How To: Pallof Press Variations

by Bryan Henry     •     October 21, 2020     •     Training

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What is a Pallof Press? What does it do?? Wait, there are different variations of this...

Woah, woah, woah...simmer down. We are going to cover everything in this post. Regardless if you have heard of, used, or have no clue what a Pallof Press is definitely something you should incorporate into your workout database!

Full disclosure, I understand the fear of adding things into your workout that may seem foreign. You are probably asking yourself a lot of questions like "If what I am already doing is working, why would I switch it up now and add something?"

The answer to this question is easy, because there are always things we can learn and improve on and that we are probably overlooking when it comes to making our workouts better. Whether you agree or disagree with me it's the truth. Soooo...let's start by identifying where the "Pallof Press" came from.

The Origin Of The Pallof Press

The Pallof Press is aptly named after physical therapist John Pallof. John Pallof is a licensed physical therapist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of orthopedic conditions. He provides expert level assessment and treatment of all types of injuries, utilizing multiple approaches - including joint mobilization, manipulation, soft tissue techniques, and corrective exercise. John graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Allied Health in 1997 with his Bachelor's Degree in Physical Therapy. He has spent the last 21 years developing his clinical skills, treating athletes of all levels and sports. John has earned multiple certifications pertinent to orthopedic physical therapy, including:

  • Board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, through the American Physical Therapy Association
  • Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT), through Maitland Australian Physiotherapy
  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, via the National Strength and Conditioning Association

Ok, enough of this history talk. What is a Pallof Press?

The Pallof Press is an anti-rotation hold exercise that will work wonders in helping you develop a stable and iron-clad core. It's an especially good move for those training for sports where you're expected to spin on a sixpence at speed because it helps build the core strength to cope with twists and turns without getting injured.

To make it even simpler to understand, the Pallof Press is resisting rotation. The holding part of a Pallof Press is when you fight to keep a stable core. With a ton of rotational movements in all sports, this is crucial for your overall development as an athlete. On top of that, the general population benefits from the Pallof Press given the lack of core stability from sedentary lifestyles, back pain, lumbar spine stability, etc.

When performing the pallof press the exercise is designed to work the muscles that influence trunk rotation. Specifically, the pallof press works local and global muscles in efforts to limit any rotation of the spine. You can also get an appreciation for the number of layers of muscle as well.

How to set up and perform the Pallof Press with proper technique.

Let's take a step by step look at how to set up and perform the Pallof Press properly.

  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.
    1. Feel free to use a cable system and set the cable at chest height.
  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.
    1. The knees and hips should be soft, allowing slight flexion in the joints to increase the demands upon the core/midline.
  3. Step away from the anchor point so that there is tension on the band.
    1. 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.
  4. With the hands both clasping the handle/band, press the fists into the sternum and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
    1. 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).
  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.
    1. 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.
  6. The Pallof press can be done for slow, tempo like reps, pause reps/holds, or higher repetitions (8-20 reps).
    1. 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.
  7. Reset and repeat for repetitions or time.
    1. Complete each repetition just as described above.

Now that we have discussed the set up and performance of the Pallof Press, let's go over the variations of a Pallof Press...

Just like most exercises, there are multiple variations of the Pallof Press, and god willing there will be more progressions and variations coming down the road as science and the understanding of the body continue to progress. For now, let's look at some of the basics to get you started:

  1. Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
    1. The ½ kneeling Pallof press allows beginners 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.
  2. Tall Kneeling Pallof Press
    1. 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.
  3. Pallof Press With Overhead Reach
    1. 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.
  4. Pallof Press In Squat
    1. 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.
  5. Split Stance Pallof Press
    1. Similar to the half kneeling Pallof Press, the Split Stance Press is geared towards more advanced athletes and individuals. It requires more core stability, overall balance, and coordination.

How do Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced Athletes and Individuals progress the Pallof Press?

As we stated earlier, there are tons of different variations and progressions to the Pallof Press and just any exercise to that regard. So the big question is how does each skill level progress the Pallof Press as a whole? We have to remember that each athlete and individual has a  specific learning curve. So, as coaches and trainers, we need to keep that in mind as we are programming for each person. Let's take a look at the progressions for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced skill levels below:

  • Beginner
    • Light resistance bands, such as Therabands, can be used to educate an athlete/individual on how to properly maintain core tension and resist rotational forces on the body. We want to teach on a case by case example but everyone should learn how to create stability through the core, brace their spine, and be in a good neutral spine position. This is most commonly done by standing or kneeling while holding light tension on the bands or cable machine.
  • Intermediate
    • As we progress each individual person, we can add more tension, load, or resistance of the bands via monster bands, pull up bands, or heavier resistance using a cable machine. Pro Tip: If you find yourself without bands, weight plates and dumbbells can be used as well. Side Note: Using weight 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 the individual you are training be it an athlete or general population has progressed and a strong foundation of Pallof pressing and anti-rotational control/stability, you can then integrate movements like presses with circles (stir the pots), drawing shapes, letters (going through the alphabet), etc. When you do this, you can increase the dynamic nature of the movement to further unlock its benefits.

And now, a quick summary on Pallof Press Technique

We have covered a lot of information in this post. Let's end everything by giving a quick summary on Pallof Press Technique:

  1. Keep Everything Stacked and Linear
    1. Be sure to keep the core tight to resist any lateral flexion/extension and movement that may compromise spinal integrity. The spine has to stay braced and inline. The body is essentially one linear vertical line, you need to keep the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, and shoulders in line at all times.
  2. Toes Forward
    1. The setup of the Pallof Press is crucial before getting going. One major point and commonly overlooked area is the toes. Make sure your toes point forward, as this increases the demands on the glutes and helps to anchor the feet into the floor.
  3. Neutral Pelvis
    1. To do this, pull the ribs down into the pelvis, think of contracting your core together, ensuring that there is not excessive posterior or anterior pelvic tilt.
  4. No Valgus Knee Roll
    1. Maintain rigidity in the legs and core so that the knees do not drop inwards towards each other, this is called valgus roll.
  5. Upright Posture
    1. Don't let the shoulders drift forward or drop when extending the arms, this is a common mistake among most individuals. This should be done by keeping the upper back contracted with the shoulder blades depressed and slightly retracted.

In conclusion...

There you have it my friends. Everything you need to know about Pallof Press, all the way down to where it originated from. I hope this helps in adding value to your training program. Remember that this simple exercise can add extreme value to your workouts. Value that you didn't even know existed in such a basic exercise.

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