After becoming comfortable with locomotion through crawling eventually we all try to stand up. We do this first by kneeling in various positions, getting more acquainted with our balance mechanisms until we eventually grab onto things and lift ourselves up to the standing position. There are a few common kneeling positions we’ll use to try to accomplish this over time.
Low Kneeling Position
From the crawling position if I rock my hips back onto my heels and lift my arms up off the floor I still have four points of contact with the floor, but find myself here:
From here I could do a variety of exercises, everything from rowing to overhead pressing if I were so inclined. It’s a good place to start for many because it’s a pretty stable position with my weight distributed pretty evenly between my knees and my feet. It doesn’t require as much stability in my hips as the tall kneeling position, where my center of gravity is shifted out more directly over my knees. However, you can’t really get to tall kneeling without going through low kneeling first.
If you’re ever stuck on a tall kneeling position drill, dropping down into low kneeling for a period of time is often a good way to work around a road block from tall kneeling. Learning how to transition from low kneeling to tall kneeling can also be a very useful motor pattern drill as it isolates the hips. If you’re having trouble with a hip hinge from a standing position, this is where you should practice.
Tall Kneeling Position
If I thrust my hips forward like a glute bridge, then I’m actually practicing a hip hinge from my knees. This is a great precursor to the squat and hip hinge patterns, particularly helping your body figure out the difference between a squat pattern and the deadlift (AKA Hip Hinge) pattern.
Notice that my neck is packed into a neutral position and my glutes have tension pushing them forward and directly under my center of gravity to help support my torso. People often forget to put tension into the hips in this position the moment you try to execute a press or a pull from here.
Half Kneeling Position
AKA the 90/90 position, because you have your front leg at a ninety degree angle and your back leg at a ninety degree angle behind. My front leg here could probably be a little better positioned actually and I’ve put my hands behind my head — this is also known as ‘Prisoner Position’ — so that you can see my back positioning a little better.
Ideally your front shin is perfectly vertical or completely perpendicular to the floor, with knee directly over the ankle. On the back leg, my hips are engaged so that I’m not arching excessively through my low back — remember you’re going to be sick of the term ‘neutral spine’ by the end of this book, but it’s important — and I want to remain tall through my chest, shoulders and head. I personally prefer for people to be on their back toe because conveniently this is also the bottom portion of a lunge and it’s tough to lunge with the top of your back foot on the ground instead of the balls of your foot.
The half kneeling position should feel the most stable out of the bunch due to the larger base of support you create. It also tends to be the easiest way to transition from the kneeling position to a standing position as you’ll see later when we discuss the lunge.
Why These Positions Matter
They are actually transitionary positions. For us to move from the floor from crawling to standing we needed to learn all or one of these strategies at some point. To transition from the lunge to the squat as little children we will often grab onto something and transition out of the lunge and into the bottom of the squat. I’ve found that being able to display good movement quality through these transitions provides a good baseline in movement quality.
It also teaches people how to smoothly get from ground based positions to standing positions. Creating smooth transitions from one exercise to the next and can be a great way to warm up too. A simple warm up example could be:
- Crawling Pattern
- Low Kneeling
- Tall Kneeling
- Transition to Half Kneeling
- Lunge to Standing
- Transition Back to Half Kneeling
- Back to Tall Kneeling
- Low Kneeling
- Back to Crawl
Repeat that six to ten times and you’ll be pretty warm. You’ll also be practicing how to get up and down to the floor with ease.
The second purpose is that we can do a lot of exercises from these positions to make them a little easier than standing positions where there are more moving parts.
For example we can row from the tall kneeling position:
The mechanics of a row will be in greater detail in the section on pulling, specifically horizontal pulling but from the tall kneeling position we are able to isolate the torso a little bit better. Ultimately there is less to think about movement wise from this position, than their would be from a standing position. We always want to progress movement from least complicated to more complicated. This is also a good example of using a band with a door anchor at home in place of a cable machine.
We could also execute a row from the slightly more stable half kneeling position if we needed a little more rotational stability or we wanted to handle more load:
Again we’ll get into the mechanics of a row more specifically in another section, I just wanted you to see how we can implement kneeling positions into good programs. This is also a way to show you how interchangable an elastic band can be with a cable stand if you insist on training at home. You won’t get exactly the same training effect using a band instead of a cable but you should be able to make lemonade out of lemons.
I have to give credit to Dan John for this one, it’s simple and not useful for everyone but it can be very useful if:
- You’ve got rounded slumped shoulders and/or tight internal shoulder rotators
- The front of your hips are tight
- You have trouble maintaining stability in the tall kneeling position during other exercises
- You need to learn how to create more tension in your hips
It’s hard to see because I have the arms of an orangutan but that kettlebell behind me is sitting an inch or so off the mat. You might be able to see the tension of it’s weight pulling my shoulders back a little more than you’d see in the top kneeling position photo without load. Packed neck and I could probably do a better job of hiding my bottom ribs there as you want some tension in the front of your abdominals as well for this move.
However, it’s near impossible to really mess this move up because the way the weight is positioned forces a person into the correct tall kneeling position, no matter what. I recommend picking the kettlebell up from the low kneeling position like this:
And that’s why learning the low kneeling position is also important so you can load the tall kneeling position more effectively.
I train this move very similar to other planks, work up to thirty to sixty seconds worth of total work with ideally ten second holds. If that’s too challenging, start with three second, then five second, then eight second, resting briefly between each rep. Accumulation or density of each set should be similar no matter what pattern you use, ten reps of three second holds, or three reps of ten second holds.
Banded Kneeling Hip Thruster
This is a transitionary move between the glute bridge and the standing hip hinge or deadlift pattern.
Like that old school popcorn machine in the background? This is a great glute exercise as the band creates the greatest amount of tension in the top position, not unlike a loaded glute bridge but still a slightly different training effect from just deadlifting on it’s own — there is less tension at the top of a deadlift and that is often the easiest part of the lift. That makes this move great for teaching yourself how to properly lock a deadlift out.
Like all exercises you’ve seen so far, I’m on the balls of my feet for additional tension, I’m locking my rib cage on my pelvis, my neck is packed and I’m finishing the move by squeezing my glutes as hard as I can. Put your arms where ever you like.
I like doing these for higher repetitions as the band thickness required for lower reps will quickly be too much for you to stabilize against. It can also be a good move when done for speed of movement but that’s a topic for another belt level. Typically I’ll do one to three sets of ten to fifteen reps. If it’s used as a warm up drill, I’m more likely to do one or two sets and ten reps, but if it’s used as part of a workout, I’m more likely to use two or three sets of fifteen to even twenty reps each.