In 2006, ophysical therapist John Pallof showed Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore the belly press (now the Pallof Press) when they were both getting Cressey Performance off the ground. And just like that, the Pallof press as you know it was born.
The Pallof press, no matter the variation, trains anti-rotation, anti-lumbar extension, and posterior pelvic tilt, simulating forces that occur during squats and deadlifts and in daily life also.
This is a fantastic exercise that covers a lot of bases and deserves a place in your training. Here we will explain what the Pallof press is, how to do it, muscles trained, programming suggestions and a couple of must do variations.
What is the Pallof Press?
The Pallof press is an anti-rotation exercise that trains the larger and smaller muscles around the spine to resist rotation. This exercise has you hold a resistance band or cable in front of your torso while pressing it out and back. This tension pulls you toward the anchor point and your core resists to keep your torso front on.
Since your lower back is not designed for rotation, this is a great exercise to resist the forces placed on the spine by exercises such as squats and deadlifts. Plus, it’s great if you’re paid to play because it builds the required core strength to cope with changes of directions and throwing or hitting with power without getting hurt.
How to do the standard Pallof press
- Stand parallel to the cable machine or to the anchor point to the resistance band and clasp with the handle or band with both hands.
- Make sure your torso is front on and bring your hands to the center of your chest and slowly press out.
- Slowly return your hands to the chest and repeat.
Although this movement trains the muscles that resist rotation, it trains multiple important upper- and lower-body muscles.
- Lower-body muscles
- Internal and external obliques
- Transverse Abdominals
- Rectus Abdominals
- Upper-body muscles
- Upper-body muscles
- Rotator cuff
- Upper back
- Secondary Muscles
Pallof press benefits
There are always forces happening on your spine whether you’re lifting or playing. The better you can resist these forces, the better you will move and the more weight you will lift. Resisting outside forces is one of few important benefits it provides. And here are a few more.
- Improved anti-rotational strength: Developing stronger obliques and abdominals in the rotational plane can improve your ability to stabilize the spine and hips during explosive movements such as swings, and with strength exercises such as squat and deadlifts.
- Versatility: The Pallof press is a versatile exercise performed from a variety of positions to train your core strength and mobility from all angles. For example, it improves hip mobility and core stability at the same time. It increases core stability and resistance to spinal flexion, extension, and rotation. It’s a core exercise with the lot.
- Side plank alternative: Not everyone has the shoulder, oblique, or hip strength to hold a side plank. The Pallof press trains similar muscles, has the same benefits and is easier to perform.
- Great warmup exercise: Performing the Pallof press before deadlifting will help prime your muscles (much like plyometric jumps before squatting) around the core to provide the tension needed to protect your spine.
3 Common Pallof press mistakes
The Pallof press seems simple enough. You press the band out and in for a few reps and then crush your deadlifts, correct? Yes, it is simple but there are three important points to keep in mind:
- This is an anti-rotation exercise. Keeping your torso front on is a must but some use too much resistance. This causes your torso to rotate and then all the benefits goes away. So go light to start with and then build up.
- Keeping your shoulders down and chest up while pressing in and out makes sure the correct muscles are doing the work. Pressing with elevated shoulders is an ouch waiting to happen.
- Don’t over arch the lower back as this puts your core muscles at a disadvantage and then all the benefits will disappear. Keeping a tall posture with the engagement of your glutes will stop this from happening.
How to add it to your routine
Below are three ways to program the Pallof press into your training, allowing you the flexibility to use them where they benefit you the most.
- Warmup: Performing a set or two before hitting the barbell will prime the spine to handle heavier loads. The trick here is not to fatigue the core before lifting heavy but to prime it instead.
- Filler/Recovery exercise: Pairing it with a strength exercise like a squat or deadlift will help you recover between sets and help with good technique by reinforcing good core stability and hip mobility.
- Core triset: Programming in a tri set just after your warmup/movement prep will help prepare the body for heavier loads. Plus, it gives you the extra core work you need but maybe not want. For example:
1A. Pallof press: 12 reps (each side)
1B. Farmer’s carry: 40 yards
1C. Ab-wheel rollout: 8-12 reps
Weight, set, and rep suggestions
The key with the Pallof press is to prime the body for the work ahead and not exhaust it. Anywhere from one to three sets using a rep range of between eight to 15 reps works well.
This exercise is not a strength exercise but an exercise to challenge and strengthen the core. So, start with a resistance you can comfortably handle with good form and when this feels easy then use more resistance or more reps.
Pallof press variations
The Pallof press is a versatile exercise where changing your body position and changing the angle of the pull helps improve hip mobility, core stability, and reinforces good technique with exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. Here are three examples.
Half-kneeling split-stance Pallof press
Two factors for effective deadlifting are full-body tension and hip mobility. When you think of hip mobility, the glutes and the hip flexors get most of the love and the adductors are often forgotten about. But the adductors play a vital role in flexing/extending the hip and if they’re “tight” then getting adequate hip flexion and extension to dominate the deadlift becomes a problem.
The split-stance Pallof press will give your adductors an active stretch, fire up your glutes, turns on the muscles responsible for spinal stability. All this makes it a great exercise to pair with squats and deadlifts.
Half-kneeling Pallof press
The half kneeling position with its narrow base of support increases the demand of the core and hip stabilizers. And pairing this with the Pallof press adds to this because the stabilizers must fight the added rotational forces. The half kneeling position needs good hip flexion, hip extension, and core stability to do well and the Pallof press makes this better.
Improving core stability and hip mobility is a sure way to squat and deadlift safely with good technique.
Tall-kneeling overhead Pallof press
When you’re cranking out the last rep or two on the overhead press, two things usually happen. The lower back arches heavily and lower rib cage starts protruding. This is not great because compromising technique for ego and gains may lead to injury. Avoid this by grooving the overhead pattern with the tall kneeling overhead Pallof press.
For both exercises to be performed well you will need to:
- Keep your lower ribs down and anterior core engaged
- Avoid hyperextending the lower back
- Squeeze your glutes
- Keeping the biceps by or behind your ears.
It makes perfect sense to pair these exercises together to improve overhead pressing form while protecting your lower back.