Using Half-Kneeling In Your Strength and Conditioning Program: Part 2
In Part 1, I discussed the purpose of using the half-kneeling stance in your program. Now it’s time to get to the fun stuff;
#1: How to get into a proper half-kneeling position
#2: A few half-kneeling movements you can perform to get the most bang-for-your-buck
How to Get Into Legit Half-Kneeling
I went over the basics of how to get into half-kneeling in Part 1, but I want to get into more of the nuances because if you are not properly set-up you won’t receive much benefit.
Think of the legs like either side of a railroad track. They should be lined up straight with the back foot plantar-flexed so that you are not deriving any stability off of those toes.
One of the most common errors I see is the back foot being turned in excessively. This is because the trainee is attempting to compensate for their lack of hip internal rotation by artificially creating more hip external rotation. When this is the case, I’ll usually manually move their foot into alignment and they’ll typically respond by exclaiming, “Fuck me, that’s way more of a hip flexor stretch!”
Turning our viewpoint to the side, the back knee needs to sit directly underneath the back hip.
I used the analogy that you should be able to plunge a sword through the top of your head all the way through that back knee. It’s not enough just to be in that position, however. You need to own it by engaging the living hell out of that fanny (in this case, the left). This will ensure that you are not only more stable, but also getting more of a stretch in that same-side hip flexor.
Also, take the time to “feel” the majority of your weight filter through that back knee. It will take some practice, but you should be able to lift your front foot just off the floor. This is when you know you have a proper weight distribution from front-to-back.
I specified “front-to-back” weight distribution because now it’s time to talk about THE most common error in half-kneeling;
Excessive lateral weight shift
It looks like the below photo.
It will almost always be a tendency to flood the down-knee side because it’s just more natural to “sit” into the side where you have your weight. As a coach, I spend the majority of my time keeping a trainee’s weight even from side-to-side. It’s one of those things that isn’t necessarily always obvious, so you have to be vigilant about it.
Again, for those who have inadequate hip internal rotation, there is going to be a greater tendency to fall into this error. They don’t have the mobility, so they won’t naturally have the stability. So, if you’re a coach, you just have to be careful with those types on how quickly you progress them in their half-kneeling life.
With those above cues, you should be in a very solid half-kneeling position. Now let’s apply that positioning dominance with the below movements.
This is the most common movement I have our athletes at Essers of Los Angeles use in half-kneeling. It’s fantastic because it’s highly technical. I usually don’t point out complexity as a favorable point of a movement, but for the half-kneeling chop it’s appropriate as it forces the trainee to use their brain and be constantly aware of their positioning. This is very powerful.
Plus, the chop trains the core to produce force the way it naturally does…diagonally. This is referred to as the “Serrape Effect”. Our bodies are not as simplistic as producing force up and down and forward and back. It’s more complex than that and involves the shoulder working together through the torso to the opposite hip to create strength and power.
Lastly, you’re getting a push and pull within one movement, which is pretty rare.
If you own the chop, you’re going to be much more successful in your subsequent single-leg work and other compound movements (e.g. deadlifts, squats).
As far as technique, I like to use the benchmark of,
“Well, are you still in a good half-kneeling position?”
If so, then more than likely you did it correctly. As you can see, all the chop is is a pull of the arms to the chest, followed by a straightening “punch” of the arms to the down hip. Nothing else should be happening. The chest and head stay square. The arms are just moving across you.
Keep the reps in the 6-8 range.
This is the chop’s cousin. It’s basically the same thing, but the opposite, which is why it has value. The lift is often-referred to as harder than the chop and I have to agree with that. This is because it finishes in a position that is less advantageous (slightly overhead vs. down by the hip).
Therefore, we usually don’t introduce the lift until the chop is pretty much mastered. Depending on the athlete though, I may put a chop in on Monday and a lift on Friday on a 3x/week program.
The key thing to watch out for here is that you don’t press too far overhead, which will put your low-back in excessive extension.
As with the chop, keep a rep range of 6-8. We want quality, not quantity.
Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Halo
This is one of my favorite drills, as it challenges you in all 3 planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, transverse). It’s one of the best movements for teaching someone how to maintain a “stacked” torso. Stacked just means that we can keep that aforementioned sword plunging straight down from the head to the knee. In an extended posture, the sword would end up in front of the knee.
Stay slow with this movement. Keep the bell as close to the head as you can throughout. Aim for 5-6 solid reps going each direction.
As an example of its power, I remember when I was at FMS Level 2 in Vegas a few years ago we were split up into groups to screen each other. I scored a 1,1 on the ASLR.
We worked on a half-kneeling halo as part of a corrective intervention and about 5 minutes later I had a solid 3,3.
I got in-tune with my torso. Initially, I let my anterior pelvic tilt take over and prevent my leg from raising up much. But after performing the halos and reigning in my natural extension, my core was “set” to allow for a proficient leg raise.
In the below photo comparison, the top photo represents a rib flare where the leg can’t really get anywhere. The bottom photo shows my ribs being held down, which allows that leg to go higher.
Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
The Pallof Press is a phenomenal anti-rotation exercise that without fail gets a trainee to feel their obliques firing. Of course, dialing in the love handles is why it’s easy to love for most, but going one level deeper, I like it because it teaches the hips to work in concert with the core. You simply have to keep the inside glute engaged or the tension from the band/cable will send you flying.
Developing the ability to laterally stabilize at the hip by firing that glute will prove useful when you are at the bottom of a heavy Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat and you need to keep the front knee from valgus collapse.
You can go for 10-12 reps per side here.
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm Press
For those trainees that can go overhead, this movement goes a long way in developing proper press mechanics, as I touched on in Part 1.
Often, if you send someone straight into Military Presses, even if they have adequate shoulder mobility, they will more than likely introduce some poor habits that could have been nipped in the bud in half-kneeling.
Specifically, they will attempt to use their low-back, even at lighter weights. Half-kneeling will lend familiarity to proper core positioning, as the opposite hand can be used on the upper abdomen as a way to stay honest.
Part of the reason why keeping the ribs down is important is because it will also allow for an easier press over the ears. When the ribs are allowed to flare, the weight stays out in front of the forehead, putting a lot of undue strain on the shoulders.
Ideally, the weight should travel in a slight “j” as you get under the bell/bar as it nears the top.
Program 6-8 reps per side, making sure to switch knees when you switch arms.
Of course, there are other movements you can perform in half-kneeling, but the above tend to be the ones I put our athletes in time and again and I feel like they are the most important to master.
I hope that this 2-part series helped you gain a stronger understanding of the value of the half-kneeling position and it’s uses in a strength and conditioning program. As with most things in life, you can’t skip foundational work on your way to the advanced “stuff”.
Take your time and get really good in half-kneeling. I promise you it will pay dividends as you progress on to single-leg exercises and even bilateral compound movements, such as deadlifts and squats.