Men Over 40 Can Build Their Shoulders With the Z-Press

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Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

Working on my shoulders has always been a priority for me. But I find overhead pressing—exercises that are among the best shoulder-builders—especially challenging. I usually end up arching my back while standing to get my arms up straight, due to lack of mobility in my shoulders. That causes an excessive lower back arch, and I know I’m putting myself in a spot that could leave me open for injury. However, there’s one exercise that I use to help build shoulder strength without the overhead press problems: the Z-press.

The Z-press move helps me to eliminate lower back arching and slumping because the setup (a seated position) takes my legs and hips out of the equation. Even better, I have to engage my core to stabilize my torso, something older men (and everyone, really) should focus on as much as possible.

How to Do the Z-Press

To set up for the Z-press, grab light kettlebell (you can also use a dumbbell). Sit down on the floor with your knees fully extended, legs in front of you and toes pointed toward the ceiling. Keep your back straight up bring the kettlebell into a front rack position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your chest up. From the starting position, press the kettlebell toward the ceiling, squeezing your shoulder at the top. Then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Aim to keep your back as straight as possible (perpendicular to the floor is optimal). For older men, it may be challenging to do so while your legs are fully extended along the floor, due to hamstring tightness. An option is to widen your legs, which could help you sit up straighter and may be more comfortable. If that doesn’t help, you may have to slightly bend your knees to sit up straighter and protect your back.

Keeping your core engaged is also critical to protect your back, while improving your posture. If you don’t have the strength to press the kettlebell upward with perfect form, the tendency is to lean and arch your back to help get the weight up. That, as we discussed earlier, can be a recipe for injury. As you’re sitting you can extend your free hand out to the side or keep your hand on your ribcage to help you focus on keeping your abs firm and your torso stable. If that doesn’t help, use a lighter weight.

Try the Z-Press in your next upper body workout. To get started, go light to make sure you can comfortably get into the right position. Then, move to working sets of four sets of six to eight reps.

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