If you’ve used our coaching programs or looked at our exercise library on Youtube you’ll know that we like to use a lot of half-kneeling and tall-kneeling exercises. This is because we like to utilise a “ground up” approach when designing training progressions – building safe and proficient movement patterns through the use of developmental positions. These positions are in reference to the methods in which baby humans learn to explore movement. As adults, it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement – especially since time spend sitting chained to a desk with a sedentary lifestyle, has lead to loss of mobility and reflexive motor control for most.
The half-kneeling position is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes. By lowering the centre of mass (compared to standing), the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion through the pelvis and lumbar spine – which is common and more difficult to overcome in a standing position. In other words using the half-kneeling position is a great way of a making an exercise more self limiting. This simply means you are reducing the chances of executing an exercise with poor form or your form degrading as fatigue builds up during a set.
So with that in mind, enter half-kneeling:
If you’re not utilising it at some point in your warm-up, training, or corrective exercise strategy – perhaps you should be.
When to use half-kneeling?
To echo the message of smart people such as Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff , and Mike Robertson who have really made this stuff mainstream, we need proximal stability to have distal mobility. In other words, we need relative stability through the trunk to make full use of the range of motion available in joints such as the hips and shoulders. In other other words, we need a reflexive core that activates at the correct time and with the appropriate intensity, to have arms and legs that perform well. It doesn’t matter how much force you can generate with your extremities if your trunk is not in the position to oppose and transmit that force nor does it matter how rigid you can make your core if the intensity of the contraction is not appropriate or is not timed properly, based on the specific movement demand.
The base of support is fixed at hip width or more narrow. Narrowing the base will increase the demand on trunk musculature, and requires the athlete to stabilise reflexively with intrinsic musculature throughout the body as opposed to simply ‘hanging out’ on their joints and ligaments. In addition, balance overcorrections will lead to you falling on your butt. Half kneeling, forces you to develop reflexive, well-timed contractions from head to toe, in order to remain stable. This is something that carries over to all athletic endeavours, especially a high speed, highly co-ordinated movement such as the golf swing.
Once the position is dialled in, there are countless drills to progressively challenge the trunk while achieving dynamic movement through the extremities. Ageless classics like chops and lifts performed in half-kneeling are a some of my favourites though, as these movements allow us to incorporate thoracic rotation, with the half-kneeling position ensuring a stable lumbar spine. This is similar to the demands of rotational sports such as golf. Furthermore, as we know, faulty rotation mechanics with movement coming from an unstable lumbar spine rather than the thoracic spine is a big cause of back pain amongst rotational sport athletes.
Pressing, pulling and shoulder stabilisation
We humans move in alternating and reciprocal patterns. Look at a person’s gait for example, pelvic and thoracic rotation alternate back and forth; reciprocal rotation in one direction at the pelvis and another in the trunk; flexing and extending the opposite arm and leg; etc. Single arm pressing and pulling work in half kneeling with the opposite leg up mimics this pattern, and is very powerful for developing the diagonal and unilateral stabilisation needed during dynamic standing activities, sifting your weight in the golf swing for example.
It is an ideal position for some focused shoulder stability work or overhead work to because it minimises ones ability to compensate with the lower body. With a motionless platform, all the work goes to the shoulder complex, where we want it. This is also makes it a great place to go for someone who experiences low back discomfort when performing loaded overhead movements, as it minimises the extension moment in the lumbar spine.
Great examples of half kneeling work in this instance are half-kneeling single-arm cable rows, half-kneeling cable pulldowns, half-kneeling single-arm overhead press, and half-kneeling single Kettlebell holds
TL;DR: The half-kneeling is awesome for reducing movement compensations, reducing form degradation and creating a more ‘self-limiting’ exercise, as well as increasing the core stabilisation requirements. Prioritise mastering the base position first, then implement one or two of the myriad of variations in your warm-ups, strength work or core training program. Progress and modify as you begin to improve your control.