I discovered the Pallof press years and years ago during physical therapy for a running injury.
Never would I have imagined it would become one of my favorite exercises. Back then, I dutifully performed my sets of 10 and then promptly forgot about them.
I was re-introduced to the Pallof press when I was rehabbing from my first pregnancy. And now it’s one of my top 3 favorite strength exercises (which, if you want to know, are the deadlift, military press and of course, the Pallof press).
Why? As I’ll get into in a sec, the Pallof press is a TRUE core exercise. It’s adaptable AF- there are endless variations and the difficulty can be scaled to meet any level. And you don’t need much to do it. It’s perfect for a home gym situation or a gym workout.
Most importantly, it scratches an itch that pregnant and postpartum people need to scratch when it comes to maintaining their core function. It’s safe to do throughout pregnancy and postpartum and it will go a long way to staving off many of the common aches and pains of pregnancy and the beyond.
The Pallof Press Is A Core Strength Exercise, Not An Abs Exercise
The Pallof press is a core exercise- not just an abdominal muscle exercise.
Most of the time when we think about the core, we’re really thinking just about the abs. The 6-pack. But turns out, the 6-pack is just one of your three layers of abdominal muscles and the abdominal muscles are only one component of your core musculature.
Your core, and I’m speaking to your deep core now, is made of your diaphragm, transverse abdominals, pelvic floor and a few spinal extensors. If everything is working as it should, these muscles work together in a coordinated and reflexive manner. This means, you can’t (or shouldn’t) really isolate any of these muscles.
When you start to train these muscles independently, their coordination and reflexive function goes out of whack. And when the core isn’t firing like it should, you won’t perform to your fullest potential. You might pee your pants. You might develop a myriad of aches and pains throughout your body.
Train Your Core Muscles To Be A Team
But I’m not here today to talk about core dysfunction- I just want you to know, your core muscles matter and it matters that your muscles are trained in a coordinated way.
With that in mind, please consider a standard abs exercise. How about sit-ups? Sit-ups aim to isolate the abdominal muscles.
Or consider a kegel. A kegel aims to isolate the pelvic floor.
In contrast, the Pallof press recruits the transverse abdominals, the obliques as well as the diaphragm and pelvic floor during each rep. It trains them to work as a coordinated team.
Kegels and sit-ups have their place. But for the average pregnant or postpartum person, the Pallof press has a way greater functional carryover to the kind of core strength that matters: The kind that helps you feel strong and get shit done.
I hope by now you’re firmly on Team Pallof. So I guess it’s time to tell you what’s involved:
What is a Pallof press?
Let’s get down to details.
The Pallof Press is a fantastic exercise for improving core stability and building core strength.
Specifically, it’s an anti-rotation exercise, which means it trains the muscles that resist trunk rotation.
How do you perform a Pallof Press?
The Pallof press can be perfomed with a cable machine or a resistance band. In this post, I’ll focus on Pallof press with band, since that is most accessible to folks exercising from home.
You can anchor your resistance band by looping it around a heavy piece of furniture or a weight rack. Alternatively, purchase a resistance band anchor point that you can secure in the hinge of a regular household door.
In the standard Pallof press, you’ll set your starting position perpendicular to your anchor point. You’ll set your anchor point between chest and shoulder height relative to your chosen variation.
To begin, find a neutral, stacked posture in which your rib cage sits over your pelvis. Keep an eye on your rib cage, don’t let it flare upwards (nipples should point straight ahead). Your pelvis should not be excessively tipped forward or tucked under. Maintain this position for the duration of your reps.
Hold the resistance band, one hand over the other, close to your chest. As you exhale to engage your core and pelvic floor (if you need a tutorial, click here), slowly press it out in front of you. You should feel the resistance band pulling you toward the anchor point; your job is to resist rotation. If you don’t feel a gentle pull towards the anchor point, step out to put more tension on the band.
You should not feel your arm muscles doing much work. The Pallof press is a core exercise, not an arm exercise.
Pallof press variations:
Here are 5 Pallof press variations listed from easiest to most challenging.
1) Supine Pallof Press
I don’t often assign the supine Pallof press, but it’s a great option to have in your back pocket if you’re having any issues managing intra-abdominal pressure. If you feel pelvic pressure or discomfort with the upright versions, try this variation instead.
Set up by lying on your back, knees bent. Your set up is only slightly different than it would be for the upright pallof press variations. While lying down, you’ll want to have the band anchored to the height of your arms extended overhead.
2) Half-kneeling Pallof Press
The half-kneeling position is fantastic because it:
1) Takes your lower body out of the equation, making your core work harder
2) It encourages your core to remain in a nice stacked posture
Set up in a half kneeling position (both knees at 90 degrees, vertical shins) with your “down leg” closest to the anchor point. Engage your back glute to help create stability in this position.
3) Tall-kneeling Pallof Press
The tall-kneeling pallof press is a little more of a challenge than the half-kneeling pallof press. In tall-kneeling, your base of support is smaller and less stable.
As with the half-kneeling version, the tall-kneeling pallof press takes your lower body out of the equation and forces your upper body to do more work.
4) Split Stance Pallof Press
If the half-kneeling or tall-kneeling variations are hard on your knees, you can take it straight to a split stance variation.
Set up in a split stance position with your back leg closest to the anchor point. Center your weight over your front mid-foot. Back foot is pointed straight ahead, back heel is off the ground. Both legs are active in this variation.
Ideally, your anchor point will be at chest height, but as you can see in my video, you can make this work even if your anchor point is a bit low.
5) Standing Pallof Press
The standard Pallof press is the standing version.
Set up by standing with feet shoulder width apart. If your feet are wider, the exercise will be a little easier. If they’re closer together, it’ll be a little harder.
Beyond these variations, the sky is the limit.
You can perform the Pallof press on one leg.
You can perform it as an isometric (press and hold for 30 seconds).
You can add in rotation (press out and rotate away from the anchor point).
Troubleshooting: “I can’t feel my core working.”
If you can’t feel your core working while performing your Pallof press, here are a few ways to troubleshoot:
- Take an extra step or two away from your anchor point. Put more tension on your resistance band.
- As you press, exhale forcefully through pursed lips, like you’re blowing out 100 birthday candles. Exhaling this way helps kick on your abdominal muscles.
- Make sure you’re really perpendicular to your anchor point. I know, I know. But when I troubleshoot with clients, one of the number one things we fix is the initial setup. Your band should be coming across your chest, not from behind you.
Is the Pallof press safe for pregnancy?
The Pallof press is a really great exercise for pregnancy. The growing fetus throws a kink into the function of the deep core system; the Pallof press, performed correctly, can help maintain good function.
Most pallof press variations are safe for pregnancy. I recommend sticking with the upright variations. Pay good attention to proper form and stop if you feel pressure through your abdominal midline or into your pelvic floor.
If you experience discomfort with the half-kneeling or split stance variations, stick to the tall kneeling and standing versions.
Is the Pallof press safe for postpartum?
Just as the Pallof press is a solid choice to help maintain core function during pregnancy, it’s a super effective tool to help retrain core function as you return to exercise after pregnancy. As you get stronger, it becomes an exercise to build a rock solid core that will serve you into your beyond.
All of the Pallof press variations are safe postpartum, as long as they’re comfortable.
If you’re learning how to manage a pelvic organ prolapse, you might find the supine variation a nice place to start. In most cases, it’s fine to start with the half-kneeling variation (that’s where I start 95% of my clients).
The Pallof press is a fantastic core exercise to add to your routine, whether you’re pregnant, postpartum or you’re a regular ol’ human who wants to feel strong in their body.
I hope I’ve convinced you that the Pallof press is a GREAT exercise that can be done with endless variations to tailor the challenge.
It’s not just an abs exercise– the Pallof press trains your core muscles to work as a team. This is an important distinction because training all of your core muscles together leads to better stabilization and strength throughout the entire midsection (including your abs).
Give a few of these variations a try – and then let me know how you do in the comments below! You can also let me know if there are other exercises you’d like to see featured as an Exercise Spotlight😉.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to follow the link and make a purchase. Please understand that I recommend these products because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to purchase one. The commission is just a perk of sharing good information with people who appreciate it and it does help support this blog (thanks in advance!). Please do not spend any money on any of these items unless you feel they will enrich your home workout experience.
Make the most of the Pallof press.
Master your core and pelvic floor.👇🏽👇🏽
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Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I also offer personal training services and consultations to folks locally (Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland) and online.