The Importance and Application of Half-Kneeling

Importance of Half Kneeling

We all start off as babies, wired with reflexive stability and primitive reflexes that have been handed down to us in our DNA. Without cognition or interruptions along the way, we go through intricate progressions of movement and posture in our first 13 months—starting with basic head and neck control, and leading all the way through ambulation (walking). Unafraid of failure, we lack embarrassment as we struggle to become upright—failing, falling and tinkering with different stabilization strategies. But, if we’re following our reflexive map, one thing we don't sacrifice is our spinal stability.

At 11 months, we start to stabilize from positions of all-fours and sitting to a more upright position. We right ourselves onto one knee, with one leg forward. This position is called half-kneeling, and it’s a vital step along the developmental pathway. We load mostly on the knee that is down, sharing forces with the front and back foot as we stabilize our trunk in an upright position. This position is crucially placed one month before we are due to squat, and two months before we walk. This is so we can coordinate the hip position over our center of mass at the belly button, so as not to place improper shear stresses nor loading on the knees, hips, and lumbar spine. 

 

 

Why Should Adults Use Half Kneeling Positions?

As adults, we can return to half kneeling work for that very same purpose—to reduce improper shear stress and properly stabilize the center of mass over its base of support. The half kneeling position is also the foundation of a quality lunge, and helps to build front foot pronation and rear leg hip extension. By returning frequently to this position, we develop the ability to stabilize at the front leg and open the back hip. This will help avoid pitching our weight forward through the lumbar spine, increasing hip tightness and knee stressors. 

 

At Catalyst, half kneeling work is foundational in our fitness routines, and everyone has half kneeling exercises in their programs. We use these exercises to teach the concepts and skills outlined above, especially anchoring weight in a stable position through the hip, over its base of support. Half kneeling work is also extremely valuable from a fitness perspective because it allows us to start teaching postural and movement concepts while avoiding many of the complications that can come from improper foot mechanics. In other words, we are able to teach more effectively since we’ve removed the layer of complexity that comes from our extremely intricate foot mechanics.

 

The Basic Position

We’re going to go over a number of exercises that relate to the half kneeling position. But first, let’s go over the basic posture:

 

In the basic half kneeling position we’re looking for the following attributes:

  • Neutral Spine (Ribs down, and pelvis “like a bowl of water—don’t spill!”)
  • Weight centered over the down knee (98% of the weight on the down knee, 1% in each foot)
  • Front knee at 90-degrees
  • Femur of the down leg perpendicular to the floor

 

Half-Kneeling Rack Hold
Once we understand the basic posture, loading the movement can be helpful. This will reinforce the idea of loading from the core, through the hip, all the way into the ground. Here, Catalyst co-founder Dr. Kathy Dooley shows us a basic racked half kneeling, and a slightly more advanced variation with a quarter turn.


Pressing Variations
With a strong and stable foundation, we can now start generating upper body power from the half kneeling position. This will reinforce the concepts from the Rack Hold, while continuing to build competency in the half kneeling posture. We typically use some variation of half kneeling press as a client’s first introduction to overhead pressing—by removing some of the complexity associated with a full standing position, we can focus on building a solid overhead position. The half kneeling position also discourages two of the most prevalent errors in overhead lifting: excessive arching of the lower back, and excessive leaning (side to side).

Both the kettlebell and the landmine are fantastic implements for half kneeling pressing. The landmine is a great “bridge” for those who lack good overhead position, as it is is less demanding of T-spine extension and shoulder flexion. We often use the landmine for those who are questionable for true overhead pressing, for example, those with borderline overhead stability, or individuals rehabbing injuries. The kettlebell then, is more demanding of overhead position and is a more advanced variation of pressing. The kettlebell can build impressive strength for those who are ready for this variation.

When using the half kneeling press, a common question is: “Should I press on the same side as the down knee, or the opposite side?” Both variations have benefits. We typically start beginners from the same side as the down knee—because the weight is directly on top of the base of support, it’s a little easier to understand the idea of “rooting” to the floor through that knee. The same-side variation is a bit more restrictive of movement, and is harder to compensate through (for example, by bending to the side). Pressing from the opposite knee, similar to the Turkish Get Up (discussed further below), allows the athlete to handle more weight and can be useful for building strength. The opposite-side variation can also be useful for a more advanced kettlebell lifter who has trouble anchoring the opposite leg on a standing press (the heel of the foot may even leave the ground).

Paloff Press and Lifts/Chops
Another useful application of the half kneeling press is training anti-rotation. All of the benefits we’ve already discussed apply, and with the added element of rotational control. The most common uses are the paloff press and Cook lifts and chops. Here are a few examples:

 

                                 Paloff Press                                                                       

Chop

Split Squat
Thus far, all of the exercises we’ve discussed have been from a static position. As part of the developmental process however, half kneeling is more than just a place to hang out—it is a vital transition from the ground to standing. The split squat is a great introduction to training from asymmetric stances, and leads nicely into true single leg training. At Catalyst, we use the split squat to begin patterning the lunge. From the half kneeling position, hold a kettlebell in the “goblet” position (as shown). Using the back toes for support, drive your weight through your front foot to stand up, keeping a vertical spine throughout the movement. Gently lower yourself back to the half kneeling position, and repeat for reps.

The Turkish Get-Up
While the Turkish Get-Up is an incredibly deep topic (we’ve previously written about it here: http://catalystsportnyc.com/blog/51028/Step-By-Step-Guide-to-the-Turkish-Get-Up-Semi-Private-Training-in-NYC), we will touch on it briefly as it relates to the half kneeling position. A heavy TGU is one of the most authentic and challenging ways to train half kneeling position. It requires entering the position from the ground, much like the baby, and transitioning to standing. If you’re having trouble with the “low sweep” or “lunge” segment of the get-up, consider adding more half kneeling to your training!

Conclusion
We hope you've enjoyed this guide to using half-kneeling in your training.  Questions or Comments? Please let us know and we'll be more than happy to answer!




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