Pallof Press – Form, Muscles Worked, and How-To Guide

The Pallof Press is a core stabilization exercise that has broad application to strength, power, and functional fitness athletes. It can be performed in a movement prep protocol, or as a core accessory to improve strength and muscular endurance. 

Exercises like the squat, deadlift, Olympic lifts, and even running require a lifter to demonstrate superior core stabilization to (1) enhance their performance, (2) lift or move heavier loads safely, and (3) protect the lumbar spine and supporting joints of the body from unnecessary and unplaced stress.

Pallof Press Table of Contents

In this Pallof press exercise guide we will discuss:

  1. Pallof Press Form and Technique
  2. Benefits of the Pallof Press
  3. Muscles Worked by Pallof Press
  4. Who Should Do the Pallof Press?
  5. How to Integrate the Pallof Press into Your Training Program
  6. Pallof Press Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
  7. Pallof Press Progressions for Beginners, Intermediates, and Advanced Athletes
  8. Pallof Press Variations for Strength, Power, and Fitness Athletes
  9. Pallof Press Points of Performance – Summary

1. Pallof Press Form and Technique

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly set up and perform the Pallof Press.

Step 1: Start by attaching a resistance band to a fixed anchor or rig, at chest height, making sure to maintain tension on the band at all times.

  • You can also use a cable system and set that height also at chest height.
Pallof Press Setup
Pallof Press Setup

Step 2: Set your body so that it is perpendicular to the band, so that your fingers are interlocked with the hands out in front of you.

  • The knees and hips should be soft, allowing slight flexion in the joints to increase the demands upon the core/midline.

Step 3: Step away from the anchor point so that there is tension on the band.

  • With a resistance band, the farther you stand away from the anchor the more resistance there is. If you are using cables, simply stay in the same place and add weight via the weight stack.

Step 4: With the hands both clasping the handle/band, press the fists into the sternum and squeeze the shoulder-blades together.

  • Be sure to keep the shoulders close to the body, without rotating the hips and fight the rotational forces of the band (and/or flexion forces of the dumbbell/plate…see variations below).

Step 5: While keeping the abs pulled in, lower back flat, and shoulder-blades depressed and retraced, slowly pull the band into the body, and maintain the shoulders close to the body.

  • In doing so, be sure to not let the torso or shoulder slouch forwards. You should feel tension in the band. Be sure to place that tension into the core muscles by locking out the arms and flexing the core.
Pallof Press Form
Pallof Press Form

Step 6: The Pallof press can be done for slow, tempo like reps, pause reps/holds, or higher repetitions (8-20 reps).

  • If you are performing pauses and tempo reps, hold this locked-out position for a few seconds, for the allotted time. If you are performing basic repetitions, simply pause in the extended position for a second or two, and simply pull the hands back into the sternum.
Pallof Press How-To Guide
Pallof Press How-To Guide

Step 7: Reset and repeat for repetitions or time.

  • Complete each repetition just as described above.
Pallof Press How-To Guide Reset
Pallof Press How-To Guide Reset

2. Benefits of the Pallof Press

Below are the benefits the Pallof Press, many of which can be integrated into strength, power, and fitness training programs.

Movement Prep

The Pallof Press can be integrated into movement preparation series and warm up segments. Pallof Presses can help to increase core activation, glute engagement, and enhance stabilization of the core in moments like overhead presses, squats, and other athletic training movements.

Anti-Rotational Core Training

Anti-rotational training is key for all lifts as it helps to increase core stability and resistance to spinal flexion, extension, and rotation. Nearly every movement is dependent on a lift/athlete’s ability to stabilize the core, as it can enhance force output and injury resilience.

Sport-Specific Movement Sequencing

Sport-specific movement sequencing is a unique extension to movement preparation exercises. The Pallof Press can be manipulated to fit the specific needs of the exercise(s) that will be done in a training session. The versatility of the Pallof press makes it a staple for strength, power, and fitness athletes looking to increase core stability and prime movements like squats, pulls, overhead exercises (jerks, presses), etc.

Pallof Press Exercise Guide

3. Muscles Worked – Pallof Press

Below are the muscles that are worked by the Pallof Press. Note, that the Pallof Press is a full body exercise, that can be done to increase overall stability and activate many of the large muscles groups in the body (discussed below).

Total-Body

As discussed above, the Pallof Press is a full body exercise that can be used to prime larger movements like squats, presses, pulls, and dynamic movements (running, athletics), etc.

Obliques

The obliques are challenged isometrically to resist spinal and pelvic rotation, often responsible for shearing forces being placed upon the lumbar spine. The anti-rotational properties of the exercise make it a pivotal for most athletes (placing loads overhead, running, throwing, etc).

Transverse Abdominals

The transverse abdominals (often targeted through plank variations) are targeted at a slightly different angle in the Pallof press.

Scapular Stabilizers

The Pallof press does reinforce scapular stability and control due to the lifters needing to keep the shoulder-blades retracted and depressed during holds and in slight protraction during presses. If this is not done, the ability to isolate and property train the core will be limited.

Gluteals

The glutes work isometrically to help stabilize the pelvis and increase stability for the spine (attached to the hips). During kneeling and seated versions, they may be targeted slightly less.

Rectus Abdominis

While the Pallof press does not entail flexion and extension of the spine, it does demand spinal stabilization and anti-rotational abilities from the core. The rectus abdominis contracts isometrically to assist in spinal stabilization during this movement.

Pallof Press Set Up

4. Who Should Do the Pallof Press?

We break down who can benefit from Pallof presses, and why.

Pallof Presses for Strength and Power Athletes

Understanding proper core stability, spinal awareness, and posture is key for maximal force application and injury resilience during loaded movements like the squat, deadlift, and Olympic lifts. The Pallof press can be used to help prep training sessions and/or develop a lifters understanding of what it means (and feels like) to find core stability.

Pallof Presses for CrossFit/Competitive Fitness Athletes

The Pallof press can enhance posture, core activation and stability, and help athletes develop greater muscle coordination control during movements in the gym, on the track/field, and in life. Building a strong core and minimizing excessive strain on the lumbar spine is key to longevity as well, essential for long-term career athletes and continued progress.

Pallof Presses for General Fitness/Movement

Many general fitness enthusiasts and beginners have a poor sense of what “bracing”, “stacking the core”, and/or flexing the abs looks and feels like. The Pallof press is a great beginner exercise to help develop the ability to control muscle contractions of the core, develop greater self awareness of spinal alignment, and enhance posture and spinal health under load/during training.

Standing Pallof Press

5. How to Integrate the Pallof Press into Your Training Program

Below are two (2) ways you can integrate the Pallof press into your current training routine.

“Pillar Prep” / Warm Ups

The Pallof press can be integrated into warm-ups and primer segments to create a stronger foundation of movement and stability. By developing a strong core, you help to set the foundation and pillars of core stability, glute activation, and total-body control; all necessary for training, sports, and life.

Core Training (Muscular Endurance)

You can integrate the Pallof press into core training segments, often at the end of sessions, to improve muscular endurance and coordination. Generally, the Pallof press is trained in higher repetitions ranges, such as the ones discussed below, and can be performed alongside other core exercises.

Pallof Press Tall Posture

6. Pallof Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations

The Pallof press is often done using light to moderate loading for moderate repetitions or time frames. This is not an exercise that would normally be done using high amount of resistance since it is more geared for movement preparation of activation. It can be done during warm ups, accessory blocks, or as rehabilitation/corrective work.

  • 3-4 sets of 8-20 repetitions with light to moderate loads, at a controlled speed (focusing on maintaining tension on the bands). It is important to perform the same number of repetitions per side (8-20 reps per side) to maintain muscular symmetry and development.

7. Pallof Press Progressions – Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced

Below are progressions that coaches/trainers can use to set a strong foundation of movement for the Pallof press, and how to progress them to fit the needs of more advanced athletes/lifters.

Beginner

Light resistance bands, such as Therabands, can be used to educate an athlete/lifter on how to properly maintain core tension and resist rotational forces on the body. This is often done by standing or kneeling while holding light tension on the bands.

Intermediate

As an athlete/lifter progresses, you can add more tension and resistance of the bands via monster bands or pull up bands. If you find yourself without bands, plates and dumbbells can be used as well. Note, that using plates and dumbbells will train anti-flexion far greater than using bands, and will not have as much anti-rotational carry-over as bands.

Advanced

Once you have progressed an athlete to set a strong foundation of Pallof pressing and anti-rotational control/stability, you can integrate movements like presses with circles, drawing shaped, letters, etc. In doing so, you can increase the dynamic nature of this movement to further unlock it’s benefits.

Overhead Pallof Press

8. Pallof Press Variations for Strength and Power Athletes

Below are four (4) Pallof press variations coaches can use to progress this exercise on most training programs.

½ Kneeling Pallof Press

The ½ kneeling Pallof press allows a beginner and intermediate athletes to anchor the pelvis and maintain a tall and proud posture. This is often one of the first progressions used with beginners.

Double Kneeling Pallof Press

This is a simple progression upon the standing version, which will have an individual be down on both knees. This will slightly increase the demands placed upon the core muscles.

Pallof Press with Overhead Reach

This variation adds an additional overhead reach following the Pallof press. To do this, simply raise your hands (with the resistance band or cable handle in them) slowly overhead following the standard Pallof press. Be sure to keep the ribs and belly button pulled down and in towards the body to remain in proper spinal alignment.

Pallof Press in Squat

This is a more advanced movement that can be done to (1) enhance squat positioning, (2) teach proper bracing and spinal alignment in the squat. You can do this by simply performing Pallof presses while in the bottom of the bodyweight squat.

Half Kneeling Pallof Press

9. Points of Performance – Pallof Press Technique Summary

Below is a recap of the primary points of performance when coaching and/or performing the Pallof press.

  1. Keep Everything Stacked and Linear – Be sure to keep the core tight to resist any lateral flexion/extension and movement that may compromise spinal integrity. Think of the body as one linear vertical line, in which you are aligning the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, and shoulders in one line.
  2. Toes Forward – Be sure to set yourself up so that your toes point forward, as this increases the demands on the glutes and helps to anchor the feet into the floor.
  3. Neutral Pelvis – Keep the ribs pulled down into the pelvis, ensuring that there is not excessive posterior or anterior pelvic tilt.
  4. No Valgus Knees – Maintain rigidity in the legs and core so that the knees do not drop inwards towards each other, which is called valgus.
  5. Upright Posture – Be careful not to allow the shoulders to drift forward or drop when extending the arms, which should be done by keeping the upper back contracted with the shoulder blades depressed and slightly retracted.
Knee Valgus
Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

2 thoughts on “Pallof Press – Form, Muscles Worked, and How-To Guide”

  1. Should the shoulders be packed (in retracted and depressed position) throughout the entirety of the paloff press movement sequence? I see that the photo has a caption of “shoulders protracted” under step 6 of the form and technique section. Whereas the “Scapular Stabilizers” paragraph within the “3 Muscles Worked – Pallof Press” section states that the shoulder blades should be retracted and depressed during the press and hold. Or maybe I am misunderstanding how to protract shoulders while having the shoulder blades retracted. Thank you for any explanation and for helping clear this up for me.

    • Hey Brandon — Great question. We just reworked the wording in the muscle’s worked section, as that sentence were slightly confusing, so thank you for calling attention to that. In the eccentric & holding portion, the scaps will be depressed and pulled back, then at the top of the concentric & press, the shoulder blades will be in a slight protraction.

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