Looking to get the most bang for your buck? Try the Z press to strengthen your shoulders, improve your core stability, and more.
Gone are the days of spending hours on end huffing and puffing in the weight room. Thanks to the non-stop grind of life today, efficient yet effective workouts are a necessity, and that means prioritizing exercises that hit multiple muscle groups and pack full-body benefits.
One way you can make the most of your time in the gym? Do a few sets of the Z press, a multifunctional exercise that challenges your upper body, core, mobility, and flexibility. Ahead, a fitness pro spells out all the benefits of adding the Z press to your strength-training routine and breaks down how to do the strength exercise with proper form every time.
How to Do a Z Press
Created by Strongman Zydrunas Savickas, the Z press is essentially a shoulder press performed sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you, says Edith Partida, C.P.T., C.E.S., P.P.S.C., a NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. “It’s an upper-body strengthening movement, but because you’re seated on the ground and there’s no support for your back, you have to use your core to stabilize yourself in that position,” she adds.
Struggling to visualize the move? Watch Partida demonstrate how to do the standard Z press below and follow along with the instructions for a better understanding of what the exercise entails.
A. Sit on the floor with legs extended, feet spread as far apart as comfortable, a dumbbell in each hand resting on thighs, and core engaged. Keeping arms bent at 90 degrees, raise elbows up to chest height in front of body. Face palms in toward one another. This is the starting position.
B. Keeping core engaged and back flat, press dumbbell in right hand directly overhead so wrists stack directly over shoulders and biceps are next to ear. Avoid leaning back while pressing the weights up to the ceiling.
C. Slowly bend right elbow and lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.
The Key Z Press Benefits
As Partida hinted at, practicing the Z press can do your shoulders and core some good. Here’s what you need to know about those key benefits, among others.
Improves Daily Functioning
By building strength in your shoulders, the Z press can make everyday movement patterns much easier, says Partida. Reminder: The root of the Z press is an overhead pressing motion, a movement pattern you likely do every single day. You’ll reach your arms up to the ceiling to place a box of holiday decorations on a high closet shelf, for instance. And you’ll do the same as you’re gently tossing your giggling baby up in the air. By practicing this functional exercise and continuing to scale up in weight, you’ll be able to lift even heavier bins — and babies — with ease and safe form.
Challenges Core Stability
The Z press isn’t just a shoulder exercise, and it’s equally as beneficial for your core, as it tests and builds stability in the muscle group, says Partida. ICYDK, your core is a bundle of muscles throughout your trunk (including your rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae) that’s main job is to protect your spine and keep you upright. To do that, your core muscles need to be strong and able to contract enough to create stability, as Shape previously reported. Without enough core stability, you may deal with lower back pain and tightness in your hips. “Your trunk holds everything together and in place,” adds Partida. “If [your core] is not strong enough when you put your body through different types of movement, that [weakness] can potentially lead to injuries and back pain.”
That’s why the Z press can be so valuable. In order to perform the exercise with good form (read: stay slouch-free), you’ll need to keep your core musculature activated, which can prove challenging as you press and lower the weights, says Partida. This core bracing will also keep your spine protected throughout the movement and, as you amp up the weight or reps, improve your stability.
Tests Hamstring and Thoracic Spine Mobility
The Z press is a helpful gauge of the amount of flexibility and mobility you have in your hamstrings and thoracic spine (the part of the spine that spans from the base of the neck to the bottom of the ribs), respectively, says Partida. If you’re unfamiliar, flexibility refers to your connective tissues’ ability to temporarily elongate, and if you’re short on hamstring flexibility, you’ll struggle to keep your legs straight on the floor during the Z press, says Partida.
Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability to actively control and access your full range of motion within a joint. The thoracic spine in particular needs to be mobile so you can move well and maintain good posture. But if you sit at a desk all day, there’s a good chance it’s on the stiff side, which can affect your Z press performance. “You’re not going to be able to sit down on the ground and press your arms fully over your head because [your thoracic spine] area’s pretty locked up,” says Partida.
Essentially, the Z press can alert you to any limitations you might have. And luckily, there are modifications you can use to still get the exercise’s benefits if you’re lacking flexibility and mobility. Then, over time and with the help of stretches and mobility moves, you’ll be able to slowly progress up to the traditional Z press, says Partida.
Z Press Muscles Worked
While the Z press calls on all of the deltoid muscles (the muscles that cover the top of your shoulder), the move primarily targets the anterior (aka front) deltoids, says Partida. The exercise also builds strength in your trapezius (aka traps) muscle, which starts at the base of the neck and extends across your shoulders and down the middle of your back, she adds. As with the traditional shoulder press, the Z press works your triceps, which are called on to slow the weight as you lower it back to your shoulders, and your core, which keeps your trunk upright and stable.
Z Press Variations
The basic Z press may not mesh with your body or goals — and that’s totally okay. To scale down or level up the exercise for your needs, try these variation ideas.
Modification: Landmine Z Press
Dealing with tight hamstrings? Try the Z press with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Or, sit on a small box or stack of weight plates (think: two to 12 inches tall) with your legs straight in front of you, suggests Partida. Both of these tweaks will ease the tension in your hamstrings, and as your flexibility improves, slowly lower the box or plates until you’re sitting flat on the ground, she suggests. If your core isn’t yet strong enough to keep your trunk upright, try performing the Z press with your back resting up against a wall, advises Partida.
You can also perform a landmine Z press, which doesn’t require as much balance, core stability, and thoracic spine mobility as the traditional Z press. That’s because one end of the heavy bar will be resting on the floor and against the wall in front of your body, which takes some of the load off your shoulders and core. And since you’ll lean slightly forward throughout the movement, the modification may feel a bit easier on your lower back than the standard Z press.
Progression: Barbell Z Press
To make the Z press even more difficult, swap out your dumbbells with a barbell, which requires more mobility in the thoracic spine and core stability, as both of your arms will need to lift overhead simultaneously, says Partida.
Common Z Press Mistakes
As you press the weights toward the ceiling and lower them back to your shoulders, avoid leaning far backward, which can cause discomfort in your lower back. Instead, focus on maintaining good posture with a flat back and keeping your body bent at roughly a 90-degree angle, says Partida. Most importantly, remember to keep your core engaged throughout every rep of the Z press, as this is the key to protecting your spine and building stability.
How to Add the Z Press to Your Routine
Before you take your shoulder press to the floor and give the Z press a shot, you’ll first want to chat with your doctor if you currently have or have experienced a shoulder injury, as the move puts additional stress on the joint, says Partida.
Once you’re given the green light, try performing the Z press near the beginning of your workout, as the move involves multiple muscle groups and is pretty taxing on the body, says Partida. In general, aim to perform two to three sets of eight to 10 reps to build up strength or 10 to 12 if you’re looking to improve your muscular endurance, she suggests. Above all, don’t feel ashamed of modifying the move so it works best for your body, experience level, and needs. The flexibility, mobility, and core strength will develop over time, and you’ll surely feel strong and powerful regardless of your chosen variation.