“If you want something you've never had.
You must be willing to do something you've never done.”
Something you’ve never done could be as simple as research for your training program, such as the best core rotational exercises for a powerful punch, swing, or throw, which we will get into…
But first, let’s think about a typical day… think about how you move throughout your day and your surroundings. When you walk, clean the house, get out of your car or any other physical task that you perform, are you moving and bending in one plane of motion? Of course you aren’t.
We are constantly moving in all directions and through all 3 planes of motion.
The three planes of motion are:
Sagittal Plane: This plane divides the body into right and left sides. Movements in the sagittal plane are flexion and extension, meaning forward and backward or up and down i.e. bicep curl and forward or reverse lunges.
Frontal Plane - This plane divides the body into front and backsides. Movements in the frontal plane are abduction and adduction. Any lateral (side) movement i.e. dumbbell laterl raise, side plank.
Transverse Plane - This plane divides the body into top and bottom halves. Movements in the transverse plane are rotational, both internal and external rotation. i.e. horizontal wood chop, medicine ball throws
Since this article is about core training, rotationally speaking, let’s dig into that, and you’ll see how it relates to what I just wrote...
Your core goes far beyond your 6-pack. It includes pretty much everything but your arms and legs. And core training should go far beyond leg raises.
Your core is incorporated in almost every movement you make. It is the cement that holds your body together, strength wise.
Now, if core training is so important, especially for athletes, why do so many people train their core in only one plane of motion - through the flexion and extension (crunches and leg raises)?
Let’s make an important note here - The core muscles by design are stabilizers, not movers. Core strength comes from providing stability between your upper and lower body.
Core training must be done properly through all planes of motion to hit all the muscles involved and achieve maximum core strength and stability.
You won’t see an abdominal “pump” like you would your “mirror” muscles, but regardless, training core is one of the keys to injury reduction and improved physical performance.
When it comes to functioning athletically and rotational power – such as throwing a punch or swinging a baseball bat - it’s essential to train core movements that utilize the transverse plane.
There are 2 categories of exercises you can do to succeed in the transverse plane of motion. They are rotational and anti-rotational exercises.
Rotational movements come from rotating through a twisting range of motion, anti-rotational exercises come from staying aligned and stable as you resist an outside force that is attempting to pull you out of position.
If your goal is to improve rotational strength for striking power, whether that’s with your hand, a bat or golf club, you will want to train both rotational and anti-rotational strength.
Increasing rotational strength will help you produce more explosiveness and power through your range of motion. Increasing anti-rotational strength will help stabilize the body when the force of your movement meets what you are hitting or you reach maximum range of motion.
In order to build a strong core and demonstrate true power when striking, it’s going to be important to mix both rotational and anti-rotational exercises for balanced development. To do this without any complications, you must have an understanding of how the body works so you can keep your form correct.
Which leads me to a popular conflict that has been addressed and settled over the years.
The Conflict Between Rotationary vs. Anti-Rotationary Exercises
The conflict arises because a large percentage of low back problems happen because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine (at the L5-S1 level). The lumbar range of motion that many personal trainers and coaches have attempted to teach and create over the years may not even be desirable and could be potentially dangerous.
The ability to resist or prevent rotation may be more important than the ability to create it. People should be able to prevent rotation before they start producing it.
The overall range of lumbar motion is only 13 degrees. The rotation between each segment from the T10 to L5 is 2 degrees. The greatest rotational range is between the L5 and S1, which is only 5 degrees. The thoracic spine, not the lumbar, should be the place with the greatest amount of rotation in the trunk.
That isn’t to say rotational exercises are bad though, in fact they are just as important as anti-rotational exercises. However, you need to know how to perform them properly.
When people perform rotational exercises they should think about the motion occurring in the area of the chest. Developing hip range of motion in both internal and external rotation should be emphasized when training rotational movements. You should work for core stability and hip mobility over core stability and core range of motion.
The key to success is to train both rotational and anti-rotational, as life will throw both situations at you, you want your body to be ready for either.
Let’s start with anti-rotational exercises.
Think of anti-rotation exercises as a force being delivered that is trying to cause trunk rotation, and your duty is to prevent that rotation from occurring. That is the true function of the rotary muscles of the core – stability and prevention of rotation.
There are two categories of anti-rotation exercises that we focus on.
1. Progressions of the plank:
Four-point position (two elbows or two hands and two feet) to a Three-point or two-point position (generally one elbow or hand and one or two feet) - Anytime an arm or leg is moved, a front plank moves from an anti-extension exercise to an antirotation exercise.
This category includes a variety of plank progression variations. Equipment can also be incorporated, like sand bags or dumbbells for moves like plank rows.
2. Diagonal patterns:
Forces are delivered at different angles. The core muscles must oppose these forces in their anti-rotation function.
This category incorporates exercises such as chops, lifts, press-outs and push-pulls. Equipment is incorporated in these exercises, such as bands, cables, or Olympic bar.
Both categories are essentially stability exercises.
Training like this is extremely important for correcting strength imbalances in the low back and hips, which is caused by over specialization of rotational movements (constantly twisting and turning in one direction, like when swinging a bat or golf club).
SET FOR SET's favorite anti-rotational exercises:
Stability Plank Alternates
Get in push-up position and lift one leg and the opposite side arm. Hold the position. Be careful not to lean to the side or let your hips rotate. Return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
Anti-Rotational Plank Pulls
Start with an Olympic bar tucked into a corner. Stand at the far end and pick that end of the bar up so it is overhead (landmine position). Lower the bar to one side; only allow your arms to move as you bring the bar from one side to the other. Withstand the temptation to turn your hips – Keep straightforward throughout the exercise.
How to set up landmine exercises: http://www.stack.com/a/landmine-exercises
This anti-rotation band movement is good for people at all level. You can make this exercise harder or easier depending on the size of the band.
This exercise is perfect for correcting imbalances in the core musculature and can be used for basic strengthening or injury rehabilitation.
Start in a kneeling position with a band attached to a sturdy frame (i.e. squat rack) off to one side. Pull the band to your body’s centerline with your arms extended.
Press your hands to your chest and back out completely extended. Keep your torso from rotating towards the band.
From the same starting position with the band extended, raise and lower your hands in an arc straight in front of you.
Start in a kneeling position with arms extended. Sit back onto your feet as you lower your hips. Push your hips back to starting position, keeping your arms extended and parallel to the floor the whole time.
Note: This variation involves hip extensions.
The point of all 3 variations is to resist the pull of the band, keeping your hips and shoulders completely square and the band at the centerline of your body. Once you complete the required number of reps, repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
The exercises listed above are a good basis for anti-rotational work. Remember that it is just as important to prevent rotation as it is to create it. In fact, it may be even more important for beginners.
ROTATIONAL CORE MOVEMENTS:
Rotational exercises require you to twist through a rotational pattern, typically with resistance bands and cables, or weights like a medicine ball, plate, kettlebell or steel mace.
Your internal and external obliques, serratus, and transverse abdominis are all engaged when you twist your torso explosively in one direction.
These exercises relate perfectly to movements used in sports and everyday life. Training for core rotational strength will allow your body to move fluidly with greater ease, while increasing the power and explosiveness of the movements and decreasing the risk of injury.
Rotational core exercises are the best for developing power in your core and hips. Understand that the goal is not torso rotation but rather powerful hip rotation. The goal is to learn to better utilize hip internal and external rotation to transfer power from the ground.
These exercises are particularly good for mma, boxing, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, and any other sport that requires explosive rotational strength.
Here’s our favorite rotational exercises, follow them with strict form:
Assume the landmine position. Lower the bar to one side and rotate your hips and shoulders towards it.
Once the bar is resting on your hip, rotate forcefully in the other direction, bringing it up and over to the opposite hip. Repeat for the required number of repetitions, adding weight each set.
Get in the athletic stance with a plate (25 to 45lbs) held at chest height. Rotate your body to one side and shoot the plate out as if you were passing a ball to someone. Immediately pull the plate back in to your chest and repeat the movement as you rotate the opposite way.
Attach a band to a rack or sturdy frame at shoulder height. Grab the band with both hands and stand facing the rack. Make sure there is some tension on the band.
Keeping your arms extended and one foot planted, step back and forcefully twist 180 degrees. Return to the athletic stance with control and then repeat on the opposite side.
Remember back to the intro of this article - you shouldn’t only train your core through one plane of motion. Your program should involve other core movements as well. So training only rotational and anti-rotational isn’t enough.
If you can afford to get your hands on some unconventional training equipment, you can have a lot of fun while training your core. The steel mace is a great tool to link your core power with your upper and lower extremities. Watch how it's done here.
Here are the other categories of core training that you should undertake as well:
This category is comprised of exercises where you are actively resisting extension at the lumbar spine.
This category comprises of exercises where you are actively resisting lateral flexion (side bending) at the lumbar spine.
Hip Flexion (with Neutral Spine):
This exercise comprises of exercises where you are actively bracing your core and lumbar spine while bringing your knees to your chest.
Keep all this in mind when creating the core section of your training program. Even if you just want to improve rotational power, hitting all categories and planes of motion for your core is important. Don’t skip anything, spread out your core work strategically throughout the week.
Day 1: Hip Flexion and Anti-lateral flexion
Day 3: Anti-rotation and rotational
Day 4. Anti-extension and Hip Flexion
Day 5: Repeat
And remember; train your abs like you would any other muscle group.
Smashing your core with many sets of hundreds of reps is not going to equate to washboard abs. Training like that will lead to injury or overtraining.
The best way to think about your core is the same way you would your arms. Your arms are involved in almost every upper body exercise you perform, your core is involved in almost every compound exercise you perform. You wouldn’t do hundreds of bicep curls at the end of your back workout, would you? The same goes for abs, doing 100s of crunches is counter effective.
As with arms, core training should be done with resistance or weight, and in the 10-12 rep range – the proven sweet spot.
The exercises recommended in this article should be performed in the 10-12 rep range (each side), or 30-60 second hold range.
Good luck, train hard. #ALWAYSREADY
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