Monday, February 7, 2011

Exercise Breakdown: Half Kneeling Cable Push

This is the first of an installment titled "Exercise Breakdown" that I hope to put up fairly often.  In these posts, I will cover an exercise and explain how to perform it, common mistakes and compensations, and why I like to use it with clients. 
Today, I will go over the half kneeling cable push.  This is a great exercise that we use for many of our beginner clients at IFAST.  However, I think it is a great exercise not only for beginners but for advanced trainees as well.
First, I am going to explain the set-up and proper position for the half kneeling position because it is the foundation of the cable push, and I am sure I will post other exercises that will use it as well.

Set-Up for Half Kneeling Position:
Begin by kneeling on one knee with the thigh of your down knee vertical and the shin of your other leg vertical.  Your down knee and the foot of your other leg should be parallel.   
Now, be as tall as possible (to turn on “core”) and contract the glute (to get hip extended and stretch hip flexors) on the leg of your down knee.   Next, square your hips and shoulders so they are facing straight ahead of you.
If the person is in a good position, his or her pelvis will be neutral (waistline should be roughly a straight line if viewing from the side).  The hip of the down knee will also be neutral (it is common to see an adducted and externally rotated hip - see video below).  Lastly, look for a neutral spine position (many people with poor hip extension will try to get “tall” by extending their low back).
I have put up a video for detailed instructions. 

Now that you know how to get into the half kneeling position let's look at how to perform the cable push.

Half-Kneeling Cable Push
Face away from a cable machine in the half kneeling position.  Next, grab the D-handle (set at chest height) and perform a cable push focusing on full protraction at the end.  The only movement should come from the shoulder and arm - the hips and core should be still!

Common Mistakes and Fixes:
(If some of the vocab below is not familiar to you, do not worry just try and watch the videos I have posted to put you in the right position.)
1) Person glides forward so that the hip of the down knee is hyperextended.   This is often due to poor hip stabilization - it is easier for them to rely on their passive restraints (ligaments, capsule, bony block, etc.) than their hip stabilizers. 

The second pic is a poor set-up because her hip is hyperextended.  The first is a much better position - she is now relying on her hip stabilizers. ****
2) Hip of the down knee is adducted.  Again, this is usually due to abductor weakness.  Try cueing them out of it, and if that does not work, then possibly try some RNT.
3) Pelvis is not neutral when viewing from behind.  If this is the case, try giving them another pad to put under their knee until it is close to level.
4) Pelvis is in an anterior tilt.  This person most likely has very stiff quads and is unable to lean their pelvis back into the stretch.  Cue this person to get tall and squeeze the glute.  If this does not work, give them an additional pad so their knee is not flexed as much.
5) Scapular winging on the eccentric portion of the lift.  This could be serratus weakness, but I have found it is often due to poor scapular coordination instead.  If this is the case, repetitions and cueing will be important for this person.  It can also be helpful to guide the scapula with your hand during the eccentric portion of the lift.
6) Anterior humeral glide as the person returns to the starting position with elbow at side.  Begin by putting this person’s shoulder where it should be - teach them how to retract and depress their scapula.  If they are still unable to get into the proper position, then they may have stiff pecs.  If so, have them begin foam rolling and stretching that area.  Lastly, check their breathing.  If they are not breathing properly, then the rib cage may not be positioned correctly, which will affect the position of the humerus.

I know a lot of people will look at this exercise and think they are too advanced for it, but if done correctly, it hammers hip and core stability, helps loosen up hip flexors, and also gets some glute activation.  It is also great to improve scapulo-thoracic coordination. 

DO NOT make this exercise a chest exercise!  Keep the load light and perform it correctly to reap the benefits. 
Have someone watch you, or film yourself if on your own, because you might feel like you are in the right position but really you probably aren’t. :)
Try it out and let me know what you think!

**** PLEASE DO NOT PERFORM A HIP FLEXOR STRETCH LIKE THIS EITHER!  This drives me crazy!  Yes, you are stretching your hip flexor when you hyperextend your hip, but you are also stretching out some of your passive restraints - if you have ligamentous laxity in the front of your hip (like me) then this is not a good thing! 


  1. Hey Hi, Great job, I'll be watching and casting someone else to the wayside. lol. thank you. One thing I've found is that long pants and bunched up sweat shirt obscure the true body positions, make it hard to see what's really happening. Sometimes the difference between right and wrong in these positions are quite subtle. So lose the modesty thing which so many trainers seem to have and wear something "athletic" , not black it doesn't photograph well cause it's well, black. Keep up the good work.

  2. Question: But I can work as heavy as good form allows, right? What exactly am I trying to get my scapula to do? Stay down and back as much as possible? Thanks, gene

  3. @Gene- Thanks for the suggestion. I can definitely see what you mean.
    In regards to your scapula position, as you push the cable away from you, you want to focus on full protraction (the scapula should glide away from the midline of the body). As you return the cable to your side, you want to focus on retracting and depressing the scapula. It should also glide smoothly across your ribcage.

    Hope that helps!

  4. @Gene- Yes, you can go as heavy as you like if you maintain good form.

  5. Great blog - just to pick up on the hip flexor stretch, if you're not a fan of it (as you have joint laxity) can you give an example of a h/flexor stretch that you like?

  6. Thanks Joanne! It kind of depends which hip flexor muscle you want to target.
    For a basic hip flexor stretch, I will usually have people get into a half kneeling position as described above and squeeze the glute of their down leg. Also, make sure to get really "tall". If they truly need to stretch their hip flexor then they should feel a stretch.

    If you need to stretch rectus femoris (a quadriceps muscle that crosses the hip) then elevate the back foot onto a box with the knee on the floor on a pad. You will have to adjust the height of the box depending on how much stretch they can take. Also, make sure that their hip is still neutral (and not hyperextended).

    If you want to target psoas, then get into the half kneeling position and reach the arm on the side of the knee that is down overhead and toward the opposite leg and back slightly. Hope that makes sense-it is kind of hard to explain.

    If you have a specific hip flexor in mind then let me know and I will try to be more specific. I just basically do not want the person hyperextended when they are stretching their hip flexors.

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