The Pallof Press a fantastic exercise for strengthening the core however it is seemingly overlooked by conventional programming. Named after physical therapist John Pallof, the exercise has been popularised in recent years by the likes of Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore. The Pallof Press is an anti-rotation exercise and therefore strengthens the core for its primary function – stability. Whilst the majority of compound exercises (think squats and presses) challenge stability in the sagittal plane (i.e. anti-extension and anti-flexion), they provide little in the way of frontal (lateral flexion) and transverse (rotational) perturbations.
Whilst the regular Pallof Press is traditionally performed standing, my starting point with the exercise is normally the tall kneeling variation which is described below.
- Adjust the cable stack so that it will be level with your chest when you’re in the kneeling position.
- Grasp the cable with both hands, hold it to your chest and then assume a kneeling position.
- ‘Brace’ your abs by tensing them as though you were preparing to receive a punch and squeeze your glutes tightly. Try to focus on making yourself as tall as possible.
- Now, with both hands, push the cable out directly in front of you. The cable will be trying to pull you toward the weight stack – don’t let it!
- Hold the cable out in front of you for two seconds and then slowly bring it back towards your chest. Repeat for the prescribed reps and then switch sides.
The basic laws of progression still apply with this exercise so you can increase resistance or time under tension as well as decreasing rest periods. Make sure that each rep is performed with perfect form and don’t push any of your sets to muscular failure.
The size of your base of support is an important consideration for the Pallof Press; the smaller your base of support the harder your body has to work to stabilise. If you perform any of the standing variations I would suggest that the first progression you make is to narrow the base of support.
One of the great things about this exercise is that there are so many variations that can be implemented. If you don’t have access to a cable column you can perform a crude variation using a resistance band secured to something sturdy. It doesn’t work quite as well for the pressing motion but it’s great for performing isometric holds from the lockout position.
With a cable column in hand we can play around with the body position quite a lot to change the exercise. These are the six that I’ve used ordered by their degree of difficulty (easiest to hardest) but feel free to experiment with any others; standing, split stance, kneeling, deep lunge, Bulgarian split squat and single leg.
As well as altering body position we can also change the direction of the press. Traditionally with the Pallof we press horizontally but we can also press vertically. Whilst this lessens the challenge to transverse plane stability it takes the challenge in the frontal plane to a whole new level! One of my favourite variations is the vertical Pallof Press performed from a deep lunge position. This can be a great way to reinforce good posture in the lunge and discourage the collapsing of torso that we commonly see.
The bottom line? If you only do one ‘core’ exercise – make it the Pallof Press!