Physical therapist John Pallof showed Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore the “belly press” back in the fall of 2006 when they were getting the now-famous training center, Cressey Performance, off the ground. It was an anti-rotation exercise done with a cable or band to resist excessive spinal rotation. The belly press is now known as the Pallof press, and its popularity has surged.
The movement trains the core to resist rotation, lumbar extension, and posterior pelvic tilt; simulating forces that occur on the field or sporting arena. Deserving of a place in your training routine, the Pallof press can help your technique when performing a huge variety of strength exercises.
Here are 3 variations to try out:
1. Half Kneeling Pallof Press Paired With Lunge
Stability in the core/trunk leads to mobility in the hips and shoulders. This “proximal stability for distal mobility” doctrine was coined by Moreside and McGill in their paper on hip-joint range of motion improvements.(1) In the article, they discovered “proximal stiffness training” lead to improvements in hip-joint range of motion.
The narrow base of support in the half kneeling position requires more work from core and hip stabilizers. Pairing the half kneeling position with the Pallof press causes those stabilizers to resist additional rotational force. Furthermore, the half kneeling position resembles a split squat, which requires good hip flexion, hip extension, and core stability to do correctly.
Half kneeling Pallof press works well between strength exercises. It’s a great way to add in core work and provide some active rest before starting the next circuit, provided the next movement isn’t too core-intensive. Try something like this:
1A. Split squat, forward/reverse lunge variations.
1B. Any bilateral upper body exercise.
1C. Half kneeling Pallof press – 30 seconds on each side.
2. Half Kneeling Split Stance Pallof Press with Deadlift Variations
Performing Pallof presses prior to deadlifting will help “prime” your core (similar to plyometric push-ups before benching) and provide the tension needed to protect your spine (2). There are mobility benefits when the split stance is added to the Pallof press as well: most of the time, glutes and hip flexors get most of the attention when people think of hip mobility. The poor adductors — the muscles on the inside of the thigh — are often forgotten about.
However, the adductors play a vital role in flexing and extending the hip. Getting adequate hip flexion and extension for your deadlift becomes a problem if your adductors are tight.
The split stance Pallof press will:
- Actively stretch your adductors.
- Fire up your glutes.
- Turn on some of the muscles responsible for spinal stability.
Sounds like a perfect core exercise to pair with the deadlift, don’t you think?
The goal is not to fatigue your core muscles before deadlifting but to prime them.
1A. Half kneeling split stance Pallof Press: 15 seconds each side.
1B. Deadlift variation: 3-5 reps
3. Tall Kneeling Overhead Pallof Press with overhead press variations
You’ve most likely seen lifters cranking out their final few reps of the overhead press while heavily arching their lower back while their lower rib cage is protruding. That kind of lifting is dangerous because compromising technique for a few extra pounds on the bar or a couple more reps may lead to injury.
For both exercises to be performed well, you need to:
- Keep your lower ribs down and anterior core engaged.
- Avoid hyperextending the lower back.
- Squeeze your glutes.
- Keep the biceps by or behind your ears.
These exercises pair together like peanut butter and jelly.
When training the overhead press for strength, you can program the pairing like this:
1A. Tall kneeling overhead Pallof press: 8 reps
1B. Barbell overhead press: 3-6 reps
Keep the resistance moderate. The goal is to groove the overhead pattern and lock in proper technique. If it’s part of a circuit, the extra core work is a bonus.
1A. Overhead press variation
1B. Lower body exercise
1C. Tall kneeling overhead Pallof press: 8 reps
[Related: Try This 4-Move Circuit Before Your Next Shoulder Workout]
Pairing Pallof presses with strength exercises will help you get bigger, stronger, and more resistant to injury. If you’re lucky, it may help you break some PRs too.
Now, you have less of an excuse to avoid core training. Right?
- Moreside, J. M., & McGill, S. M. (2012). Hip joint range of motion improvements using three different interventions. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1265-1273.
- McBride JM, et al. The effect of heavy- vs. light-load jump squats on the development of strength, power, and speed. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):75-82.