Kneeling exercises challenge the abs, power up the hams and glutes, and allow you to do overhead presses without blowing out your spine.
Here's what you need to know...
- Don't roll your eyes. These aren't wimpy rehab exercises. There are several difficult kneeling exercises that will challenge even the most advanced lifter.
- The half-kneeling cable anti-rotation press is one of the most underestimated core exercises in existence.
- Louie Simmons uses heavy loads on the kneeling squat to target the glutes of certain powerlifters.
- The Nordic ham curl is an incredible hamstring exercise. Highly advanced lifters can do these without the use of their hands to reverse the direction at the bottom of the movement.
- The half-kneeling overhead press is an amazing shoulder exercise that transfers well to the military press, spares the spine, and allows for sound levels of balance and stability.
Get ready for some challenging new exercises that'll leave you floored... literally. Here are 13 different movements performed from a kneeling position that are worth including in your program from time to time.
1 – Ab Wheel Rollout
You'll be hard-pressed to find any exercise that hammers the anterior core like the ab wheel rollout. If you can do 20 rollouts while keeping a posterior pelvic tilt (glute squeeze) throughout the set, you're a badass.
This exercise heavily activates the upper and lower rectus abdominis and the external and internal obliques. In fact, it's so effective that it can be dangerous if you jump right into it without proper progression. Get in a couple of bouts of RKC planks prior to starting ab wheel rollouts and don't go overboard on the volume.
Rollouts from the kneeling position are highly challenging and they'll work the core musculature even harder if you squeeze the glutes, which produces a slight posterior pelvic tilt and prevents the abdominal wall from being stretched during the exercise. This is important because the ab wheel rollout is an anti-extension core stability exercise that strengthens the spine's ability to resist hyperextension.
Some advanced lifters can even perform them from the standing position. Try it if you dare.
2 – Band Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
This is a very effective anti-rotation core stability exercise. It targets all of the muscles that produce, or in this case resist, rotation of the spine, pelvis, and hip joints. This includes the glutes on the side of the leg placed in front of the body. Make sure you hit both sides by repeating the movement from the opposite direction.
3 – Half-Kneeling Cable Anti-Rotation Press
This is one of the most underestimated core exercises in existence. It'll strengthen the obliques, erectors, multifidi, and glutes. You can use a rope, a chain, or a long bar to perform this movement, and you can toy around with different body positions and vectors. All work very well. Make sure you repeat with the opposite side.
4 – Kneeling Cable Crunch
Bodybuilders have used the kneeling cable crunch for many years for good reason – it's a great dynamic abdominal exercise. You can experiment to figure out what set-up feels best, but make sure you're getting in spinal flexion (mostly in the thoracic region and not the lumbar region) and not just hip flexion.
5 – Cable Side-Crunch
The kneeling cable side-crunch is a very effective movement that will target the obliques better than the kneeling cable crunch.
6 – Band Kneeling Hip-Thrust
I first learned about this exercise from physical therapist Mike Reinhold and I automatically assumed it was a rehab exercise that wasn't appropriate for stronger lifters. I was wrong!
You can really load up this movement and elicit huge levels of gluteus maximus activation. In fact, I like this exercise a little more than kneeling squats or stallions, which you'll learn about below.
7 – Kneeling Squat
The kneeling squat effectively targets the glutes and you can use very heavy loads. I first learned about the kneeling squat from Louie Simmons, who uses them with certain powerlifters from time to time to bring up glute strength.
Do them in a power rack with the safety pins in place. Sometimes it's difficult to rack the bar and you could be forced to drop it. In addition, make sure you have ample padding for your knees.
8 – The Stallion
I recently learned about The Stallion from freakishly strong powerlifter Chris Duffin, who at a bodyweight of 220 has squatted 860 pounds with just knee wraps, sumo deadlifted 900 pounds with straps, and sumo deadlifted 405 pounds for 40 reps in under one minute. You're combining a kneeling squat and a band kneeling hip-thrust. Duffin likes to use the cambered bar with these.
9 – Nordic Ham Curl
The Nordic ham curl has been examined quite thoroughly in the literature for good reason – it's a highly effective hamstring exercise. It can help prevent hamstring injuries due to the eccentric emphasis, which shifts the hamstring's maximum force potential to longer muscle lengths.
This is an incredible hamstring exercise, and you'll get much better at controlling the eccentric portion of the movement as you continue to do it. Highly advanced lifters can do these without the use of their hands to reverse the direction at the bottom of the movement! Rare is the lifter who can perform 5 bodyweight Nordic ham curls without using his hands. Can you do it?
10 – Half-Kneeling Overhead Press
I first discovered this exercise while attempting to find an overhead press variation that mimicked the standing military press but decreased stress on the low back. While I love the military press, sometimes it irritates the lumbar region if you don't control hyperextension of the spine.
However, I always loathed the seated overhead press because it didn't provide any back support and made me feel off-balance. I like seated overhead pressing with back support, but I felt that it didn't transfer quite as well to the military press, probably because I lean backward considerably and turn the movement into a hybrid incline/overhead press movement.
Enter the half-kneeling overhead press. It's an amazing shoulder exercise that transfers well to the military press, spares the spine, and allows for sound levels of balance and stability. T Nation contributor Ben Bruno has performed them with the Dead-Squat™ Bar with great success. Make sure you do these in a power rack with the safety pins set at proper height and make sure you alternate which leg is positioned forward between successive sets.
11 – Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
This is an excellent accessory movement for the upper body pressing musculature and it's well tolerated by lifters.
12 – Half-Kneeling Single-Arm 45-Degree Row
Most upper-body pulling exercises focus on vertical vectors (think chins and pulldowns) and horizontal vectors (think seated, one arm, and inverted rows). Sure, they hit other angles, too, but these upper-body pulling exercises usually involve some degree of upright rowing (bent-over rows and dumbbell chest supported rows).
Unfortunately, the vector that's halfway between vertical and horizontal tends to be ignored, except with the lifter who cheats on his lat pulldowns and relies heavily on momentum. The half-kneeling single-arm 45-degree row, however, lends itself perfectly to this vector, but it's better to perform the movement with a forward lean at the top of the movement. This gives the lats a better stretch. Transition into a more upright posture at the bottom of the movement to better target scapular retraction. Either way works fine.
13 – Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Horizontal Row
This is an effective rowing variation and you can experiment with different vectors to better target certain portions of the upper back. You can perform the movement with a purely horizontal vector or start from the low-pulley position and row with an upward angle.
Anything But Wimpy
Kneeling exercises shouldn't be thought of as wimpy movements better suited for rehabilitation. Many will challenge even the advanced lifter. Try a few and see for yourself.