise harder or easier depending on where you are in your training program.
I have listed some modifications at the bottom of this article for you to try in place of a standard Z press.
7. Improves Shoulder Health
By practicing the lift, the lifter is required to use a slow and controlled tempo. This improves shoulder mobility and stability.
The back and scapula stabilizer muscles are targeted, and this can translate into other movements such as different overhead press variation, clean and jerks, and daily life activities.
3 Drawbacks to the Z Press
Just as every exercise has its benefits, every exercise has its drawbacks. Here are 3 drawbacks of the Z press that you need to be aware of.
1. It Can Be Uncomfortable
Sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you is uncomfortable for most people, especially with the added weight they are trying to lift above their head.
This exercise requires you to have decent hip flexor mobility, hamstring mobility, and spinal health to perform correctly.
2. Requires Core Strength
To do a Z press, you need to have good baseline level of core strength.
Unless you are leaning back against a wall, which I wouldn’t recommend doing, it’s your core muscles that are keeping you upright through the set.
With your feet not being planted on the ground, you have nothing drive you into the floor as you lift the weights, making this exercise difficult if you lack sufficient core stability.
3. Risk Of Injury
Due to the exercise seeming very simple at first, it’s easy to perform the Z press with poor technique which presents a risk of injury. As with any loaded exercise, there is a risk of hurting yourself.
If you do this lift with incorrect form or use a weight that is too heavy, you are putting your shoulder joint under strain. People can get lazy and start to slouch during the exercise which can increase the risk of injuring the lower back.
Tips to Performing the Z Press
The Z press looks simple, but it can be difficult to get right if you’ve never done it before. You can modify the Z press to make it easier or more difficult.
Follow these top tips if you plan on including the Z press into your next upper body workout.
Common Mistakes when Performing the Z Press
It’s easy to make mistakes with the Z press because it appears so simple. Many people don’t pay close attention to their form because they are confident in their pressing technique.
However, the Z press is different to standard overhead pressing movements because you are sat on the floor.
There are common mistakes people make with the Z press.
Rounding The Lower Back
Firstly, rounding of the lower back or slouching is common. This is due to lack of core strength or insufficient activation of the core muscles and leads to improper form.
If the weight is too heavy for their upper body to support, you might start to lean backwards as the weight is lifted to compensate. This is more common when using a barbell, so if you struggle with this, try switching it for dumbbells, kettlebells, or plates.
Too Heavy Of A Weight
Often, people use too high of a weight because they are used to lifting heavy with the standing overhead press.
Due to the sitting position of the Z press and the isolation of the upper body, most people will need to significantly lower the weight. Remember form over weight always!
The final common mistake people make is swinging or using momentum to lift the weight.
This happens when they are struggling because the weight is too heavy for their upper body to lift. Again, try lowering the weight and focusing on staying tight and upright throughout the whole exercise.
When To Use The Z Press
The Z press can be used in place of any overhead pressing movement, or alongside them. If you really want to focus on upper body strength in isolation from the lower body, the Z press offers a chance to exclude any leg involvement in the exercise.
If your goal is to gain upper body strength and hypertrophy, the Z press is a great exercise to include in your gym routine.
Lifters who want to work on improving shoulder and hip mobility will benefit from this exercise.
Although it offers many benefits, I don’t think it should completely replace your traditional overhead press exercises. I recommend using the Z press every so often to vary your routine and challenge your upper body muscles.
Who Should Perform The Z Press?
This exercise is great for most people whether you are a beginner or a veteran in the gym. If your goal is to improve your shoulder and core strength, the Z press will be beneficial for you.
It can also stimulate hypertrophy in the upper body, helping you to build a wider back and larger deltoids and traps.
For those of you who want to work on shoulder and hip mobility, the Z press will help you to focus on this. It’s also great to help you keep a neutral spine in the upright position by activating the core muscles.
If you’re new to the gym, performing the Z press with a lighter load can be useful. It teaches correct pressing technique.
The overhead pressing movement of the Z press translates to other overhead press variations and it can be applied to exercises like the snatch and the clean and jerk.
The Z press also works on upper body and core strength which builds a strong base to start working out, and is beneficial for functional training as well as everyday life activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Difference Between A Push Press And Z Press?
The Z press is performed whilst you’re sitting on the floor so there is no leg involvement. The strict and push press variations are usually performed stood up and require the legs to stabilize the trunk and the upper body throughout the movement.
I find a Z press to be great to include at the start of an upper body workout or as part of a fully body routine alongside some lower body exercises.
What Should I Do If I Get Shoulder Or Wrist Pain?
If you’re getting pain when doing the Z press, you’re doing something wrong or you have an existing issue that needs to be addressed. Provided you are free of any known conditions that could cause the pain, you should not be experiencing pain with this exercise.
Try reducing the weight and going extremely light to focus on form. If you still get pain after decreasing the load, ensure your form is correct and your spine is straight. Switch up your wrist and elbow positioning to find the one that is most comfortable for you.
How Do I Program The Z Press Into My Training?
The Z press should be used as part of a well-rounded program either as part of an upper body or a full body workout. If you are completely new to the gym, work on your baseline levels of upper body and core strength first, then add them in after a couple of months. I also recommend making sure you have a good level of shoulder mobility before adding this exercise into your training.
Aim to include the Z press into a workout every so often alongside other overhead press variation. Perform a similar number of reps and sets as you usually do. If your goal is strength, anywhere between 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps; if your goal is hypertrophy, aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.
What Weight Should I Use?
I suggest starting with a lower weight than you’re used to using in pressing exercises. You have no involvement of the lower body, so it's unlikely you will be able to lift the same amount as with standing overhead pressing variations.
Start with a weight that you find fairly easy, and slowly work your way up. Focus on getting your form perfect so that you are not at risk of injury. Remember that you will probably never be able to lift as much with a Z press as you are used to, and this is totally fine! You will still gain the amazing benefits of this exercise by focusing on lower weights and slower, more controlled reps.
What Variations Of The Z Press Are There?
You can use a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or plates to do a Z press. You can either use both arms at the same time, or make it a single arm movement.
For those of you who are less mobile or have a weaker upper body, using dumbbells or kettlebells will be easier to start with. You can use a narrow grip or a wider grip depending on your preferences and mobility.
Although you won’t be able to lift as much with the Z press, it is an exercise that you should definitely be including in your gym routine every so often. It encompasses overhead pressing strength and technique, as well as working on your upper body stability and mobility.
As part of a well-rounded training program, the Z press will contribute towards strength gains and improved mobility.
It’s a great alternative to the standard push and press overhead variations that you can add into your workout to switch it up.
As it isolates the shoulders and core muscles, you can use the Z press to focus on perfecting your pressing technique and form before listing heavier loads.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.
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About The Author
Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate and a qualified health, nutrition, and recovery coach. She believes that health and fitness is a lifestyle and should be enjoyable. Athina currently works with online clients to achieve their goals and creates helpful and informative content online through her podcast and social media platforms. She has also written and published a book all about her struggles and recovery from an eating disorder called ‘Diaries of An Anorexic’.