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October 26, 2022 10 min read

What is the Pallof press? Is it a shoulder workout, a chest-builder, or is it a mobility drill? It is all that and more. In fact, it’s one of the most effective and underrated core exercises you can do.

The Pallof press is named after John Pallof, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and a physical therapist in Massachusetts, who invented this anti-rotation exercise.

He has lectured on a wide variety of topics related to the prevention and treatment of athletic injuries, focusing on incorporating proper training strategies for injury prevention. Pallof also practices O-Physical Therapy, which deals with functional mobility.

The Pallof press simulates forces that occur during deadlifts, squats, crunches, sit-ups, push-ups, and even movements in our day-to-day lives.

Regardless of the variation of the exercise, it trains anti-lumbar extension, anti-rotation, and posterior pelvic tilt.

Pallof Press – Image from Shutterstock

When performing this exercise, you stand next to an anchor point with an attached resistance band or a cable machine. Holding the band with both hands, you will press the band forward and pull it back without allowing the resistance band to twist or pull you sideways.

With the resistance band or cable being taut, you will perform the full range of motion under great tension.

The Pallof press trains your core to activate and stay tight, which is crucial to balance weight lifters and provide stability under the load.

Muscles Worked by the Pallof Press

The Pallof press is a full-body stability-providing exercise that activates many large muscle groups in the body, along with multiple subsidiary upper-body and lower-body muscles.

Obliques

The Pallof poses an isometric challenge to the obliques to resist rotation, which often subjects the lumbar spine to shearing forces. Most athletes rotate to catch and throw balls, swing rackets, clubs, or bats, and sprint or juke to evade opponents. For the perfect execution of those moves, the exercise’s anti-rotational properties make the Pallof press pivotal.

Transverse Abdominals

The Pallof press targets the transverse abdominals at an altered angle than the typical plank variation ab exercises to work the transverse abdominals. This exercise requires a lot of attention to pelvic rigidity and tilt, and if you use the proper form, you’ll experience significant engagement in your transverse abdominals throughout the full range of motion.

Glutes

Squeeze your glutes is a common cue in the instructions and proper form of just about any exercise, and it’s no coincidence that it is equally important for the Pallof press. The reason is that squeezing your butt muscles provides a strong foundation for just about every exercise movement from overhead presses to front squats. The Pallof press will improve your strength and foundation for all other lifts you perform.

Scapular Stabilizers

An important aspect of proper form for the Pallof press is keeping your scapula, or shoulder blades, properly squeezed together to activate most of the smaller muscles of the shoulder blades that are necessary to hold the position. Although the scapular stabilizers make no aesthetic contribution on their own, they are essential for the maintenance of a neutral spine and proper posture during heavy lifts.

Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis is typically associated with six-packs, while they actually do a whole lot more than turn heads.  It is a pair of muscle sheets that run from the rib cage to the pelvis and covers the area between your sternum and pelvis. They play significant roles in the extension and flexion of the spine. And although the Pallof press does not involve extension and flexion, it activates the rectus abdominis to perform isometric contractions and anti-rotational stabilization of the spine during this movement.

ADDITIONAL MUSCLE ACTIVATION

Although the Pallof press movement trains the muscles that resist rotation, it works multiple additional important upper- and lower-body muscles, including the rotator cuff, pectorals, and triceps.

For whom is the Pallof press beneficial?

The Pallof press is versatile in the benefits offered to almost any lifter. It is valuable as a pre-workout prep while it also provides core strengthening for performing lifts. It helps with establishing proper core stability and spinal alignment under load.

Strength and Power Builders

Powerlifters – Image from Shutterstock

Your efficiency at lifting depends on your ability to remain rigid and stable during heavy lifts. To maintain spinal alignment and proper bracing, you must have awareness and a strong core, both of which strength and power builders can get from the Pallof press. It improves core stability to increase force output and decreases injury risks when performing loaded carries or placing heavy loads on the spine.

Fitness Athletes

Athlete – Image from Shutterstock

Fitness athletes require perfect posture, stability, and core activation, all of which can be obtained by performing the Pallof press. Furthermore, this workout can help you achieve better control and muscle coordination during your gym workouts and also when you participate in track or field activities. If you are a long-term career athlete, the Pallof press can help you build a strong core, while minimizing excessive lumbar spine strain to allow continued progress.

General fitness enthusiasts

Fitness Enthusiast – Image from Shutterstock

Bracing is an essential part of almost all exercises, especially those that involve resistance. Not everybody knows how to brace, but staying tight is often essential.

Bracing your core, for example, is like pulling your belly button toward your spine and preparing to take a punch in your gut.

The Pallof press is great at helping beginners develop control over core muscle contractions and develop greater self-awareness of spinal alignment, which will enhance spinal health and posture under load or during training.

How to Do the Pallof Press

Use the following instructions for the correct performance of the Pallof press. This is for the version using a resistance band, but the same steps apply to the cable version.

Starting position:

Loop a resistance band to a power rack at chest height. Grab the unattached end and stand perpendicular to the power rack. Hold the resistance band with both hands —fingers interlocked—and step away from the rack, far enough to create tautness in the band.

Hold your hands close to the center of your chest, and assume an athletic stance with your torso upright, your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, and your knees at a slight bend.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a deep breath and brace your core, shoulders, glutes, and your grip.

  2. Slowly reach forward and straighten your arms, keeping your torso completely fixed in the same position.

  3. Pause for a five-count, holding this extended position.

  4. With a slow and controlled movement, bring your hands and the resistance band back to your chest.

  5. Exhale.

  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

  7. Turn to face the other direction and perform the same number of reps.

TIPS:

  • Ensure you are in a stable and strong position throughout the workout routine.
  • Keep your spine straight and your knees slightly bent through the full range of movement,
  • Avoid letting your shoulders or torso cave in or bend forward.
  • Maintain a braced core, glutes, and shoulders to fight the rotational pull of the band at all times.
  • For the purpose of symmetry and balance of strength throughout all your muscle groups, always complete each set both ways — unless you are addressing an existing imbalance.

What is the proper form when doing Pallof presses?

For optimal benefits, it is essential to maintain proper form when you do Pallof presses.

  1. Keep your tailbone tucked

Your body’s natural instincts will try to make you arch your lower back and push your butt out during this exercise to ease the workload of the abs. You’re the boss, so resist this by keeping your tailbone tucked down toward the floor by squeezing your abs. Hold that brace because the anterior pelvic tilt position increases the risk of lower-back strain. And while this anterior pelvic tilt position reduces your core benefits, it increases your risk of lower back pain.

  1. Maintain a taut resistance band

During the Pallof press exercise, the resistance band or cable will pull you toward the anchor, and if you don’t resist, it will twist your core. If you don’t experience that pull from the band, your position might be too close to the anchor, and therefore not tight enough. Thus, you will basically be wasting time because you won’t get the anti-rotation benefits. It’s best to make sure the band is tightened at the starting position, or you might have to use a heavier band or change your position.

  1. Keep your chest proud

To keep a proud chest, pull your shoulders down and backward to draw your shoulder blades together. It might help to imagine pinching a stress ball between your shoulder blades.

  1. Don’t rush

If you rip through the reps, you will soon use momentum instead of muscle power to do the presses. Again — wasting your time. Press slowly on each rep and pause at the full extension point before slowly straightening your arms and slowly drawing your hands back in. When you do this in a slow and controlled manner, you will feel the resistance band trying to rotate you. This allows you to concentrate the force of the anti-rotation away from your shoulders, back, and knees, and toward your core instead.

  1. Modify If You Feel a Twist in Your Knee

You should feel the rotation challenge in your core and midsection. If you feel the twist on the outside of your knees instead of your trunk, you might do better with the Pallof version done in a kneeling or half-kneeling position. This way you can train your core to resist strain without risking excessive knee strain.

  1. Keep Your Shoulders and Hips Steady

If the resistance band you use for Pallof presses is too strong, you might find your hips hiking up and your shoulders rotating. When this happens, your core won’t cope with resisting the rotation, and you will have to replace the band. If you’re experiencing this problem while using a cable, you’ll have to lighten the load.

  1. Pallof presses are core exercises, not arm exercises

Even though you use your arms to press the resistance band away from your chest, it is not an arm exercise. You use your arms to create instability in your core. The function of the press is to train the core anti-rotation skills. You can compare it to holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at arm’s length or at your chest. The greater the distance from your chest, the harder the core works to keep you balanced. So, focus on feeling the core muscles working and not the arm muscles.

Here’s how to make the Pallof Press more challenging

Adjusting the intensity level of the Pallof press is simple. Here are two small changes that you can make to ensure the exercise is perfect for your training level.

  1. Moving further away from the anchor point will make the press more challenging because the tension in the resistance band will be elevated.

  2. Using a stronger band and staying in the same position will also make it harder.

PALLOF PRESS BENEFITS

Every movement you make involves your spine in one way or another. What we’re talking about here are forces with which your spine must cope, whether in play or working out. The better your resistance against these forces, the better your movements and weight-lifting limits. The primary benefit of the Pallof press is training you to resist outside forces. However, there are more benefits to note.

  1. Anti-rotational strength: The Pallof press strengthens your abdominals and obliques in the rotational plane, thereby improving your ability to stabilize your hips and spine during swings and other explosive moves and strength exercises like deadlifts and squats.

  2. Great versatility: The Pallof press is a versatile exercise that can be performed in a variety of positions, training mobility from all angles and your core strength. For instance, it improves core stability and hip mobility simultaneously. Furthermore, it increases resistance to spinal flexion, rotation, and extension, as well as core stability.

  3. Great pre-workout exercise: A Pallof press is a great way of priming your muscles before performing deadlifts. It is ideal for warming up the muscles around the core to ensure they are ready to provide the tension needed to protect your spine.

  4. Side plank alternative: If you are one of many who lacks the hip, oblique, or shoulder strength to cope with holding side planks, the Pallof press trains the same muscles, offers the same benefits, and is loads easier to perform.

  5. A six-pack builder’s dream: There is no better exercise to have in your six-pack toolbox. However, only if you combine your Pallof presses with a healthy diet. You must understand that the most impressive six-pack can be hidden by a thin layer of body fat. So, the magic of head-turning abs involves developing the abdominal muscles and  maintaining a lean body.  If you have that in check, then, yes, the Pallof press provides enough muscular stress to build up your six-pack.

How many Pallof press reps should you do?

Reps and sets of this exercise are not set in stone, as they can be included in workout routines to suit different goals.

Here are some examples of different forms of programming to achieve your desired goal.

As a pre-workout exercise

  • Focus on muscle activation and control while using a light resistance band.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

For Hypertrophy

  • To build muscle, you’ll have to work a bit harder. Do 3 to 4 sets of 10 to15 reps each.
  • Rest for 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

For Core Strength

  • Here you need a stronger resistance band and aim to do 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Pallof Press Variations

The standard Pallof press offers multiple benefits, but alternating between the different versions of this exercise will prevent boredom and lack of focus. These are circumstances that increase injury risks. 

Below are several more variations to consider for your core training needs.

1. Rotational Pallof Press

2. Pallof Press with a Twist

3. Plank Drag

4. Lateral Pallof Walk

5. Angled Pallof Press

6. Rotation Pallof Walk with Band Pulls

7. Pallof V-Up with Press-Fly Combo

8. Half-Kneeling Pallof Press

9. Corner Pallof Press

10. Tall-Kneeling Overhead Pallof Press

In a nutshell

Your body will always experience rotational movement, in major or minor ways, when you perform different exercises like deadlifts and squats, and even when you run. Your body subconsciously corrects any rotation in order to balance and stabilize while you’re performing the movement.

The better you train your body to resist these rotations, the more effective your core stability will be and the safer your workouts and lifts will be.