The Pallof Press Times Ten

The Pallof press…what the heck is that?  If you are a regular reader (thank you) then you probably have heard me mention this ab exercise before.  In fact, I included it in my post last week “Top 10 Training Tools: Tool #2, Superbands.”  And while I love the standard Pallof press, there are actually a number of variations that can keep you from getting bored and that can increase the level of difficulty of this particular exercise.

Before getting started on the actual exercises I want to make a few points.  I have made these points in other posts, but they are important and I want to repeat them here.  First off, your abs are meant for stability, to resist movement.  Your core holds your body up (sure, your legs hold you up too, but if you had no core muscles your upper body would just slump over) and helps to resist movement.  Everything is attached to it ~ it’s job is to be the pillar.  So spending a bunch of time doing crunches not only isn’t particularly good for your back (see my post “Ab Do’s and Don’ts“), but it isn’t training your body to resist movement.  Just to make my point once again, think of how a body is used in sports, let’s take the game of soccer.  There is a lot of running, stopping, changing direction in soccer.  As you run forward, stop, turn, etc you are relying on your core to resist the forces being applied ~ otherwise you would run forward, stop…and your body would flop forward.

Second point I want to make about abs, which I’ve said before ~ washboard abs come from being LEAN.  You can do all the ab exercises you want, and you might have abs of steel, but you have to be pretty lean for them to show.  And doing ab exercises to get rid of fat covering them…ain’t gonna happen.  You can’t “spot train.”  In other words, working a particular muscle doesn’t make the fat covering it disappear.  Fat comes off your body by burning more calories than you take in, and it comes off from all over your body, not just from the area that you have been exercising the hell out of.

Okay, with that said, hopefully you still want to work those abs.  Having a strong core is still important, even if you don’t have a 6 pack.  Having a strong core will help you move better, will help resist injury and will help support your low back.  All good reasons to include core exercises in your workout (stay away from “ab classes” ~ they often involve poor exercise choices, e.g. crunches and they feed into the idea that somehow your abs are more important than the rest of your body…include ab exercises as part of a total body workout instead).

Let’s start with the basic Pallof press before moving on to its variations, for those who may have missed it in previous posts (and if you’re wondering where the name Pallof press came from, John Pallof, a physical therapist, is credited with its creation).   Here is a cable version, although you can just as easily do this with a resistance band.

As you can see, both hands are grasping the handle, and starting from your chest, you extend your arms straight out in front of you, then return back to your chest.  Two very simple variations of this are to 1) extend your arms slower…e.g. count 1, 2, 3 slowly until your arms are fully extended and 2) hold the extended position for a set period of time, say 3-5 seconds on each rep.  As your hands move further from your body you will feel the pull of the weight from the cable machine.  Your job is to resist the pull and keep your body in a steady, upright position.

Another quick and easy variation is to change your stance.  The stance in the video above is a good starting point, but there are a myriad of ways to modify this.  A good one to try is a “tall kneeling” position ~ make sure your chest is up, glutes are tight.  Here is my coach, using a resistance band for this variation:

Another quick variation is a half-kneeling stance.  In this video clip my coach is combining a half-kneeling stance with a 5 second hold at the end position.

By switching to a tall kneeling or half-kneeling position you are taking some of your leg strength out of the exercise, making the core work a bit harder.

And one more stance variation, a split stance:

Another version I like to give to my clients is called Pallof press alphabet.  This version is again taking advantage of the difficulty of having your arms in the fully extended position.  Here you extend your arms and then make the letters of the alphabet with your hands.  Besides getting the challenge of holding your arms fully extended for a longer period of time (trust me, you cannot draw the alphabet in 5 seconds), you are creating movement, which your core must work even harder to resist.  You can do this one from A-Z or you can draw letters for a set period of time (I generally use 30 seconds).  In this version Tony is using the 1/2″ superband, but this can also be done using a cable machine:

So those are a lot of ways to mix it up by altering your stance and altering what you are doing with your arms.  There are a few more versions of a Pallof press which I think are worthwhile.  The first is called a vertical Pallof press.  In the video clip below the guy is really in more of a lunge position ~ this is fine, as it will add challenge to your legs, but I would start with a basic split stance, i.e. one leg in front, one leg in back, but not in a squatting position.  The things to note in this version are that your hands start on your shoulders and then extend straight above your head.  This is not a triceps extension exercise, which a lot of people want to make it into.  Think of extending your arms straight above your head ~ you are not pressing forward.

Next up is a lateral Pallof press.  This video clip is a bit longer, about 2 1/2 minutes, but Nick shows multiple versions of this exercise.  You can skip ahead to about :30, where he demonstrates the exercise in a half-kneeling position.  Then he shows a standing version, and finally he shows the same exercise using a resistance band.  All good stuff:

Are you still with me?  Is your head spinning yet?  Well, we’re not quite done.  Here’s my coach combining a regular Pallof press with a lateral version.  Pretty cool:

Okay, last one, I promise.  Once again, my coach, Tony Gentilcore, doing what he calls a Pallof press ISO walkout.  This is making use once again of time with your arms fully extended.  And then he adds some lateral walking.

You might have noticed that most of these video clips are of my coach…guess what I do a lot of?  Pallof press variations are very popular at Cressey Performance, where I train.  I actually love them because they are quite simple to execute, but you can really feel those abs grabbing on to resist the pull from the weight or resistance band.  The interesting thing is that of all the times I have been to my local Boston Sports Club (I have been lifting there twice a week for a year and a half) I think I have seen this exercise performed only once or twice by someone other than me.  But I see a ton of crunches and bicycles.  Crunches are so old school…try these Pallof press variations for a challenge that will work your abs the way they were meant to be worked.  Enjoy!!

About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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