The Barbell Z Press and Dumbbell Z Press are two variations of the Z Press that utilize different pieces of equipment.
A Z Press is an overhead press done with the lifter sitting on the ground with their legs extended straight out in front of them. This position puts a large emphasis on the core to help keep the lifter’s torso upright as they press.
The two main questions I’m going to try to answer in this article are: Is there a difference between the two and is one exercise better than the other?
To do that, I’m going to go over how to execute both lifts, explain their benefits and then compare them side-by-side. In just a few minutes you should have an answer to which you should be incorporating into your training program based on your preferences and lifting goals.
Barbell Z Press
- Rack (or partner to hand you the bar)
- Sit on the floor in front a rack, legs straight out in front.
- Brace the core and unrack the bar (or have a partner hand it to you).
- Make sure you’re posture is good and your core is tight before trying to press.
- Press the bar to full extension overhead.
- Lower the bar back down to under the chin and repeat until all reps are completed.
The Barbell Z Press demands some hamstring flexibility and core stability to maintain the body position while pressing. Deficits in either of these areas will greatly hinder your ability to be able to do Z Presses.
Once the bar crosses the top of the head, ‘pull the head through’ so that you’re pressing the bar directly over the ears.
Strength Trivia: The Z Press got its name from legendary strongman Zydrunas Savickas who made the lift popular.
A few of the benefits of the Z Press include:
- Increased upper body strength: The Z Press is a challenging exercise that can help to increase strength in the shoulders and triceps.
- Increased core stability: The Z Press requires a high level of core stability to maintain proper form, which can help to improve overall core strength and stability.
Dumbbell Z Press
- Shoulders (all three heads of the Deltoid)
- Abdominals (as stabilizers)
- Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front.
- Brace the core and raise dumbbells to shoulder level (or have a partner hand them to you).
- Make sure your posture is good and your core is tight before trying to press.
- Press the dumbbells to full extension overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells back down to the shoulders and repeat until all reps are completed.
The Dumbbell Z Press demands hamstring flexibility and core stability to maintain the body position while pressing. Deficits in either of these areas will greatly hinder your ability to be able to do Z Presses.
Make sure to maintain a vertical torso throughout the movement so that you’re pressing the dumbbells directly over the ears.
Barbell Z Press vs Dumbbell: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side comparison of the two variations and see if one is better than the other for a few common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Size and Strength: Barbell Z Press
In general, the barbell variation of an exercise is always going to be superior to the dumbbell variation when it comes to building strength and muscle mass.
Because a barbell is going to allow the lifter to lift more weight and more weight equals bigger gains. This holds true with the Z Press as well which I why I would give the Barbell Z Press the edge for building pure strength and size.
However, dumbbells have their benefits as well. The Dumbbell Z Press turns the lift into an Isolateral Exercise, meaning both arms have to work independently of one another. This helps to prevent (or improve) muscle imbalances and adds another layer of balance and stability to an exercise that is already chock full of it.
Ultimately, both are great exercises and if you only have the equipment to do one or the other, don’t freak out, either variation will do a great job.
Better For Beginners: Toss Up
I really think either Z Press variation can be a good exercise for beginners.
In my experience, the Dumbbell Z Press is the harder of the two exercises. They simply require a ton of balance, control and stability to be able to do. Because of this, I would start beginners off with this variation with light dumbbells.
As strength and control improve, gradually increase in weight and/or give the barbell variation a try.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – the Barbell or Dumbbell Z Press. The truth is, there is no reason (assuming you have the available equipment) you shouldn’t have both exercises in your training program.
Both are great exercises for developing upper body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Z Presses and Dumbbell Z Presses in your training plan.