Rotational training is the blending of core training and strength training. In fact, it is an essential part of both core training and proper strength development. Rotation is actually NOT one of the six foundational movement patterns (squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry). But efficient rotation is just as important to general fitness, athletic development and injury prevention. Rotation helps us combine foundational movement patterns into the applicable sequences needed in daily life and sport. But, rotational movements are easy to perform incorrectly. We often lack the mobility, stability and/ or coordination to execute sound rotational patterns. Rotation requires syncing the hip and shoulder complexes around a strong and stable torso/core.
Developing, regaining and relearning rotational mobility, stability, strength and coordination are some of the most beneficial movement corrections. These corrections reap observable improvements in the capability to safely exceed the physical demands of life. Rotation cannot be trained the same as its foundational movement counterparts. It needs to be programmed differently in order to yield safe and optimal results.
World renowned physical therapists Shirley Sahrmann and Gray Cook recommend that to rotate safely and efficiently, we must be able to prevent/control rotation before we produce rotary power. Power is the ability to produce strength/force rapidly. Power is required in all human movements. Power is essential to avoiding falls and successfully meeting the physical demands of daily life and sports. According to Sahrmann, “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree of rotation of the low back. A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles and glutes are not maintaining appropriate control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5-S1 level.” Sahrmann goes on to mention a key fact often overlooked in the rehabilitation, health, fitness and performance field: “The overall range of lumbar rotation is calculated to be approximately thirteen degrees. The rotation between each segment from T10 to L5 is two degrees. The greatest rotational range is between L5 and S1, which is five degrees. The thoracic spine, not the lumbar spine, should be the site of the greatest amount of rotation in the trunk. When we practice rotational exercises, we should think about the motion of the torso occurring in the area of the chest, not the low back.”
Sahrmann places the final icing on the cake with this point: “Rotation of the lumbar spine is more dangerous than beneficial, and rotation of the pelvis and lower extremities to one side while the trunk remains stable or is rotated to the other side is particularly dangerous.” James Porterfield and Carl DeRosa in their book Mechanical Low Back Pain conclude, “Rather than considering the abdominals as flexors and rotators of the trunk, for which they certainly have the capacity, their function might be better viewed as anti-rotators and anti-lateral flexors of the trunk.” In other words, core strength is improved by teaching the abs to help the spine and pelvis to resist motion and remain stable rather than asking these structures to produce motion. This is evidence that exercise like crunches, sit ups and back extensions are more problematic then beneficial in most cases. Most people do not need additional lumbar range of motion.
The evidence from the experts is clear, what we really need is the ability to control the natural range of motion we have in the lumbar region. Through a sound understanding of biomechanics, the emphasis is now placed on developing range of motion and strength in both internal and external rotation of the hips, improving lumbar stability, gaining glute function, enhancing mobility of the of thoracic spine (upper back) and developing efficient mechanics of the shoulder complex. With these elements in place, appropriate alignment of the body’s structures (effective posture) becomes more easily attainable. As posture improves, the focus becomes efficient force (strength) production and energy transfer from the ground up. Once adequate and efficient force (strength) production and energy transfer is constantly repeatable with proper posture, training to optimize power can safely commence. Training to increase power output heightens the transfer of the gains made in the gym to create improved performance and reduced injury potential in daily life and during athletic competition.