Abdominals

6 Pallof Press Muscles Worked & Simple Exercise Variations

pallof press muscles worked

Many common core exercises, like the standard crunch or sit-ups, primarily involve forward and backward movements in the sagittal plane.

However, while these movements are great at targeting your abdominal muscles, they’re not always effective at developing overall core strength.  

Over time, this imbalance can lead to a rounded upper back, potentially causing lower back pain and poor posture.  


Recommended Reading – 7 Effective Cable Ab Exercises For Ripped Abs


A great alternative is the Pallof press exercise, which is one of the best exercises for developing a strong core while minimizing stress on your lower back.  

Keep reading as we delve into its benefits, variations, and the Pallof press muscles worked.   

What Is The Pallof Press

The cable Pallof press, sometimes called the belly press or cable core press, is an anti-rotation exercise that works the entire core.  

The movement takes its name from physical therapist John Pallof, who introduced it to Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore and it was these well-renowned strength coaches who helped popularize the exercise.

While it’s usually performed on a cable machine, you can also do pallof presses by attaching a resistance band to a suitable anchor point at chest height.  

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to do it with proper form so you can fire up those deep core muscles.  

paloff-press-with-rotation

How To Do the Pallof Press

  1. Attach a single handle to the cable stack and set it to chest height.  Alternatively, anchor your band to a suitable stable object.  
  2. Stand perpendicular to the cable machine or anchor point and take hold of the handle or band with both hands.  
  3. Take a few steps to the side to create resistance in the cable or band.  
  4. Hold both hands immediately in front of your chest with feet shoulder-width apart.  This is the starting position. 
  5. Brace your core and keep your shoulder blades back. 
  6. Now, slowly press the handle or band by extending your arms fully until they form a straight line keeping your hands at shoulder height. 
  7. Make sure to keep your body square and torso upright while resisting any rotational forces that try to pull you towards the anchor point.
  8. Hold the fully extended position for a couple of seconds, then slowly bring your hands back to your chest using control.

What Are The Benefits Of Doing The Pallof Press

Aside from increasing core strength, let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of the pallof press.  

Pallof Press

One thing we love about the pallof press is that it’s perfect for all abilities as it’s so versatile.  

If you’re a beginner, it’s easy to regress the exercise by performing it in a half-kneeling position.  

Alternatively, if you want something more challenging you could try the Pallof press figure 8 variation.  

The standard Pallof press is a great exercise to do if you want to keep your lumbar spine in a neutral position.  

When you do a Pallof press with good form there should be no movement in your spine, this helps to minimize the risk of injury and is a good option if you have any pre-existing issues like low back pain.  

The Pallof press is a highly effective functional exercise as it targets the core for its true purpose.

Unlike common beliefs that associate the core primarily with crunches and sit-ups, the structure of our core is more complex.  

Its main functions include resisting trunk extension, managing posterior pelvic tilt, and handling stress through rotation or anti-rotation.

The Pallof press exercise taps into these core functionalities making movements we undertake in daily life easier to do.  

This makes it an essential addition to any workout routine.

The Pallof press can be a great way to improve the strength and stability of the shoulders.  

This is because it’s an isometric exercise, meaning the muscles must contract to stabilize the shoulder joint against resistance.  

In doing so, this helps to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles which can help build stronger, more stable shoulders while reducing the likelihood of developing common shoulder-related issues.

Pallof Press Muscles Worked

The Pallof Press targets the muscle groups of the core, including the transverse abdominis, external and internal oblique muscles, and rectus abdominis, without stress on the lumbar spine.

It also engages secondary stabilizer muscles in the shoulders and hips and even a little of your glutes, making it an effective exercise for improving core stability, balance, and posture. 

Let’s consider each of these muscles in turn and how they are recruited when doing the Pallof press.  

Your rectus abdominis makes up the front part of your abdomen and is often referred to as the “six-pack” muscles.  

When doing a Pallof press, these muscles engage to resist spinal extension and maintain a stable position.

These muscles wrap around both sides of your body and are crucial for rotating the trunk and resisting unwanted rotational forces.

In the Pallof press, they work to prevent any side bending or rotational pull helping to keep your upper body straight and aligned throughout the exercise.

The deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominis acts a bit like a corset around your lower abdomen.

During the Pallof press exercise, it activates to help stabilize the spine and pelvis, resisting any anterior pelvic tilt and helping you to maintain good posture throughout. 

These long and thin back muscles run down either side of your spine and while they are not the primary focus of the Pallof press, they are recruited to assist in maintaining an upright posture and resisting spinal extension throughout the exercise.

Your glutes are big and powerful muscles that help to stabilize your hips and pelvis.  

Although indirectly involved, they are engaged to maintain lower body stability and alignment during the Pallof press, ensuring that the focus remains on the core.

Your hip flexors are engaged lightly and primarily act as stabilizers to maintain the posture and resist the pull of the cable or band, especially in variations where a wider stance is adopted.

Pallof Press Variations for Targeting Specific Core Muscles

As we mentioned above there are some great variations of the Pallof press you can incorporate into your core training whether you’re a beginner or a more advanced gym-goer.  

By kneeling, you lower your center of gravity, which changes the stability challenge.

This Pallof press variation requires more engagement from the core to help you maintain balance, especially from the hips and lower abdominals, to resist rotation.

Sometimes called the split stance pallof press, this version is performed with one knee on the ground with the other foot out in front, creating a split stance.  

This variation increases the demand on your hip stabilizers and core to maintain alignment and resist rotational forces, offering a balance challenge.

pallof press with rotation

After pressing the handle or band out in front of your body, add a controlled rotation of the torso by moving out and away from the anchor point.

This variation of the pallof press increases the rotational resistance your core must counteract, intensifying the focus on your obliques.

Sometimes called the vertical Pallof press, this version involves extending your arms overhead instead of pressing them out in front of your torso.  

By performing overhead presses, this variation significantly increases the challenge to your core, particularly the rectus abdominis and obliques, as you work to resist extension and maintain a neutral spine against the leverage created by raising your arms.

Start in a standing position close to the anchor point and press the handle or band forward keeping it in line with the center of your chest.

Then, slowly walk sideways moving your entire body away from the anchor point, which increases how much resistance you’re working against.

This variation not only challenges your core but also incorporates a dynamic movement, testing your ability to maintain core engagement and resist rotation as the tension increases.

Common Mistakes And How To Avoid Them In The Pallof Press

Below are some of the more common mistakes when doing a Pallof press.   

One of the most common mistakes when doing the Pallof press is using excessive weight.  

This can result in poor form and lead to ineffective activation of the core muscles by limiting your range of motion.

To avoid this, start with light resistance and focus on perfecting your form before gradually progressing to heavy loads.  

Standing too far from or too close to the anchor point can affect the effectiveness of the Pallof press.

Ensure that you’re positioned side-on to the cable machine or base of support, with your feet shoulder width apart and your body in a stable position.

Some people may neglect to engage their core muscles properly during the Pallof press, relying too much on their arms or shoulders.

To avoid this, focus on bracing your core throughout the movement, maintaining a neutral spine, and resisting any rotational forces.

Comparing Pallof Press with Other Core Stability Exercises

The Pallof press is typically regarded as a superior core strength exercise but how does it compare with other common ab exercises?  

Let’s take a look.

plank

While the plank primarily targets the anterior core muscles (rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis), the Pallof press recruits more muscle groups, including the obliques and deeper core stabilizers.

Unlike the plank, which is an isometric hold and involves maintaining a static position, the Pallof press requires controlled movement, making it more functional for activities that require core stability during dynamic movements.

The Pallof press is considered a more back-friendly alternative when compared to the crunch exercise.  

This is because the Pallof press involves minimal spinal flexion which reduces the risk of straining your lower back.  

Conversely, when you perform a crunch it’s necessary to work with a rounded back and roll the spine up off the floor.  

Russian twists are a dynamic rotational movement that works the obliques and core with a focus on rotational strength and agility.

In comparison, the Pallof press focuses on resisting rotation, thereby improving core stability and strength which is directly applicable to everyday movements and athletic performance.

The Pallof press is beneficial for reinforcing the core’s natural function as a stabilizer, whereas Russian twists are better for developing rotational power and muscular endurance.

Both the Pallof press and bird dog are anti-rotational exercises, but they target core stability from different angles meaning that they complement each other well, so it’s a good idea to incorporate both into your core workouts.

The bird dog emphasizes coordination and balance through contralateral movement.  

The Pallof press however is more about resisting movement against outside forces thereby making it a better choice for improving core stability and strength.

Wrapping Up

While traditional core exercises like crunches and sit-ups have their place, incorporating anti-rotational exercises like the Pallof press can take your core training to the next level by working the deep stabilizer muscles and promoting functional strength.

Research has shown that core strength is not just about developing a well-defined six pack, it’s also closely linked to better posture, balance, and reduced low back pain.

By prioritizing exercises that challenge core stability, you’re not only building a stronger midsection but also enhancing your body’s ability to move efficiently and while resisting injury.  

So, whether you’re a fitness enthusiast looking to improve athletic performance or simply someone who wants to move and feel better in everyday activities, don’t overlook the importance of core strength and give the Pallof press a go! 

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