Barbell Z Press Alternatives

14 Best Z Press Alternatives for Shoulder Strength

The Z Press is an excellent Overhead Press variation that provides a ton of unique benefits. It completely takes the legs out of the press, it heavily utilizes the core and even demands a certain level of hamstring flexibility.

However, sometimes you may find yourself needing an alternative for Barbell Z Presses.

Maybe you don’t have a barbell, maybe you’re unable to do them or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your workouts.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an exercise to substitute for Z Press then you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 13 of my favorite Z Press alternatives including different variations and different equipment.

Alternatives for Z Press

The first few exercises listed below still utilize a barbell, just in different variations or starting positions.

The rest of the exercises incorporate different pieces of equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells or just your own bodyweight.

Dumbbell Z Press

If you’re simply missing a barrel, but you have access to dumbbells, then Dumbbell Z Press is probably your best option. Same basic principles and same movement – just with dumbbells in place of a bar.

How To

  • 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.

Coaching Points

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.

Overhead Press

Female Athlete Doing a Push Press

Admittedly, Overhead Press is probably the most obvious Z Press alternative. Instead of sitting on the floor, simply stand up and press overhead.


  • Grip should be shoulder width apart.
  • Elbows should be under bar.
  • Torso should be erect.
  • Move bar off the rack.
  • Keep chest up.
  • Push bar up to full elbow extension.
  • As soon as the bar passes the head – ‘pull the head through’ – so that the bar is being locked out directly over the ears.
  • Keep elbow pointing out to side until arms are fully extended.
  • Do not forcefully lock out elbow.
  • Lower the bar slowly and under control to shoulder level.
  • Do not jerk or bounce at the bottom.

Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)

The biggest mistake I see with Overhead Presses is overarching the back and leaning back way too much (hyperextension of the spine). This places too much unnecessary stress on the low back that should be avoided.

Personally, I like to use a staggered stance because I feel it helps me to keep from leaning back too far and placing that stress on the low back. It’s a technique I’ve used often with athletes as well experiencing the same problem. If that’s an issue for you as well I would definitely recommend giving a staggered stance a try.

Push Press

Push Press (1)

I’ve been a college sports performance coach for almost 20 years, so of course, one of my first suggestions would be an alternative that turns a Z Press into a power movement.

The Push Press is essentially an Overhead Press that involves generating power from the hips and legs to help drive the barbell overhead. This changes the movement from simply a shoulder strength-building exercise to more of a total body power development exercise.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Bar Setup: Place the barbell on a rack at chest height. Stand facing the bar.
  • Grip and Position: Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width. Unrack and position it at shoulder level.
  • Starting Stance: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Dip: Bend your knees slightly, keeping your torso upright.
  • Drive: Explosively extend your knees and hips, transferring the power to the barbell.
  • Press: While maintaining momentum, press the barbell overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  • Return: Lower the bar back to the shoulders, controlling the descent.
  • Reset: Reset your stance and prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

Push Press is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence.

Lifters can oftentimes have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and potentially injure themselves. Never sacrifice technique to add more weight.

Curl and Press

Curl and Press turns the Z Press into a combo movement with bicep curls.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab dumbbells that you can perform at least 8 perfect reps with here.
  • Standing nice and tall, hammer curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  • From here, press the dumbbells straight up overhead to lockout.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbells back and down to shoulder height.
  • From here, slowly return the dumbbells to your side.

Coaching Points

Go slow! Time under tension is key here. Feel the burn, especially on the way back down.

It’s easy to get out of control and begin swinging dumbbells all over the place with Curl and Presses. Stay in control of the weight throughout.

Bench Press

Bench Press

Bench Press isn’t a vertical pressing movement like most of the other Z Press alternatives I have listed so far, but it doesn’t make any sense to not include it.

If we’re talking about building upper body mass and developing pressing strength Bench Press is still the number one draft pick. Improve your Bench Press and there is a good chance your overhead strength will follow along.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Bar Setup: Set the barbell on a bench press rack and load it with the desired weight.
  • Starting Position: Lie on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Plant your feet flat on the floor.
  • Grip: Grasp the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing away from you.
  • Unrack: Lift the bar off the rack and position it above your chest with arms fully extended.
  • Descending Phase: Lower the bar to your mid-chest, keeping your elbows at a 75-90 degree angle.
  • Ascent: Push the bar back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms.
  • Rack: Safely return the bar to the rack.

Coaching Points

Always have a spotter, regardless of the weight. Yes, even for the lighter sets.

When you bring the bar down, lightly tap the chest and then press back up. Do NOT bounce it. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve watched Bench Press like they were mad at their sternum.

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Incline Bench Press

Incline Barbell Bench Press

It’s hard to mention Bench Press and not also include Incline Bench Press, especially since Incline Bench is closer to being a vertical press and gets the shoulder muscles more involved than flat bench.

This probably goes without saying, but I’ll go ahead and mention it anyway. Don’t forget that both Bench Press and Incline Bench Press can also be done with dumbbells if you don’t have a barbell available to you.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set Up: Adjust the bench to a 30-45 degree incline. Set the barbell on the rack.
  • Starting Position: Sit on the bench, feet flat on the floor. Lie back and ensure your head and back are firmly on the bench.
  • Grip: Grasp the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing forward.
  • Unrack: Lift the bar off the rack and hold it above your upper chest with arms fully extended.
  • Descending Phase: Lower the bar to your upper chest in a controlled manner.
  • Ascent: Press the bar back to the starting position, extending your arms fully.
  • Rack: Safely return the bar to the rack after your set is complete.

Coaching Points

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline when doing Incline Bench Press. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.

Landmine Press

The Landmine Press is another Z Press alternative that uses the barbell but in a much different way. Before you scroll right past this one because you don’t have a landmine attachment, here’s how you can create your own landmine press with just a tennis ball.

How To

  • Setup a landmine attachment with a barbell.
  • Grab the end of the barbell and start with it at chest level.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and core braced.
  • Remove one hand from the bar and then press the bar to full extension with the other arm.
  • Lower the bar back to chest level under control.

Coaching Points

Keep the core braced and maintain a neutral torso when doing Landmine Presses. If you find yourself leaning back and arching the low back, lower the weight if needed and correct your form.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

If you don’t have access to a barbell, another Z Press alternative is Dumbbell Shoulder Press. They can be done seated (on the floor or a bench) or standing.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbells into your pressing position.
  • I recommend palms face away or toward each other (whichever feels more comfortable).
  • Brace the abdominal muscles and engage the upper back.
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead. The dumbbells should not track forward.
  • Lock the reps out and pause for about 1 second with each repetition.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

Keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.

Remember this is not a push press. This is a purely upper-body pressing movement. If you are using your legs, even slightly, this would be called a Push Press. The push press is a great movement as well BUT a shoulder press should be focused on the shoulders, no cheating.

Arnold Press

Arnold Press is a popular dumbbell shoulder press variation made popular by, you guessed it, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbells into your pressing position.
  • You will start with the palms facing you.
  • As you press the dumbbells up, rotate the dumbbells as you press, and at the top of the movement, your palms will be facing away.
  • As you lower the dumbbells back to the start, rotate the dumbbells until your palms are facing you.

Coaching Points

This is an exercise that is programmed for hypertrophy. Control the weight and focus on time under tension. This one is going to burn, so grit your teeth, and enjoy it!

Keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.

Kneeling Single Arm Press

The Kneeling Single Arm Dumbbell Press works pretty much as it sounds. Take a kneeling position on one knee, with a dumbbell in the opposite hand.

This pressing variation has some of the same benefits as the Z Press. The legs are removed from the lift in the kneeling position and balance plays an important role being a single arm movement.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Take a kneeling position. One knee up and the other down. Bring your toe in on the down leg so that you are on the tip of your shoes
  • If you have your right knee up, grab the dumbbell in your left hand. Face the palm toward you.
  • Brace the abdomen and upper back. Make your torso as tall as possible and stay rigid throughout the entire movement.
  • You may find it comfortable to put your non-pressing hand on your hip or extended out to the side for balance.
  • Press the dumbbell vertically, finishing with the bicep very close to the ear. Lock in the rep at the top and slowly return to the start.

Coaching Points

I am a huge fan of the tall-kneeling position. It challenges the lifter to balance, stay tall and rigid, and disallows the legs from cheating in helping the press.

This is a great movement for novice lifters that need a progression into overhead pressing. After 2-3 weeks of training, 2 dumbbell, standing, landmine, and barbell options will fall in line for this progression.

Handstand Push Up

Handstand Push-Up

Easily one of the hardest bodyweight exercises to perform, Handstand Push-Ups will test your shoulder strength, shoulder stability, core and coordination all in one movement. Because it’s a bodyweight movement, it has the advantage of being able to be done anywhere without the need for equipment.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start in a handstand position with your hands on the ground, arms straight, and body in a straight line. You can kick up into the handstand or walk your feet up a wall to get into position.
  • Slowly lower yourself down, bending your elbows and keeping your body in a straight line. Your head should lightly touch the ground, or a mat, and then push back up to straight arms.
  • Control your descent and make sure to keep your body in a straight line throughout the movement. Avoid arching or sagging your back, and keep your elbows close to your body.
  • Once you can perform a single repetition with proper form, aim to do sets of 3-5 reps. Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets, and focus on maintaining good technique and control.
  • As you get stronger, you can progress to more challenging variations of the handstand push-up, such as deficit handstand push-ups or freestanding handstand push-ups.

Coaching Points

Handstand Push-ups require a significant amount of strength in the shoulders, triceps, and core. Therefore, it’s important to build a strong foundation by focusing on exercises that target these muscle groups. This may include exercises like Shoulder Presses, Dips, and Planks.

Handstand push-ups require a lot of coordination and balance. Concentrate on your form like keeping your core tight and keeping your elbows close to your body.

Don’t get frustrated! With consistent practice and dedication, you can conquer this challenging movement.

Machine Shoulder Press

Machine Shoulder Press
Photo Credit: Halfpoint /

If you’re working out in a commercial gym or college weight room and you have access to machines, a Machine Shoulder Press can serve as a Z Press alternative.

My favorite machine for this is the Hammer Strength Iso Shoulder Press. It’s plate-loaded so it works more like a free weight and less like a cable machine. Both shoulders also work independently of one another too, so like with dumbbells, if you have any strength imbalances they’ll show themselves.

Dumbbell Side Raise

Admittedly, Dumbbell Side Raises would not be my first choice for a Z Press Alternative. It’s not a pressing movement, but it is an exercise that will work the shoulders.

If you find yourself in an environment (I’m thinking a hotel gym here) where you’re limited in equipment to light dumbbells, Dumbbell Side Raises may work perfectly in that kind of situation.


  • Hold dumbbells-palm in, arms straight down at sides.
  • Raise dumbbells in semicircular motion slightly above shoulder height tilting the head of the dumbbell down.
  • A slight pause, then lower to starting position under control.
  • Keep your arms straight with just a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Use the same path to continue repeated reps.
  • Exhale up, inhale down.

Coaching Points

To keep the focus on the medial delt, make sure to keep your palms down at the top of the movement. Many lifters like to pull back, instead of lift straight out to the sides, which brings the stronger muscles of the upper back into play.

Also, always start the movement at the side of the thigh. Bringing the dumbbells in front of the body allows for more of a momentum swing and takes away from the stress placed on the delts.

Med Ball Power Jerk

Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

This is similar to the Push Press where you’ll utilize your hips and legs to dip and drive the medicine ball up.

The biggest difference with Med Ball Power Jerks though is that you’ll drive all the way through the movement releasing the ball in the air at the top. No need to worry about staying under control as with a barbell which is one of the biggest benefits of using a med ball that you can throw into the air.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Make sure you have clearance above you to throw the ball. (Either outside or inside with high ceilings)
  • Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly hip-width apart.
  • Med Ball should be at the chest. Hands under the ball, palms facing towards one another.
  • Perform a 4 to 6-inch dip of the knees and hips, keeping the torso vertical and feet flat-footed on the ground.
  • Now, aggressively drive up, fully extending through the hips, knees and ankles and push/throw the ball as high as possible.
  • Allow the ball to hit the ground before resetting for the next rep. Trying to catch the ball out of the air is a good way to jam a wrist or finger.

Coaching Points

Drive through both arms equally. There is a natural tendency to allow your dominant arm to take over and shift more underneath the ball. Make sure you’re staying balanced with each rep.

Med Ball Exercises like Med Ball Power Jerks are great movements for athletes to build explosive power. I recommend incorporating them early in your workouts while you’re still fresh to maximize power output.

If you’re already familiar with Wall Balls that are used extensively in CrossFit, a Med Ball Power Jerk is very similar. The differences are that it starts with a quick dip as opposed to a full squat and you throw the ball as high as possible each rep instead of aiming for a target.

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Final Thoughts

Z Press is a beast of an exercise for developing strong shoulders and a strong core, but sometimes Z Presses are just not an option. Sometimes you may not have the proper equipment available to you or other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your barbell overhead press routine.

In these situations, you’ll need a Z Press alternative and I hope that one of the exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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