Mastering the 1/2 Kneel

The half-kneel is a position built for practicing stability.  Sometimes called a 90/90 (because both the front and the hind legs should be be creating perfect, half-square angles), it is meant to take the stiff, overly eager hips out of the equation and allow the torso and core musculature to carry the load.  Splitting the legs and having them as ‘balance beam’ narrow as possible shortens your base of support and makes it tough for you hips to cheat.  The user is given immediate feedback toward balance and compensation issues, which simple maintenance of the position is meant to correct.

When getting into the half-kneel, try to make sure the back leg is bearing the brunt of your body weight by engaging the back ball of foot and posteriorly tucking the pelvis.  Get tall in the spine, and try to ‘root’ yourself to the floor.

If you have a partner around, you can have them tap you all over (lightly!) in an attempt to find your weak spot and knock you over.

If you train alone, you can attempt 1/2 kneel front foot taps:

Arms are outstretched and pressed together to help create torso tension (and keep the shoulders and hands from creating the stability you’re trying to build in your midsection).

… Or 1/2 kneel halos:
Notice how the elbow points straight up during the revolutions.  Keep the bell close and try to orbit the ears.  Try to string 4-8 of them together without stopping in the middle.  Be sure to circle in both directions, with each leg forward.

Continuing this trend of arms-only movement, chops and lifts add a lateral load utilizing diagonal PNF patterns:
Here Aaron uses an almost baseball bat grip on a single rope.  I tend to prefer inside (closest to pulley) leg up on the chops (downward diagonal), but ultimately you want to be able to perform these in either direction, with either knee down.
Eric Cressey has a wider grip take on lifts.  This two-part, almost ‘sword-draw’ motion has a distinct diagonal pull and a horizontal push:
Greg Robbins shows a more rotary version of a chop, with less elbow bend and more torso twist:
The closer you set up to to cable system, the easier the movement because of its verticality.  The farther away, the greater the lateral vector and the tougher it is to avoid lateral hip/torso lean.

Once you’ve created and can maintain torso stability, you can start to focus on singular moving parts connected to the torso — most notably, the scapula or shoulder blade.

45- degree pulldowns serve as a happy medium between horizontal and vertical pulls.  The scapula is forced to depress downward AND retract backwards to keep the shoulder set against the resistance.

Get confident in securing the shoulder blade before using the elbow to feed into the pull.  Step back with the same leg as the working arm and let the shoulder be pulled up and forward prior to sucking it back.  Avoid curling the handle inward and keep the wrist in line with the elbows.

You can use that same technique to teach scapular positioning in a 45- degree lever press.  Here Eric Cressey gives an exception to the rule that shoulders should always stay away form ears:

To ensure tension stays in the torso, change your hip position at the top and bottom of the movement.  Stiffness created in the hips will dissipate once the hips are asked to move.   

If you can’t stand without shifting, your hips are cheating your abs out of of their job.  

  • The half-kneel challenges stability
  • Create stability by shifting weight to the back leg 
  • Challenge stability by raising the front foot or moving a load in the arms
  • Chops and lifts come in many effective variations and target all of the core musculature
  • 45 degree pushes and pulls create a perfect balance between horizontal and vertical command
  • Shoulder function is tied to the hips; train in the half kneel to isolate the scapula 
  • To ensure you’re not hanging or leaning into a pull or push, stand up
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