Training The ‘Knee Drive’ – Core Strength For Grip Strength

Training The ‘Knee Drive’ – Core Strength For Grip Strength

Grip Strength

It’s pretty clear that when training for obstacle course racing, a good level of grip strength is needed to complete a course in one piece and dead-hangs, wrist-curls, farmer’s-carries, along with all sorts of other arm & forearm exercises are great, but what’s a strong grip without a strong core?

Lots of people can hang on, but lack the ability to create movement.

Karin Knee Drive
Look at that knee! Photo: Karin Karlsson

Obstacles such as Ninja Rings, Spartan’s Twister, Rigs, and Stairway To Heaven notoriously require a good lift and momentum to save upper body energy when completing them. Building strength in the hip flexors, obliques, and abdominal muscles will make creating this momentum doable through a good knee drive and bringing upwards, sideways, or forwards movement thereby saving energy in the upper body.

Conor Hancock Knee Drive
Look at them knees! Photo: Conor Hancock

Exercises To Build Relevant Strength

Lying Band Knee Tucks

Resistance Band Knee Tucks

Wrap a resistance band around your shoes while lying down, raise your feet a few inches off the ground, and tuck in one knee, slowly return to the start position then tuck in the other! It’s as simple as that but this exercise will start you off with a bit of relevant movement and control while warming up the hip flexors and core muscles.

Add in a couple of sets of 16-20 reps into a full mobility warm up.

High-Knees Running

High Knees

Don’t pretend you don’t already know how to do this.

Run on the spot, raising alternating knees at least hip-height, moving fairly quickly to stay on your toes and keep a bit of a ‘bounce’. Swing your arms in a running style to keep your momentum up. Add this into the end of a mobility warm up, or as some drills in a power/plyo session to create some explosive power in the knee drive.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

Getting in the Press Up position and quickly driving a knee up to your chest then switching for the other is, like high-knees running, a great way to build some solid core strength while training the legs to raise up high explosively.

Swiss Ball Jackknife

Swiss Ball Jackknife

As a step-up from Mountain Climbers, grab a swiss ball and either add a bit of a challenge, or come to learn that your balance is just horrible. Either way, Jakknifes are brilliant for building strength in the right areas for a powerful knee lift as well as a great bit of shoulder stability which will transfer over nicely into hanging exercises.

Make this a little bit more advanced by only having one leg on the ball.

Reverse Crunches

Reverse Crunch

These can be performed on the floor or on an incline bench, but the general idea stays the same – use your lower abdominal muscles to tilt your hips forwards and bring your lower body into your upper! Slowly lower your hips back down – try not to let them rest before bringing them back up.

Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging Knee Raise

Getting a bit closer to training the actual move you’re aiming to perform – hanging from a bar and tucking in your knees is going to go a long way to your body getting used to using the right muscles to create that upward momentum. Remember to tilt your hips forwards and bring your knees up as high into your chest as you can manage, from there you’ve got plenty of options on how to use these, for example;

  • Twist as you raise your knees to bring your knees to one side to make to obliques work a bit more.
  • Raise one knee at a time.
  • Rest your elbows/forearms dip bars to save your grip from fatiguing before your core.

Hanging Leg Raises

Hanging Leg Raise

To advance the hanging knee raises, straighten out your legs and aim to get them parallel to the ground. As with the knee raises, bring your legs up explosively then lower the slowly and under control. Don’t worry if you can’t get your legs completely straight, you might just need to work on some hamstring/general lower body mobility, keep them as straight as you can. You can progress/regress Hanging Leg Raises in the same way as Knee Raises.

The can also, of course, be performed lying on the floow or on an inclined bench for regression.

Pullups with Knee Drive

Pullups Knee Raise

When you feel like you’ve built up some good strength, then of course the best thing to do is practice the move itself! Get yourself into a comfortable hang from a bar first, then explosively drive your knees up into your chest as you pull upwards at the same time. Make sure you’re hanging on to control the lower back down before going again.

Aim to create enough power to bring the bar to around your chest area. Don’t go crazy with the rep count as an explosive exercise like this will be very taxing. Play around with bringing both knees up, then one knee at a time to become a bit more used to using the momentum created by the knee drive to assist your pullups!


Written by me: Keith Fairburn

Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.

Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.

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