Learn the Pallof Press for Core Strength and Stability

The Pallof Press is one of the more underrated moves for teaching proper bracing mechanics and building a six-pack. Here's how to do it.

What exercises come to mind when you hear chiseled six-pack? Crunches, sit-ups, maybe a plank? What about the Pallof press? Probably not, because the move sounds more like a piece of construction equipment rather than the ultimate core-building exercise — but it is, and you should be doing it. 

The Pallof press has a lifter hold a taut resistance band (or cable) in front of them and slowly press it out and back. The band’s tension pulls the lifter toward the anchor point, so the lifter engages their core to stay in place. Compared to other ab exercises, the Pallof press trains an athlete’s ability to stabilize under a load. This is important since you want to remain tight during loaded movements like the back squat and deadlift. The Pallof press is a legitimately functional exercise and one worth learning. Below, we’ll go over how to do the Pallof press, its benefits, and exercises variations and alternatives. 

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

Pallof Press Video Guide

Check out our video on how to do the Pallof press perfectly, featuring Kenny Santucci and Steve Horney. 

How to Do the Pallof Press

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

Step 1 —Establish Proper Alignment

Man doing Pallof Press

Start by looping a resistance band around a power rack (or any stable anchor point) at chest height. Grab the free end of the band in both hands, and stand perpendicular to the anchor point. Interlock your fingers and hold the band right at your chest. Step away from the anchor point so that there is tension on the band.

Form Tip: You want to be in an athletic stance, with a slight bend in your knees and your chest up.

Step 2 — Reach Forward

Man pressing band for Pallof press

Now, squeeze your hands together and straighten your fingers. You should be clasping the band tightly with your palms. Ensure that your shoulder blades are squeezed together (so that your shoulders don’t track forward), and extend your arms. You will feel the band pull you toward the anchor point. The goal is not to let your torso twist — and it’s this anti-rotation that will strengthen your core muscles. 

Form Tip: Be sure to keep the shoulders close to the body without rotating the hips and fighting the band’s rotational forces.

Step 3 — Pull Hands Back into Body

Final phase of Pallof press

Keeping your abs flexed and your shoulder blades retracted, slowly return the band to your chest. You can make this exercise harder in two ways. The first is to move further away from the anchor point, which will increase the tension on the band. You can only do that for so long, however. The second way is to use a thicker band. Or, if you’re using a cable machine, simply up the weight on the stack. That said, the Pallof isn’t an exercise you want to overload too much, so increase the resistance within reason and then perform the move for more reps or time. 

Form Tip: Be sure not to let the torso or shoulders slouch forwards.

Benefits of the Pallof Press

Below are three main benefits of integrating the Pallof press into your training routine. 

It’s Great for Movement Prep

The Pallof press is a great way to prime the body for lifting or athletic movements. For one, your body is tense for the entirety of the move — so you’re actively engaging your glutes, core, and legs (which work to keep you grounded and stable). And as you push and pull the band, your upper back muscles and shoulders will warm up. The Pallof press is a core movement, but it does engage your entire body. 

It Trains Anti-Rotational Strength

An athlete needs to be able to rotate explosively to run and throw, but they also need to stop that movement — and that’s what anti-rotation is. A car accelerates to gain speed but then brakes to stop. The Pallof press teaches you how to put on the brakes. 

Even if you’re not actively rotating, your body experiences rotation — even minimally — during moves like pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, and more. Being able to resist that rotation is what will keep you stable during those lifts. Stability is important to maintain good form, making you a more efficient lifter and a safer one.  

It Helps Build Your Six-Pack

We can talk about the performance benefits of the Pallof press all day long, but we know a sharper six-pack is part of the draw. First, it’s important to understand that your abs are like any other muscle on your body — you won’t see them unless they’re bigger and you’re leaner. Assuming your diet is in check, then, yes, the Pallof press provides enough muscular stress to build up your six-pack. 

Muscles Worked by the Pallof Press

Below are the muscles that the Pallof press works. The Pallof Press is a full-body exercise that can increase overall stability and activate many large muscle groups in the body (discussed below). 

Man flexing abs
Jasminko Ibrakovic/Shutterstock

Obliques

The obliques are challenged isometrically to resist rotation, often responsible for shearing forces placed on the lumbar spine. The exercise’s anti-rotational properties make it pivotal for most athletes — who often rotate to throw and catch a ball, swing a club or bat, and juke and sprint to evade an opponent. 

Transverse Abdominals

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

Scapular Stabilizers

A key to properly doing the Pallof press is keeping your shoulder blades squeezed together. All the small muscles in and around your shoulder blades work hard to hold this position. While you may not gain any aesthetics from stronger scapular stabilizers, they can help you maintain better posture and a neutral spine during heavy lifts. So, yes, they’re important. 

Gluteals

It’s no coincidence that “squeeze your glutes” is a cue for just about every exercise. Stand up (unless you’re already standing) and squeeze your butt right now (seriously). Did you feel your legs light up, and did your knees rotate outward? Yes, and that’s a stronger foundation for every move from the front squat press to the overhead press. By keeping your glutes tight throughout the Pallof press, you’ll enhance your foundational strength for all other lifts.

Rectus Abdominis

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

Who Should Do the Pallof Press?

The Pallof press is a valuable movement prep and core strengthening exercise for nearly every lifter. It helps to establish proper spinal alignment under load and increase core stability. Below we will discuss what types of athletes can benefit from the Pallof press and why.

Strength and Power Athletes

The more stable and rigid you are during heavy lifts, the more efficient you’ll be. Maintaining proper bracing and spinal alignment requires awareness, but it also takes a strong core — which is how the Pallof press can help strength athletes. 

For strength athletes, improving core stability will help enhance force output and decrease injury risks when placing heavy loads on the spine or performing loaded carries. 

Functional 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, essential for long-term career athletes and continued progress.

General Population

Bracing is essential to staying tight during heavy lifts, yet many gym-goers don’t know how to brace properly.  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.

Pallof Press Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Below are three primary training goals and programming recommendations when programming the Pallof press into workouts. Note: these are general guidelines and by no means should be used as the only way to program the Pallof press.

To Warm-Up

The Pallof press can be integrated into warm-ups to increase muscle activation and create general body awareness. Start with two to three sets of eight to 10 highly concentrated reps or isometric holds of 20-30 seconds.

For More Muscle

To increase the size of your abs, perform three to four sets of 10-20 repetitions with a light to moderate load at the end of your training session. 

To Improve Endurance and Core Stability

Start with three to four sets of eight to 10 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 (eight to 10 reps per side) to maintain muscular symmetry and development.

Pallof Press Variations

Below are three Pallof press variations of varying difficulties that beginners, intermediate, and advanced lifters can use to progress or regress their training. 

Half-Kneeling Pallof Press

The half-kneeling Pallof press allows 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 as it’s generally easier to do. 

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, as the lifter won’t be as stable as they are on two feet.

Pallof Press with Overhead Reach

This variation adds an 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 Alternatives

Below are three Pallof press variations that can be done to increase core stability and add variety to a training program.

Bird Dog Row

The bird dog and the bird dog row are two core stability exercises that can increase core stabilization and educate individuals on aligning the spine and contracting the core during pulling and reaching movements. Simply put: it strengthens your core and improves your form.

Landmine Rotation

The landmine rotation is a dynamic core stability exercise that also reinforces scapular stability. This is a great anti-rotational exercise for athletes and anyone looking to promote hip rotation and force transfer necessary for more functional movements.

Front Loaded Carry

Front-loaded carries, whether it is kettlebell front rack walks or sandbag carries, are great core strengthening exercises for all lifters and individuals. Front-loaded work increases core strength, demands (and therefore improves) good posture, and reinforces proper ribcage positioning, which is down and in. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I do a Pallof press without a resistance band?

Yes, you can do Pallof presses with a cable machine. You need lateral resistance to do the movement, so you can’t use kettlebells, dumbbells, or weight plates.  

When Should I do the Pallof press?

You can do the Pallof press either before or after your workout. To do it before you train, as a warm-up, use less resistance and do fewer sets and reps. You don’t want to fatigue your core before heavy lifts — this will just ensure your form is off.

Or, you can perform the Pallof press at end of your workout to tax your core. Use more resistance and perform more sets and reps if this is your goal.

Can I do the Pallof press if I have lower back pain?

Always consult your doctor prior to starting any fitness or rehab program. That said, the Pallof press doesn’t directly tax your lower back, so you should be ok. Aso, the anti-rotational skills and ability to brace more effectively may actually help you protect yourself from back injuries in the future.

How many sets and reps should I do for the Pallof press?

The answer is always, “it depends,” but here are some general guidelines:

  • For warming up: two to three sets of eight to 10 highly concentrated reps or isometric holds of 20-30 seconds.
  • For more muscle: three to four sets of 10-20 repetitions with a light to moderate load at the end of your training session
  • For core endurance and stability: three to four sets of eight to 10 repetitions with light to moderate loads at a controlled speed