Smart Core Training Week 1 – The Pallof Press
Updated: Apr 9
A couple months ago at the Carlisle Med Gym, we decided to begin a series of videos on core training for our Facebook page. Specifically, we wanted to give people some updated concepts on core training that bring us further away from the bodybuilding style of core training, which focuses on six-pack abs and pure strength of the core muscles over spine health and performance.
Instead of six-pack abs, what most people really need is a style of core training that leads to greater health of the spine and overall performance of the core. This style of health and performance training for the core, rather than bodybuilding/supermodel training, is sorely lacking in the fitness world at large, so we wanted to shed some light on it.
With that said, if you’ve had any kind of low back injury or chronic pain in the past, this series is for you. If you’ve been doing sit-ups and crunches for years and wonder why your back still hurts, this series is for you. If you want to perform better in a sport, or just in daily life, then this series is for you. And lastly, if you just want to know some good core exercises that won’t hurt your back, but will effectively train your core muscles, then this series is definitely for you!
We called this series, “Smart Core Training” and I’d like to share these videos here on my blog to help spread the message! I also plan to give some extra detail on each exercise that may not be included in the videos that we filmed.
The problem that we hope to solve for many people is the problem created by not understanding how the core and the low back function. Due to this lack of understanding, core exercises of the past, and even many of those still commonly practiced today, train the core muscles in a manner that is not congruent with how it truly functions.
Specifically, the common core exercises of the past involved training the core with flexion and extension of the abdominal muscles, which in turn causes repeated flexion and extension of the spine. While training this way does train the strength of the abdominal muscles, unfortunately, it also trains the spine in a way that causes instability and excessive stress on the intervertebral discs and other structures of the spine.
The lumbar spine (low back) in particular, is not designed for excessive movement, but rather it is designed for stability and load bearing. You can see this by looking at the difference in structure of the vertebrae of the lumbar spine versus the vertebrae of the thoracic and cervical spine. The vertebrae of the lumbar spine are much bulkier and less suited for flexion, extension, and rotation than the thoracic and cervical spine vertebrae.
Because of that fact, the manner in which we train the core muscles, should line up with the structure of the lumbar spine, and not encourage excessive lumbar flexion, extension, and rotation. Exercises like crunches, sit-ups, Russian twists, and other such exercises encourage too much movement at the lumbar spine, and thus encourage instability at a part of the body that is especially designed for stability.
In addition to this, the true role of the core in real life is primarily to stiffen and transfer force efficiently between the upper and lower body. This means that to effectively train the core, we should be looking for exercises that promote stiffening and stabilization around the trunk of the body, while simultaneously creating movement at the extremities.
In our first video, I highlight the Pallof Press as a stability exercise which encourages movement at the arms, while stability is maintained against a rotational force through the core. Check it out:
As you can see, the Pallof Press is a good rotational stability exercise for the core. If you think about it, you are effectively doing an upright plank, while the force on your core is directed in a rotational manner, rather than a normal plank in which the force is directed straight down on the spine by gravity.
This adds another layer of core stability on top of exercises like planks, and having this rotational stability is essential for everyday life as well as high performance.
In everyday life, even the walking or running gait that we use places rotational forces on the core, as we go through a reciprocal arm and leg swinging motion to propel ourselves forward. Those people who lack the ability to maintain even a modest level of rotational stability tend to wear down the spine faster when doing basic tasks like walking or running for a distance.
Other tasks, like picking up something with one hand instead of two, or opening a heavy door put rotational forces on our bodies that we must be able to effectively stabilize against. If you can stabilize effectively, you will keep your spine healthy and move more efficiently.
Finally, in many sports there is a large rotational stability and power component required.
If you think about hitting a tennis ball, or swinging a baseball bat, the ability to rotate with power actually comes from the hips, legs, and arms, which create tremendous rotational forces. You must then use the core to effectively transfer this created energy through the torso to meet the ball with the racket or bat, and the core then must also stabilize to prevent excessive spine movement after making contact with the ball.
So, even activities and sports that require great rotational force and power, actually require that you maintain stiffness and stability through the torso to transfer this force, rather than creating rotation with the core.
The below video also demonstrates this concept. It features Dr. Stuart McGill and his work with two elite MMA fighters, who must use the core to create stiffness and stability against great rotational forces created with the arms and legs during punches and kicks.
The Pallof Press, then, is a great way to begin training this rotational stability. I usually like to begin, as I said in the video, with 5-10 second holds, which serves to create strength, stability, and endurance through the core. You can later progress to performing repeated reps of more rapid in and out movements with the arms, to force the core to stabilize quicker and more reactively.
So, to summarize the Pallof Press:
What is it?
The Pallof Press is an excellent rotational core stability exercise, which can be used to develop baseline stability and endurance against rotational forces, and can be progressed to challenge the core in a more dynamic manner as well.
The Pallof Press can be performed for 1-3 sets of 3-5 ten second holds facing each direction. This can be progressed to performing 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps, while progressing the weight to increase the challenge.
This is highly variable, as the Pallof Press can be used 2-3x/week initially at a low intensity to more rapidly develop endurance and stability at the core. As it is progressed to a more challenging level, however, it should drop down to only once or twice a week, with other core training options mixed in with it.
That’s it! Now you know a bit more about the Pallof Press, including the why, how, and when of performing it. If you have any questions that I didn’t answer, I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to directly contact me through my contact page, or leave a comment below!