Exercises You Should Be Doing: Half Kneeling Cable Batwing/Pulldown

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Every so often (read: all….the….time) I come across an exercise or exercise variation that someone else made up or invented and the first thing that crosses my mind is how brilliant that person is for thinking up something so spectaculous.*

Not surprisingly, soon thereafter the second thought that hits me like a ton of bricks is how much of an numbskull I am for never having thought of it myself.

One such moment came about a year ago when I read something from Dan John about “batwing” rows (see picture just above). For those unfamiliar, basically you perform a standard chest supported row and then HOLD the retracted position for a certain amount of time.  The idea is to increase time under tension and to strengthen the scapular retractors – something most trainees can never get enough of anyways.

It was a fantastic concept, and something I implemented with a few of my own clients almost immediately.

Fast forward to within the last few weeks where Ben Bruno has taken the same concept and added his own spin to it, which, of course, made me feel like an idiot (seriously, why can’t I ever think of something so cool?).

…..but unlike times past, Ben’s thinking outside of the box prowess, gave me an idea:

Half Kneeling Cable Batwing/Pulldown

Who Did I Steal It From:  I’d like to take full credit for this one, but again, I have to give props to Ben for giving me the idea for the exercise.  Too, giving added credit where it’s due:  Mike Boyle wrote a fantastic article last week on t-nation where he expanded on a few similar variations, which served as a precursor to this blog post.

What Does It Do:  This is an excellent exercise which trains the middle and lower traps, as well as the rhomboids and lats (of course).  As a nice corollary, by doing this in a half-kneeling position, you also get the side benefit of performing a active stretch on hip flexors of the trailing leg.  In short, while it may look like a simple exercise – and it is – you get a lot of bang for your training buck.

Key Coaching Cues:  As far as the “batwing” portion is concerned, whichever leg is UP is the side you’ll pull to and hold.  Here, you want to focus on pushing your chest forward and holding that scapulae in a retracted position.

With the opposite arm, you’ll perform the allotted repetitions focusing on keeping the shoulder blade depressed the entire time – do not go into scapular anterior tilt!  In addition, you’ll also want to “dig” the toes of the trailing leg into the ground and squeeze the same side glute – HARD – to get more of a co-contraction in the hip flexor.

Perform 8-10 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat the same process on the opposite side.

* = HA!  I just made up a word.  Take that people who are smarter than me!

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  • Julieiverson

    Awesome, going to try that today!

  • Nice Tony, I’ve been working a similar cable static hold in standing. Reckon there’s any benefit to be had with tall kneeling here?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Tall kneeling is less stable, but certainly a viable option. Go for it!

  • You can add 20-30% to the cable stack if that was the Diesel beanie.  Great variation. 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, that will have to wait until the weather gets cold again….haha. They are totally diesel though.

  • Ben Bruno

    I like that one Tony! Good stuff. I’m going to try that out. I’ve been trying out the batwing rows with one of my teams and I really like it in the group setting too. I find that a lot of pulling exercises can get butchered pretty badly but this one tends to look pretty good and it’s harder to screw up.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Like I said, you were sorta the inspiration behind this one……..so thanks!

  • Bret Contreras

    Good stuff Tony the Tiger! 

  • Rees

    Good stuff

  • Marco

    That looks awesome! Do you every do that same variation with a cable row? Miss you Tony!

    • TonyGentilcore

      You can definitely use the cable row for this as well. The options seem endless. I miss your face too Marco…..;o)

      • TonyGentilcore

        And, just to throw it out there for everyone else who may be reading and thinking to themselves that it just got a little weird in here, Marco was an intern at Cressey Performance earlier this year, so we actually do know one another.

  • Great exercise Tony, can’t wait to try these out. Just out of curiousity, when you think of an exercise like this what makes you decide whether an exercise is done half kneeling, kneeling, or another way, is it finding the best position to increase glute activation and stability, or is it personal preference? 

    • TonyGentilcore

      For me, half kneeling is MORE stable than tall kneeling….so I generally start there. In this case, though, I prefer the half kneeling because of the added benefit of the hip flexor “stretch.”

  • Katie Mack

    Just tried this and loved every second of it. Thank you for making my lift time that much more enjoyable 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      HA. You’re welcome Katie. Hope everything is going well down in NYC!

  • Alex Ray

    I have been doing these at the end of most workouts for a few months to improve strength my scapular region. Also doing them in my warm up sometimes. They are so good! If you train on your own are having trouble with scapular positioning you can put the non working arm onto the working scapular for some ‘self-proprioception’ improvement, really helps to get full scapular retraction and depression. Good work in spreading the word about them Tony.

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