Core Strength Roadmap

by Nathan Tomasello

Core Strength Roadmap: Rotational vs Anti-rotational Movements

As you go about your day today, take note of how you move thru your environment.  As you walk, pick things up, open doors, and all of the other countless physical tasks you perform, are you standing straight up and down and only moving/bending in one plane of motion?  No, of course not. We are constantly moving in every direction and thru all three planes of motion. The three planes of movement are:

  • Sagittal – This plane divides the body into right and left sides. Movements in the sagittal plane are flexion and extension. You can move forward and backward or up and down.
  • Frontal – This plane divides the body into front and back sides. Movements in the frontal plane are abduction and adduction. You can move side to side.
  • Transverse – This plane divides the body into top and bottom halves. Movements in the transverse plane are rotational, both internal and external rotation.

Now let’s talk about your core training.  I’m sure you are doing crunch variations and leg raises out the ying yang.  But if your core is the glue that holds your body together strength wise, then why are you primarily training your core in one plane of motion thru flexion and extension?  True core strength comes from providing stability between the upper and lower body, much of which can be achieved from static holds such as plank positions. When it comes to functioning athletically - sprinting, throwing a punch, swinging a golf club - it’s imperative to train core movements that utilize the Transverse Plane.  There are many exercises that accomplish this and most can be divided into 2 categories, Rotational and Anti-Rotational.

Rotational movements are exactly what you are picturing.  These are exercises that require you to twist thru a rotational pattern, typically with the resistance of a band or cable, or the weight of a medicine ball, plate, or kettle bell.  Your internal and external obliques, serratus, and transverse abdominis are all firing to twist your torso explosively in one direction.

Here are some examples of Rotational Core Movements:

-Landmine Twist:  start with an olympic bar tucked into the corner of the room (if you are lucky enough to have an actual landmine attachment at your gym, all the better).  Stand at the far end and pick that end of the bar up so it is overhead. 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 prescribed number, adding weight each set.

-Plate Passes:  Start in an athletic stance with a plate (25-45lbs) held at chest height.  Rotate your body to one side and shoot the plate out as if you were passing a basketball to someone.  Immediately pull the plate back in to your chest and repeat the movement as you rotate the opposite way.  The key is allowing your feet to move - you should come all the way up onto your toes on the right foot as you pass to your left and vice versa.

-Band Twist:  attach a band to the rack or other immovable object at shoulder height.  Grab the band with both hands and stand facing the rack. Make sure you are back far enough that 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 starting position under control and then repeat on the opposite side.

-Russian Twist:  There are several variations called the “Russian Twist”, and this one involving a swiss ball and medicine ball is the most difficult and also my favorite.  Start by sitting on a swiss ball and hold a light (10-20lb) med ball in your hands. Walk forward until you are in a flute bridge position with only your upper back touching the swiss ball.  Extend your arms so the med ball is towards the ceiling.

-Med Ball Wall Toss:  Stand in a split stance and twist as you show a med ball at the wall and catch it.  When you are twisting towards the left, you want to have your left foot facing the wall.  Complete the prescribed number of reps before switching stance.

Now that you understand rotational movements, it’s time to talk about what is known as Anti-Rotational movements.  Where as in Rotational movements the work comes from rotating thru a twisting range of motion, during anti-rotational exercises the work comes from staying aligned and stable as you resist an outside force that is attempting to pull you out of position.  This type of training is especially important for correcting strength imbalances in the hips and low back that can come from over specialization (always twisting in one direction while swinging a baseball bat, for example).

Here are some examples of Anti-Rotational Exercises:

-Landmine - Assume the same position as the landmine twist, but only allow your arms to move as you bring the bar out to one side.  Resist the urge to turn your hips and stay square as you bring the bar up and over to the other side

-Plate Arches - Hold a plate at waist level as you stand in a square stance.  Bring the plate up over and down in a circle then repeat in the opposite direction.  Keep your abs tight and your arms as straight as possible.

-Stability Alternates - start in a push up position and lift one leg and the opposite side arm.  Hold for one second at the top being careful not to lean to the side or let your hips rotate.  Return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

-Palov Press - The Palov Press series are probably my favorite anti-rotational movements for several reasons.  First off, unlike some of the more difficult exercises described above, these anti-rotation band movements can be used for any level of ability or strength depending on the size of the band.  The nature of the exercise itself makes it perfect for correcting imbalances in the core and can be applied for general strengthening or in an injury rehab setting. Start in a kneeling position with a band attached to a rack off to one side.  Pull the band to the center line of your body with your arms extended. For the first variation press your hands to your chest and back out fully extended, keeping your torso from rotating towards the band. For the second variation, start in the same position with the band extended and raise and lower your hands in an arc straight in front of you.  The third variation involves hip extension. Start in the kneeling position with your arms extended, then sit back onto your feet as you lower your hips. Push your hips back up to starting position, keeping your arms extended and parallel to the floor the entire time. With all 3 of these variations the key is to resist the pull of the band, keep your hips and shoulders perfectly square and the band along the center line of your body.  Once you complete the prescribed number, turn your body so the band is pulling to the opposite side, then repeat.

Workout #1:

 Superset: 3 rounds

Pavlov Press - 8 each side (each round rotate between press, raise, and hip extension)

Landmine Twist - 8 each side

Plate Arches - 8 each side

Plate Passes - 8 each side

Workout #2

  1. Stability Alternates - 10 each side
  2. Superset: 3 sets

Band Twist - 8 each side

Russian Twist - 5 each side

  1. Landmine 2 x 5 each side
  2. Palov Press - 8 each side, all 3 styles

Try the workouts above to focus solely on rotational and anti-rotational movements.  I recommend hitting one of them once a week and then also sprinkling in a few of the exercises with your normal core regimen.  

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