half kneeling training

Half-Kneeling Training: Why you should BEND THE KNEE.

March 06, 2018

The half-kneeling position has been a staple of our fundamental workout methodology here at SET FOR SET. We take a pattern-first, ground up approach as we aim to build safe and effective movements through the use of developmental positions.

As a kid you worked from the ground up until you could walk properly - Sitting, kneeling, crawling, assisted walking, walking, running, and then, sprinting.

As an adult, we must take it back to our roots by revisiting our most basic movements. Why? Because after years and years of sedentary lifestyle, we lose the skills that we acquired as children. We must refine and hone our skills as adults. If not, we will lose our desired mobility and stability, which is what we needed to be able to walk in the first place.

Most coaches and personal trainers working with SET FOR SET are looking to optimize their clients and players performance. The half-kneeling position is a fantastic way to assess and treat hip and core stability.

Without proper stability, many negative compensation patterns will be formed, affecting your overall performance and fitness level.

Having a thorough grasp of the half-kneeling position will allow you to achieve maximum benefits. The purpose of this article is to fully understand half-kneeling training and how to put it to use.

Half-kneeling training and performance benefits:

  • increases hip and core stability
  • increases hip mobility
  • activates glutes and core
  • reduces hip flexor and lumbar extensor tone
  • improves balance and coordination (mimics single leg movement with less stability demands)
  • corrects squatting and single leg movement patterns
  • teaches proper alignment of pelvis and rib cage (most efficient position to stabilize our trunk and keep our back healthy)
  • improves motor control and movement patterns. 

Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility

If you’re not using the half-kneeling position during warm-up, training, or rehab, you should be, and here are 7 reasons why:

#1 - Improved Performance
By working your core and hip stability through half-kneeling training, you will see an improved performance on the field, court or weight room, as it stimulates skills needed to successfully stabilize, plant, cut and accelerate & decelerate.

Single leg movement variants (such as: sprinting, lunging, crossing/cutting, and jumping from one leg) comprise of a lot of movements you see in sports. The half kneeling position simulates these common sports movements to show both hip flexion and extension sufficiently around a stable core. This is an awesome way to build foundational volume for complex movement patterns.

#2 - Diagnostic Tool & Intervention
Half-kneeling exercises can be a diagnostic and intervention tool all in one. Many people can’t maintain the half-kneeling position when external resistance is applied. They lose postural control. If you don’t develop proximal stability before distal mobility, you will likely develop compensation patterns down the line. This type of training pin-points asymmetries and weak areas throughout your body, while also working those same asymmetries so they can catch up.

Once you develop the necessary stability that comes with this type of training, you can combat rib flare and trunk extension or poor hip stability. In time, the same person who was struggling with a light band Pallof press will be challenging the limits of our heavier bands and reaping the stability benefits in more complex movements like squats and deadlifts.

#3 - Prevention of Faulty Compensations
Exercises in the half-kneeling position make it difficult to compensate and find stability through incorrect movements. By exercising from the half-kneeling position, we improve our neuromuscular stabilization of the core and we gain body awareness.

Half-kneeling makes faulty compensations are harder to fall into:

  • The pelvis is pulled into neutral, helping to minimize overextension of the l-spine (a common issue in standing positions). 
  • The kneeling-stance is set at hip width or more narrow.  A narrow stance increases the engagement of the trunk musculature, and forces stabilization with intrinsic musculature throughout the body. 
  • You need precise, well-timed activation of muscles and breath control to remain stable. This is a practice that carries over to all athletics.

#4 - Rehab & Prehab
Half-kneeling is a great position for focused shoulder work or rehab as it minimizes ones ability to compensate with the lower body.  With a motionless base, more effort is put on the shoulder complex. It is also a great position for someone who experiences low back pain when performing loaded overhead movements. This is because it minimizes extension of the lumbar spine and reduces bilateral pelvic tension by forcing you to keep your abs and glutes engaged and your back neutral -  all of which make a world of difference on your low back.

#5 - Integration of upper and lower bodies
Proportionate stability through your core will allow you full range of motion in joints such as your shoulders and hips.  A strong core that activates at the right times and with the necessary intensity makes for arms and legs that perform well. It makes no difference how much force you can produce with your arms or legs if your core and hips aren’t capable to oppose and transmit it.

#6 - Increase difficulty: Change Dynamics
It helps with core activation and hip flexor stretching because you're slightly destabilizing your base.  Also forces glute activation. Half-kneeling completely changes the dynamics of an exercise, but these progressions will correlate to a stronger more stable lift when doing the basic traditional lifts.

#7 Endurance training
When progressing on to heavier weights or more complex exercises, endurance work should be underpinned by half-kneeling training in balance and proprioception around the hips and trunk. Half-kneeling exercises can’t be done with as much weight as traditional bilateral or symmetrical exercises, which means longer time under tension while maintaining a certain level of difficulty, ensuring the muscles are not undertrained for endurance purposes.

Unfortunately, many people still perform half-kneeling positions improperly, rendering it largely ineffective. You must have a solid base to ensure that you’re getting the most out of half-kneeling training every time. 

To reap the benefits of performing exercises in a half-kneeling position, it is critical to set up correctly.

Setting up in half-kneeling stance:
One knee is placed on the ground with the glute contracted and the hip extended fully, while the other hip is flexed with the foot flat on the ground directly in front of the hip (both your legs will be at 90 degrees). The spine is in a neutral position with your ribs drawn down.  Use a narrow base and keep the pelvis in a neutral position.

The goal of half-kneeling drills is to stabilize your down knee at the hip by engaging your glute and using your abs to control your ribs, trunk extension, and trunk rotation.

Make sure:

  1. there are no height changes in hips. Engage glutes to help stabilize hip and keep from rotating or sliding in and out and keep hips level.
  2. you are square and nice and solid. This will prevent you from extending your low back.
  3. you keep your abs and rib cage centered and down, and your pelvic floor and diaphragm centered, square and solid.

To make it a bit easier, you can spread your legs a bit farther apart, but make sure to keep your foot and knee parallel and facing forward.

If you're wobbly, don’t worry, that's perfectly normal! Your nervous system is working to provide you the necessary stability.

Common errors:
Many people get lazy in the hips, and they start leaning forward. The hip comes forward and the spine receives too much extension in the lumbar. If you plan to go overhead like this you could easily injure yourself. If your knee is going forward you are most likely pushing your hips forward. You want to keep a neutral spine throughout the exercise.

3 Keys to Performance

  • Never let the trunk move. Remain in a tall stable spine posture.
  • Keep the shoulder, hip, and knee in line and squared forward– spine should be neutral.
  • Front foot should be in line with the back leg (narrow base of support).
  • Breathe!

With all that has been written above, it is clear that anyone, from beginner to advanced fitness levels, can benefit from half-kneeling training.

But how to incorporate it into your training?

  1. Plan a set time per week for stability and mobility training, this is the time to focus on half-kneeling and other stability and mobility exercises.
  2. In between sets for endurance/stability training purposes (superset with half-kneeling!).
  3. Warm up - half-kneeling exercises are a great way to warm up the hips and core, and get your blood flowing at the same time.
  4. Perform certain half-kneeling exercises during each training session. i.e. back day, half-kneeling rows; shoulders, half-kneeling overhead press; chest, half-kneeling cable flies.

Body weight assessment

Once you are comfortable in a half kneeling position you can begin challenging your stability, mobility and strength with various exercises.  We perform many exercises from this position. Here are a few examples you can do at home or your local gym, and a few from the steel mace community (great tool for half-kneeling training). These movements are a badass way to… bend the knee.

Half kneeling dumbbell press:


Half-kneeling single arm row:


Half-kneeling pallof press:

Half-kneeling kettlebell hold:
Half-kneeling pallor press:


Half-kneeling anti-rotation hold:


Half-kneeling medicine ball rotational throws:

Kelly Manzone - Half-kneeling kettlebell presses:

A post shared by Kelly Manzone (@kellsbells88) on

As you can see, kettlebells, dumbbells, and resistance bands are perfect tools for half-kneeling training.

The Steel Mace is also a fantastic tool for the job. The uneven weight distribution of the steel mace makes it the ideal tool for unilateral, offset training and improving muscle imbalances. Therefore, half-kneeling and steel mace training are perfect for each other. The combo allows for optimal hip and trunk stability training benefits.  Here are some examples from the steel mace community:

Kelly Manzone:

A post shared by Kelly Manzone (@kellsbells88) on


A post shared by Kelly Manzone (@kellsbells88) on


Coach Rich Thurman:


Maces & Mocean:

A post shared by Maces&Mocean (@macesandmocean) on

Shoulder Rehab by Michael Risher:


So if you feel like you could benefit from improved balance and stability, then give the half kneeling position a shot. Now that you understand the core principles behind it, you can get creative and incorporate half-kneeling training into your program. If you have any questions when developing a plan to incorporate half-kneeling training for you or your client, please contact us or leave a comment below.

More on stability training:
Core Stability Training: Anti-Rotation vs Rotation Core Exercises

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