Tall Kneeling - Why you should make it your business
By: James Gallegro PT DScPT MSPT CMPT CSCS
This will be my first post in a series with two goals:
1. Expand the reader’s appreciation of how simple postures can optimize their workout
2. Help the fitness professional avoid pitfalls in planning an exerciseprogram
The tall kneeling position can teach us a few things about ourselves and our clients. There is not an adult human among us in the western world who uses his or her body optimally, especially after the age of 6 or so. Why, do you ask? Mainly because we stop squatting and start sitting. Popular reporting abounds regarding the horrors of sitting, but I will take a different angle: yes, sitting is bad, but abandoning squatting is just as responsible for our postural woes.
Do we know squat?
I’m not referring here to squatting in the weight lifting sense, although stay tuned, we’ll get there! Instead I’m referring to functional squatting – as in people drinking tea in a public square in Tajikistan. A great mentor said about squatting – “it is the natural resting position of the human body.” Functional squatting utilizes the deep gluteus maximus and lower abdominals and loads through our heels and femurs – unlike sitting on our bottoms. Chronic under-activation of these key muscle groups leads to the dominance of their antagonist groups: the hip flexors and lumbar extensors. This creates a lumbo- pelvic postural imbalance with far reaching functionalimplications.
So back to tall kneeling and how it can serve to optimize our workout. In the tall kneeling position, pictured above, the focus is to “level” the pelvis, as if you were trying to get your belt line parallel to the floor. This allows us to connect to the deep glutes and lower abdominals while actively lengthening the hip flexors, quads and lumbar extensors. Many of us habitually lose this orientation of the belt line, with the pelvis tilted anteriorly as if the belt buckle were facing the floor. Optimal activation of the gluteus maximus, lower abdominals, transversus abdominis, and even the pelvic floor and lumbar stabilizers becomes difficult in that position.
Tall kneeling makes it easier to appreciate the lumbo- pelvic and hip position by largely limiting the influence of the knees and ankles. In tall kneeling, one can focus on the activation of the lower abdominals as they “pull up on the belt buckle,” and the deep glutes as they work against anterior hip tightness to encourage hip extension. Improving this positional awareness may
inform you or your client where there is muscle tightness and help flesh out a workout with the addition of quadriceps and lower back stretching if needed. Here’s a link out to my favorite method of quad/anterior hip stretching explained by Men’s Health: https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19524865/rear-foot-elevated-quad-stretch/.
The tall kneeling position can also help us to appreciate how well we can activate the glutes and lower abs, providing a caution light for progressing to more challenging movements like dead lifting, lunging and squatting. Failure to heed that caution light can result in failed loading in upright positions and can contribute to lower back and hip injury. Training the activation through tall kneeling can help with as a warm-up for carry over into more challenging positions.
Hopefully this simple discussion of tall kneeling can help you get more out of your workout, by incorporating better activation of these key muscle groups. In subsequent posts, we’ll discuss some simple ways to further evaluate and improve the activation of the gluteus maximus and lower abdominals for those who have difficulty there. If the activation is going well, the tall kneeling position can be progressed into a “kneeling bridge” exercise as well, to begin moving towards more functional upright standing exercises. In the meantime – happy exercising - and remember to always move thoughtfully!
About the Author:
James Gallegro PT DScPT MSPT CMPT CSCS is a physical therapist and fitness consultant who has worked with active populations ranging from Broadway performers and professional ballet dancers to high level athletes and exercise enthusiasts. He has a passion for helping develop fitness programs that incorporate improved postural integration for optimal performance.