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How to Do the Z Press to Build More Muscle, Strength & Better Shoulders

Z press is an exercise that helps build strength, muscle, and fitness. Read this article to learn how you can change your life by performing Z press.

Brandon George
How to Do the Z Press to Build More Muscle, Strength & Better Shoulders
Table Of Contents

Have you ever seen those crazy gym enthusiasts doing Z presses? You know, the ones that are super fit and in amazing shape, always bragging about how this exercise helped them get there? Well, those people might be onto something. The Z press has some real benefits that can help you reach your fitness goals. Keep reading to find out what they are!

What is the Z Press?

The Z Press is a highly flexible and increasingly popular strength exercise that works your upper body and core muscles. 

It has been called one of the best exercises for building the upper body because it requires a major amount of bracing and strength. This type of overhead press is executed by lifting weight from a seated position while spreading legs out wide. To do the Z press:

  • Start with a front rack position, extending your elbows and putting your feet straight out in front of you.
  • Press the weight vertically to a fully locked position overhead.
  • Shrug the shoulder actively into the ear with the wrist stacked above.
  • Then, slowly lower the weight back to the front rack position and repeat the movement.

Muscles Worked By the Z Press

The Z Press is a great exercise to work your upper and lower body. It engages several muscle groups, with two categories; the first is pressing muscles that are engaged directly in raising or lowering the arm during Z press movements from the chest region down into the shoulders and neck area.

The second group is the stabilizing ones that help keep balance during instability due to the press-like motion.

Pressing Muscles

The upper body involves the following muscles in the workout.


Z Presses are an amazing way to work your shoulder muscles. The primary muscle groups involved are the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids. The anterior deltoid supplies most of the force during the overhead press, while the medial and posterior groups support shoulder movement. 

Together, these muscle groups help you lift the weight up and over your head. Z Presses are a great exercise for building strength and definition in your shoulders. 


The pectorals are the largest muscle group in your chest, extending from underneath the armpit across the chest. They're heavily involved in shoulder movement and help adduct the arms during exercises like the Z Press.


The trapezius is a key muscle group in the back, and it's also heavily deployed in Z Presses. It's a diamond-shaped structure, with fiber muscle sets (simply called traps) extending in three directions. 

The upper traps help raise the shoulder girdle, the middle traps retract the girdle, and the lower traps lower the girdle. All three contribute significantly to the upper body press. 


The Z Press involves pressing the weight straight up overhead while sitting on the ground with your legs in front of you. This exercise forces you to use your triceps to extend your elbow to drive the weight overhead.

Stabilizing Muscles

The exercise targets the following stabilizing muscles: 


Your core is your center of power. It's the foundation of your strength and stability, and it's called upon to do some heavy lifting in a Z Press. Without the support of a leg drive or a bench, your core muscles have to work overtime to keep your upper body stable and aligned. 

As a result, your abs get an intense workout, and your core helps support your spine.

Your obliques are crucial muscles on either side of your abdomen, and they help stabilize your spine and trunk. They also play an important role in retracting the rib cage and distributing the load across the body as a whole.

Erector Spinae

The Erector Spinae is a muscle group in the back responsible for lumbar support during the overhead press; they are anti-flexors (prevent spinal flexion). But that's not all this important muscle group does — it also helps provide a supportive framework for your back and spine. 

The Erector Spinae protects us from injury and pain by keeping the spine erect and stable. 

Benefits of the Z Press

Every exercise has some benefits to offer; similarly, the Z Press exercise also has some zealous benefits in store for the pressers ready to go on the route. 

Improves Strength

The Z Press is designed to work your upper body muscles. It eliminates leg and hip support, allowing it to double down on how strong you'll get up above with this one! 

All pressure flows outwards towards our gorgeous shoulders while stopping just shy of the hamstrings, which means no more aches or pains elsewhere.

Enhances Shoulder Health and Flexibility 

The Z Press is a fantastic warm-up for the shoulders because it increases the capacity to take on weight. 

The scapula, which supports our necks and keeps them in line with each other while we lift weights or run errands around town, gets enlarged by this exercise, helping us prepare physically before activities where firm contact will be made, such as playing sports.

Boosts Core Strength & Works Muscles

The core muscles are an essential group of muscles that connect the lower body to your upper half. They help transfer energy from one area for you to balance and perform other physical activities, such as running or jumping, with greater efficiency by providing support where it's needed most- between our hips and shoulders. 

The Z Press takes this idea towards the emphasis on abs and hips while the leg and knee coverage is left to be done by the core muscles and the upper body.

Builds Hamstring Flexibility

The Z Press is a zealous exercise for increasing the capacity of your Hamstrings and stabilizing muscles in that area. The downward pressure on this particular muscle group terminates at just about everywhere else but specifically aims toward working on lower spine groups.

Z Press Sets and Reps

Sets and reps are important factors to consider when strength training. However, many people don't know the difference between a set and a rep. A set is a group of repetitions, and reps is an abbreviation for repetitions.  

For example, if you're doing 10 reps of a particular exercise, that would be one set. The number of sets you perform will depend on your goals. You may only do one or two sets if you're just starting. However, if you're trying to build muscle, you may do three to five sets. 

Your number of reps per set will also depend on your goals. If you're working to build muscle, you may do eight to 12 reps per set. However, if you're just trying to get stronger, you may do fewer reps per set. 

The bottom line is that sets and reps are important factors to consider when strength training. However, the best way to find out what works for you is to experiment and see what gives you the best results.

Z Press Variations

Are you looking for some variations for the Z press? Entertain yourself with these alternatives and perform a wholesome session now.

Kettlebell Z Press

Kettlebells are great for a more intense press. The kettlebell Z Press creates an off-center load at the lowering level, demanding your core to stay strong when holding it because they dip much deeper than dumbells or barbells do. To do kettlebell Z press: 

  • Hold a kettlebell with a moderate grip and bring it into a front-racked position.
  • Then, press the bell vertically until the shoulder reaches full flexion and the elbow is completely locked out.
  • Finally, lower the kettlebell slowly back to the starting position and repeat the number of reps.

Dumbbell Z Press

When doing Z Presses, the weight of your dumbbell will shift so that it is slightly above and in alignment with where your abs are. This makes for an easier motion because there's no need to worry about balancing or shifting far back on one leg when lifting them high. Here’s how to do it,

  • Start by sitting on the floor and extending your legs straight in front of you.
  • Brace the core and hold the dumbbells straight to shoulder level.
  • Ensure that your posture and core are engaged tightly before pressing.
  • Fully press the dumbbells and extend them overhead.
  • Finally, lower the dumbbells down to the shoulder and repeat the reps.

Pike Push Up

Pike Push-ups are a great exercise if you don't have weights or safety equipment. It's similar in movement, but it doesn’t require any tools. To do Pike push up,

  • Start by lying in a plank position on the ground with your hands and toes firmly pressed on the ground, just below the shoulders.
  • Ensure that you keep your core tightly engaged and your back straight with the glutes and hamstrings engaged in the exercise.
  • Make sure your whole body is in a straight line and neutral.
  • Lift your hips vertically and back until the body creates an inverted V shape.
  • Your arms and legs should be straight.
  • Begin bending your elbows and lower your whole upper body on the ground.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then slowly push back up until your arms are straight and you secure an inverted V position.
  • Ensure to maintain a high level of control throughout the whole movement.

Common Z Press Mistakes

There is nothing like the feeling of finally nailing that perfect Z Press — the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of a job well done. But sometimes, in our haste to achieve Z Press glory, we can make common mistakes. Here are a few to watch out for:

Not Keeping Your Back Straight 

This is a surefire way to end up with a sore back. Make sure you keep your spine nice and straight throughout the exercise.

Bouncing the Weight Off Yourself

You might think this will help you get more reps in, but all it'll do is jostle your joints and increase your risk of injury. Keep those reps smooth and controlled.

Using Too Much Weight

It's tempting to load up the barbell when you start working on your Z Press but resist the urge! You're less likely to execute the exercise correctly, and you could get hurt. Start light and increase the weight gradually as you get stronger.

With a little practice and attention to form, you'll be nailing perfect Z Presses in no time. Just prioritize safety over danger and enjoy your workout.


1. What muscles worked in the Z press?

Z press works on the upper and lower body, including the deltoids, triceps, trapezius, and upper pectoralis, to help build strength, balance, and position. It also works on the lower body, including the core, obliques, abdominals, and the Erector spinae, for the stability and support of the body.

2. What are the benefits of Z press?

Z press is a great exercise for building strength and developing explosive power. The Z press is also a great way to work on overhead stabilization, which is important for tasks such as carrying groceries or moving furniture. 

In addition, the Z press can help correct imbalances between the left and right sides of the body. By training one side at a time, you can identify and correct any imbalances that may exist. 

3. Why is it called Z press?

One popular theory is that it's because you need to be a bit of a zen master to perfect the movement. After all, it's not easy to keep those arms perfectly straight while also pressing your body up off the ground! 

Another theory is that the name comes from the fact that you make a big "Z" shape with your body when you make a move. And finally, some people say it's because the move looks like a Zebra crossing the finish line. 

4. What is an alternative for Z press?

Try the Y Raise if you're looking for an alternative to the traditional Z press. The Y Raise is a variation of a front raise where you make a Y position with your arms when raising the weight overhead. You won’t be able to use heavy weights for this one, but it works similar muscle groups as the Z press.

5. Are Z presses used in CrossFit?

Yes Z presses are a Crossfit move that strengthens the shoulders and core. It's performed by sitting on the ground with your legs extended in front of you, then pressing a weight overhead while keeping your back straight. 

The challenge of the Z press is that it requires you to stabilize and balance while pressing the weight, which can be tricky if you're not used to it. However, once you get the hang of it, the Z press is excellent for building strength and power. 

The Bottom Line

The Z Press is an incredibly effective exercise for working your upper body and core, and it's a great move to add to your strength-training repertoire. It's also a great exercise for those trying to build muscle because it targets specific areas with little or no pressure on other body parts. So if you're looking for a way to target your upper body and core muscles, the Z Press is a great option.

Reading List

Article Sources

  • Warburton, Darren E. R., et al. ‘Health Benefits of Physical Activity: The Evidence’. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 174, no. 6, Mar. 2006, pp. 801–09. PubMed Central,

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Brandon George

Hi, I'm Brandon George Wendy, a freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. I cover a spectrum of topics — including mental and physical health and wellness. I've got over 5 years of experience as a lifestyle reporter covering health & wellness and meditation topics.

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