Many people typically do upper-body moves (think: bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses) while standing up or lying on their back (looking at you, bench presses).
But there’s a third, oft-overlooked stance that warrants a place in your repertoire: prone position. Performing certain upper-body moves while prone—which means lying flat on your stomach—can provide unique, additional benefits, according to Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer Ashley Borden.
On Monday, the ACE-certified personal trainer, whose clients have included Christina Aguilera, Chelsea Handler, and Mandy Moore, among others, uploaded an Instagram Story where she demos "tempo underhand barbell rows" performed in said position.
Here’s a look at the move:
Lying in prone position helps stabilize your lower back, which is especially important when you’re lifting heavier weights.
Certain upper-body moves, like bent-over rows, are done from a position that can make it hard to maintain a strong core and not feel like your lower back is compromised, Borden tells SELF. “There is also a lot more room for form error when the weight gets too heavy,” she adds. In certain cases, “you cannot challenge yourself with a heavier weight because of the position, not necessarily because of your [lack of] strength.”
But when you perform this move in a prone position, which provides more stability for your torso, you can shift your focus to lifting the weight without worrying about overcompensating with your lower back.
In prone position, your body can give you important, real-time feedback on your form.
While it may not seem obvious, core engagement is key for performing upper-body strength training movements safely and effectively, especially when heavier weights are involved. A tight core helps stabilize your entire body and can prevent you from inadvertently straining your lower back during the movement.
When doing upper-body moves in a prone position, your body can give you immediate feedback when you “dump” the load into your back, or disengage your core, explains Borden.
As you lie on the bench, think about engaging your core muscles and pulling your belly away from the bench to ensure proper activation. When you're not engaging these important muscles, “you feel the disconnect immediately because you feel the bench under your body,” she explains. In comparison, when you do this move from a standing position, there is no physical object alerting you when you disengage.
Certain upper-body moves are especially effective when performed in this position.
They include underhand or overhand barbell rows, dumbbell rows, horizontal cable or band pulls, rear deltoid flys, and dumbbell or banded tricep extensions, says Borden.
There are a few general cues you should keep in mind if you attempt any of these moves in the prone position.
Just because you’re lying down doesn’t mean your lower half is off the hook. Think about keeping your legs long and your quads and glutes engaged throughout the movement, says Borden. Keep your belly pulled in, and your head and spine in one long, straight line. Keeping your core (including your glutes) engaged the whole time is really key in protecting your lower back.
Ready to try it? Here's how to do the prone tempo underhand barbell rows that Borden demos in her video.
This particular move is performed tempo style (also called time under tension), says Borden. Instead of cranking out reps in rapid succession, tempo style encourages slow, thoughtful movements, and the benefits of this method are fourfold. First, the slo-mo speed promotes better stability, says Borden, and also helps improve your mind-muscle connection, which is your brain’s ability to connect with specific muscle groups and thus help them work more efficiently. And, because your muscles are under tension (and just simply working) for a longer period of time, there’s an extra strengthening benefit. Lastly, it gives you a chance to dial in your form and correct any errors that you might not catch at a faster speed.
How to do it:
- Grab a barbell of appropriate weight (“start light,” advises Borden) and lie down on your stomach on top of a bench. The bar should be placed beneath the bench, directly beneath your belly button.
- Engage your core to pull your stomach away from the bench, squeeze your legs and glutes, lift your chest just a couple of inches, and keep your gaze down at the floor. As mentioned above, think about keeping your head and spine in one long, straight line.
- Grab the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing up) and squeeze your upper back to raise it up toward your belly button, keeping your elbows close to your body. This is the starting position.
- Lower the bar down for four counts, and without pausing at the bottom of the movement, pull it up fast toward your belly button again. Pause for one second at the top of the movement. This is 1 rep.
- Do 6 to 8 reps with this tempo.
After 6 to 8 reps, do a plank for 30 to 45 seconds, says Borden. Rest 60 seconds, and then repeat the set (6 to 8 reps, plus the plank) two more times, for a solid core and back circuit.