It can be argued that core development, and movement training in general, should focus early in the training process on stabilization and anti-rotation training. Anti-rotation and core stabilization training are key, if one is to create linked, whole body movement. I accomplish this by using unique partner drills, self-toss techniques, lines of resistance and reaction/return drills using a partner or wall. See Parts II and III of this article for additional exercise ideas.
As a stabilizer the core helps to generate power from the hips and/or shoulders by transferring load to this big movement engines of the body. Using the core to facilitated linked movement optimizes movement quality, safety, injury prevention and performance. In other words, the core literally links the lower to upper body, or vice versa.
Anti-rotational exercises require athletes to resist rotation, often in multiple planes of motion when executing a specific movement. In sport and life, an external force (perturbation) is encountered that can drive the spine into flexion, extension, lateral flexion or rotation, or any combination of the above. Anti-rotational exercises strengthen the core as a stabilizer, and can help an athlete avoid any deviation that places the spine out of neutral posture (flexion, extension, lateral flexion or rotation along the spinal axis).
In many sports, especially contact sports—or activities that can produce a lot of torque like Alpine skiing—athletes must be able to maintain directional movement while resisting contact or gravitational forces. Forces that cannot be countered, or neutralized, have the potential to increase the risk of injury and to decrease performance.
Good tools of choice for anti-rotation training include the COREFX Wall Ball, Slam Ball, Advanced Toner, Overdrive Trainer and Launch Trainer. Any product or approach that can create a counter-rotational line of pull that the core must neutralize to sustain a neutral alignment and balanced stance over base of support, can be effective.
It is important to incorporate anti-rotational exercises into your training programs at least twice per week. Note, that on a big picture perspective that, for example, deadlifts, squats and other exercises that require a neutral spinal posture, contribute to anti-rotation capability.
Key Point: Don’t lock this type of training into categories that seem to be distinctly different. At the end of the day, it is important that people default to and maintain a stable, neutral core as they participate in movement that requires a stable core, and/or more complex movement that demands rotation and power production when transitioning from point A to B.
Rotational And Anti-Rotary Training
It is important to note that rotational training - where the core contributes to powerful rotary movements found in activities like baseball, tennis, throwing, hitting, kicking and striking to name a few - uses the same essential core bracing that is important when performing a plank, deadlift or clean.
Key Point: It is important to note that rotational training uses the same essential core bracing that is important when performing a plank, deadlift or clean. Many sport actions, or reactions to outside force, contain either large or subtle rotational components. Take a moment to think about the movements inherent to baseball, softball, tennis, motocross, racquetball, hockey, or an MMA athlete throwing an uppercut. All sports, generally, exemplify and contain aspects of rotary actions that deal with eccentric, isometric and concentric force production.
Key Point: Functional core activation requires the core to be turned on and off, which is in contrast to long, isometric holds. Though most coaches use rotary exercises to enhance power expression via rotary power, it is important to understand that while doing so, incredible core stabilizing forces are simultaneously produced in dynamic environments. This protects the spine, links lower to upper body and optimizes power production.
No core exercise works on a pure rotary vector (lines of force). Therefore, the job of rotation, anti-rotation and stabilization is always shared between many core muscles. Deadlifts and squats can increase rotary power because of the increased active (muscles working) and passive (soft tissue/fascial integrity improvements), not to mention improved motor patterning. Isometric core contractions that load the spine axially, are very effective in terms of contributing to a properly positioned spine that can contribute to high-level force production safely.
Key Point: If you cannot stabilize the axial spine, you cannot optimize power production safely.
Categorization of Rotary and Anti-Rotary Exercises
It is interesting to note that pure isometric anti-rotary exercises are often labeled as anti-rotation or rotary stability exercises. These exercises often include Strength Toners (e.g., bands) and cable pulley system rotary holds. When performing these movements isometric core and limb contractions are maintained. These types of iso-holds resist rotary (torsional) force vectors in the spine. See Part II of this series.
- Dynamic limb (versus static) core isometric anti-rotary exercises are also called anti-rotation and rotary stability exercises. The movement complexity is upgraded because an element of movement is introduced via the limbs. The core must remain stable while some degree of movement is occurring in the lower, and/or upper body. Examples include landmine type exercises, split stance dumbbell cleans to press overhead (push/pull type movements) and split stance snatches, split stance single arm presses overhead, supine unilateral dumbbell presses, Pallof presses, and various cable chop movements utilizing a variety of vectors. See Part II of this series.
- Rotary movement exercises involve slight spinal rotation and include cable woodchops, band or cable hip rotations, Russian twists, windshield wipers, landmine variations, and cable chops in a variety of vectors. With complexity, load and speed comes additional risk. Always weigh risk versus reward in terms of capability and goal. Proper mechanics and progression are keys to success. See Part II of this series.
Key Point: Rotation, Anti-Rotation and Core Stabilization are important to develop so that fitness is not built on top of poor movement mechanics. Sequential Force Transfer is development when the core—through stabilization and resisting rotary and torque forces that create energy leaks—helps to transfer power from the hips and shoulders which are the key engines of power expression.
Core Stability, Rotation, and Anti-Rotation Functional Movement Goals
- Integrate Whole Body Toes-to-Head Training
- Linked movement training vs. isolated muscle training
- Linked training depends on the core connecting upper to lower body via a stable spine
- Activate the core as a stabilizer and to create/resist rotational forces
- train the core for stability
- train the core for rotary mechanics
- Develop athletes who are strong on their feet
Key Point: Core activation occurs during all movement and in all positions, whether the core is resisting rotational forces or contributing to whole body rotation.
Stabilization, Rotation and Anti-Rotation Training:
- Allow for the development of whole body mobility, stability, balance and movement integration.
- Help to maintain body control during static, dynamic and transitional movement
- Train body control and core stability during deceleration/acceleration
Learning to stabilize and resist rotation in the spine is crucial for protecting the low back and increasing ability to transfer power from the hips and shoulders. This can easily be added to any “back” or performance program. Additionally, it is important to increase available hip and thoracic rotation because the lumbar spine is normally capable of less than 10-degrees of rotation. Greater hip and thoracic spine mobility ties directly to improved lumbar stability, as it relates to power generation and injury prevention. The goal of this type of exercise is to maintain a neutral spine in an athletic position while resisting a spinal rotation stimulus.
Benefits of Core Stabilization, Rotation and Anti-Rotation Training
- Body Control
- Spinal Stabilization
- Direction Change
- Power Development
- Improved Performance
- Injury Prevention
Key Point: Athletes, as well as active youth and adults, must develop the physical tools that support skill execution.
Athletic balance and high-level movement competency is comprised of reactive capability that allows the body to adequately respond to a changing, unpredictable environment. Being able to counter rotational forces, create rotation and stabilize the core is fundamental to skilled movement. And, because this type of training is scalable and skill-based, your athletes will remained challenged, motivated and compliant with regard to acquiring these important skills. It’s fun to “get better every day and to see your performance improve!