As far as shoulder exercises go, gym-goers usually only have 3 or 4 that they alternate in between, with 1 or 2 compound lifts. Unfortunately, shoulders are one of the most neglected body parts by the average Joe, and this may be in part due to the perceived lack of shoulder exercises out there. However, there are several great shoulder exercises, and the one we’re going to talk about today is the Savickas press (or “Z Press”).
The Savickas press was named after strongman Zydrunas Savickas, a consistent competitor in the World’s Strongest Man competitions. In fact, Zydrunas is the only strongman competitor to have won all of the current major strongman competitions AT LEAST once. Needless to say, when this guy gives you a strength training tip, you listen. This lift calls for raw strength and perfect form, both of which Savickas is known for.
The Z Press is performed on the floor, and can be performed either in a power rack with a barbell resting on pins or with dumbbells. If you are performing with a barbell, set the pins to the height of your shoulders when you are seated and sitting up straight. You will have no back support for this exercise, so leave the bench. If you are using dumbbells, then dumbbells are all you need. With such a simple setup, this exercise has to be a piece of cake, huh? Wrong.
If you’re an experienced lifter, you’ve probably done a military press or two. You also may or may not have performed a standing overhead press. Think of the Z press as a burly hybrid of those two lifts. The Z press is essentially a seated overhead press.
If you are using dumbbells, simply start by holding them at shoulder height with a pronated grip (palms facing away from the body) while seated with your legs straight out in front of you. Keeping your back straight, lift the dumbbells over your head until your arms are fully extended. Make sure to focus on using your shoulders and triceps for this lift. If you’re familiar with standing overhead presses, you know the concept of getting your head “through the window”. For the uninitiated, getting your head through the window is a form cue to instruct you to keep your up straight and in line with your back as you drive the weight up.
The barbell version of this exercise is performed exactly as a standing overhead press, but seated. Just as the dumbbell version of the Z press, grab your barbell with a pronated grip at shoulder height while seated with your legs straight out in front of you. Move your head slightly back to allow the barbell to travel straight up without clipping your nose or chin. After the bar clears your head, continue to drive up and move your head forward, back into alignment with your spine (putting your head “through the window”). After your arms are fully extended, slowly lower the bar back down to your shoulders.
Benefits of The Savickas Press
“If I’m already performing the military press and/or standing overhead press, what do I need the Z press for?” Valid question. There are two main reasons for performing the Z press in the stead of more common lifts like the military press and standing overhead press.
Experienced powerlifters, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike will know all about plateaus. Say you’ve been going up 5lbs every week on bench press and then progress suddenly stops and you’re stuck at the same weight. Due to the “flattening out” of your strength gains, this is called a plateau. Say you’ve been putting on an additional 5lbs every time you perform the military press or standing overhead press for the past month and you’ve now plateaued. How do you break through that ceiling? Breaking through plateaus is accomplished through change. You’ve been doing the same thing for however many weeks and your body has acclimated, which means it’s time to switch up your routine.
The Z press is a great exercise for busting through plateaus because there really is no room for cheating. The exercise itself becomes more difficult with bad form, so naturally the past of least resistance is taken. With this strict form and the seated aspect of this exercise, you are really focusing on your shoulders and triceps as movers, instead of relying on leg drive or cheating by leaning. The increased recruitment of these muscles will cause them to work harder, and differently than they have before, which will lead to increased stimulation. After a few weeks with the Z press, you should be able to hop back into your military press or standing overhead and find that your shoulders and triceps have gotten stronger. Once you become re-acclimated to your lift, you’ll bust through your plateau in no time.
As previously mentioned, the Z press calls for good form to complete a single rep. Good form includes having your back straight and vertical with a stabilized core. Because your legs are taken out of the equation, your core is more engaged and the wiggle room you have for leaning back to complete the lift like you would have in the standing overhead press and military press is eliminated. Without the possibility of that backwards lean, a lot of the potential for injury is taken out. If you are a new lifter looking to strengthen your shoulders and you don’t feel ready for the standing overhead press or military press, the Z press is a great place to gain should strength, core stability and train yourself for good form.
The Savickas press is an effective exercise and can change up your boring shoulder routine with something that will really blast your muscles and help you correct your standing overhead press form and bust through any existing shoulder plateaus. So get in the gym, set the pins, load the bar, and get to pressing.