You know all about crunches and situps and planks, the typical ways to train your abs. But what if you could hone your six-pack without ever doing a dedicated abs exercise at all?
Get ready for the ab workout you never saw coming. Meet the “kneeling” stances, a series of underrated positions that will help you carve your core and hone your posture, without ever forcing you to do a single situp — or to even flex your abs, for that matter. Instead, they turn exercises like dumbbell curls and shoulder presses into workouts for your core, too, forcing you to be more conscious of body alignment than you’ve ever been.
You typically do most exercises either standing, sitting on a bench, or lying on a bench or the floor. But the kneeling stances ask you to use a different position, and they work for just about any exercise you could do standing or seated. “The beauty of these positions is that you can do bodybuilding-type exercises,” says Amir Mofidi, R.K.C., P.I.C.P., a personal trainer and the director of operations at Orange County’s Stark Irvine.
They’re one of the best-kept secrets in fitness, and they were originally developed by renowned strength coach and physical therapist Gray Cook. His idea was simple: By getting you to do an exercise while sitting on your shins (the tall kneeling stance), he was removing your lower legs as a lever. By doing that, it became easier for you to “see your mistakes,” he said. When you trained from the tall kneeling position, for example, it would be impossible to ignore slight flaws, such as shaky breathing or a rounded upper body posture.
Those slight flaws often occur in your core, and they’re almost impossible to avoid when you’re using kneeling positions. Why? With your lower legs out of the equation, if your abs, glutes, and lower back muscles (just to name a few muscle groups) aren’t firing correctly, you’ll lose your balance. Read on to learn the kneeling positions and how and when to use them.
The Kneeling Positions
There are two basic kneeling positions. Try using a mix of these two stances, in addition to regular standing and seated exercises, in your workouts.
Tall Kneeling Stance
The tall kneeling position is simple, sit on your shins, with your knees just wider than hips-width apart. Your thighs should be perpendicular to the ground. Simple right? Except when you’re doing reps, of, say, biceps curls from this posture, your abs, glutes, and hamstrings will have to continually fire to keep your torso from tipping back and forth. The tall kneeling stance is ideal for perfecting your biceps curl form, as you’ll see in this video.
The half-kneeling stance is exactly like it sounds. Instead of kneeling on both shins, you kneel on one, with your other foot on the ground. Work to maintain a 90-degree angle at both knees in this stance, and fight for a vertical shin as well. You’ll get plenty of core work, just as you do in tall kneeling stance, but now there’s added focus on your glutes and smaller hip stabilizing muscles; these muscle groups must work overtime to help you stay level.
The Kneeling Rules
To get the maximum benefits from these positions, follow these rules.
Don’t get overly dynamic. Sure, a tall- or half-kneeling kettlebell clean is worth trying. A tall kneeling barbell shoulder press near your max weight, however, isn’t.
Don’t overdo it.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time,” says Mofidi. “Just one minute in a good position might set up 60 minutes of good training.” You don’t need to do every exercise from the tall kneeling position. Make sure to do standing and seated moves too. A good rule to follow: For every tall kneeling or half-kneeling move you do, do one standing or seated move.
Focus on your breathing
The kneeling positions give you a great chance to hone your breathing. Focus on breathing into your belly when using them; don’t let your ribcage flare out.
Kneel and Deliver
Ready to incorporate kneeling moves in your workouts? Try these exercises in your next sweat sesh. (And when you master the move from the stance we suggest, try the other; nearly every move you can do in tall kneeling stance can also be done in half-kneeling stance as well.)
Tall Kneeling Biceps Curl
What it works: Biceps
Get in tall kneeling stance, holding medium-weight dumbbells at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades and tighten your core. Curl one dumbbell to your chest, working to move only at the elbow. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly lower to the start. Repeat the process on the other arm. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 10 to 12.
Tall Kneeling Pallof Press
What it works: Abs, glutes, and lower back.
Attach a light- or medium-weight resistance band to a post set at about waist height. Stand a few feet from it, then grab its end and get in tall kneeling position. Your shoulder should face the attachment of the band. Hold the band at your chest with both hands, arms bent. This is the start. Now straight your arms out in front of you, so they’re parallel with the ground; you should feel tension from the band when you do this (if you don’t, then you’re too close to the band). That tension will try to pull you in the direction of the post where you attached the band; turn your core and glutes on to fight that and keep your shoulders and hips square. Hold for two counts here, then return to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps in each direction.
Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
What it works: Shoulders
Get in a half-kneeling stance, with your left foot planted on the ground. Grasp the front end of a loaded barbell with your right hand and hold it at chest height. Tighten your core and squeeze your glutes. Keeping your torso steady, press the barbell upwards, pause for a moment, then lower back to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps per arm, switching your planted foot every set.
What it works: Shoulders
Get in half-kneeling stance with a light-to-medium weight dumbbell or kettlebell. Hold the weight at chest height, and tighten your core and glutes. Keeping your elbows tucked, move the kettlebell around your head slowly, trying to keep it as close to your head as possible. Keep your torso steady as you do this, and flex your abs so your ribcage doesn’t flare out. One revolution around your head is one rep. Do 6 reps clockwise, and 6 reps counterclockwise per set. Do 4 sets, switching your planted foot every set.
What it works: Hip power and shoulder strength
Get in half-kneeling stance, with a light-to-medium weight dumbbell or kettlebell in one arm, held near your hip. Tighten your glutes. Hinge your torso forward and shift your glutes back slightly, then tighten your glutes and thrust your hips forward. As you do this, swing the weight upwards to your shoulder. “Catch” the weight in the front rack position, then pause. Lower the weight. That’s 1 rep. Do 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side.
Half-Kneeling Alternating Shoulder Press
What it works: Shoulders
Get in half-kneeling stance with light-to-medium weight dumbbells or kettlebells at your shoulders. Tighten your glutes. Press the righthand weight upwards, pause for a moment, then lower it back to your shoulder. Repeat the process with the weight in your left hand. That’s 1 rep. Do 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps, switching your plant foot every set. The challenge: Your torso will want to tip from side to side as you raise and lower the weights; tighten your core so your shoulders stay level throughout the entire set.