Training your core is a must for the ability to lift heavier weights, but a lot of strength athletes most likely neglect rotational core training — where, as the name implies, you one trains their core by rotating their torso. You don’t need rotational power to deadlift or squat, but athletes need to throw a punch, swing a tennis racket, and stay stable during movement (we’re looking at you, strongmen).
Also, people rotate often every day — when they sit up to get out of bed, swing a golf club, or bend over to pick up their kid. Rotation is a movement pattern, and it needs to be trained to be enhanced. Here are six of the best rotational strength exercises you add to your training program.
Best Rotational Exercises
- Sledgehammer Slam
- Landmine Rotation
- Rotational Med Ball Throw
- Dumbbell Rotational Punches
- Landmine Press With Rotation
Sledgehammer slams will increase core strength, rotational power and, as a bonus, are a good way to blow off a little steam. The athlete picks up a hammer, hand over hand, and swings it up and down by rotating their torso, like a coil. It forces the lifter to contract their core muscles to bring down the hammer quickly. You’ll also build arm and shoulder strength in the process from handling a heavy hammer.
The Benefits of Sledgehammer Slams
- Improves hand-to-eye coördination and conditioning from the cardio it requires to slam a hammer repeatedly.
- Strengthens the muscles in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder girdle.
- Improves striking power from a variety of angles.
How to Do Sledgehammer Slams
Start with the side that feels most natural for you. With the right-sided slam, grip the sledgehammer near the bottom with the left hand. Grip the right hand near the top of the hammer. When bringing the sledgehammer up and over the shoulder to slam the tire, let your right hand slide down towards your left. To reset the movement, bring your right hand back toward the top of the hammer. This is key to ensuring you don’t destroy your wrists.
The landmine rotation is performed using a barbell and a landmine attachment or by wedging a barbell into a corner (see video). The landmine rotation develops a stronger core as the user must resist the weight of the loaded barbell during each rep. This exercise teaches a person to transfer force from the lower to the upper body while limiting movement from the core.
The Benefits of the Landmine Rotation
- Improves rotational and core strength.
- Has great carryover to sports that require rotational strength like boxing, baseball, golf, tennis, etc.
How to Do the Landmine Rotation
Grasp the end of the barbell with both hands, with a stance perpendicular to the bar, feet shoulder-width apart, and arms extended. As you pivot with your right foot, twist your torso to the left and bring the barbell towards your hip. Then explode back to the starting position. Repeat, twisting to the other side.
The woodchopper is a loaded rotational movement that can be performed with various equipment (medicine balls, dumbbells, on a cable machine) and angles (low to high, high to low, laterally). This ability to change lines of force allows you to customize training based on sport-specific movements. Plus, changing angles help you prepare for a wider range of motion and resist rotational forces placed upon the spine from various angles.
The Benefits of the Woodchopper
- Strengthens the entire core, including obliques, and shoulders, back, and glutes.
- Trains and strengthens the core from a variety of angles.
- It can be performed with a variety of equipment.
How to Do the Standing Woodchopper
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a med ball, dumbbell, or kettlebell at arms length above your left shoulder. Chop across your body to the outside of your right knee while your left foot rotates inwards. Reverse to the starting position. Do all your reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
Medicine ball throws are effective at helping athletes develop greater amounts of sport-specific rotational power, with the exercises ranging from slams, throws, and tosses (3). Rotational med ball throw trains the core explosively too, which not a lot of core exercises do. That means a more injury-resistant core and spine and improved rotational power to dazzle your opponents.
The Benefits of the Rotational Med Ball Throw
- Strengthens the obliques and the internal and external rotators of the hips.
- It is done with a light medicine ball, which reduces loading on the body.
- The movement is dynamic, as the ball bounces back after each rep allowing you to perform the next repetition seamlessly.
How to Do the Rotational Med Ball Throw
Stand two-four feet side on from the wall with a med ball in both hands and take the ball to your back hip. Then transfer your weight from the back hip to the front hip while throwing the ball explosively against the wall. The power comes from your hips and not the arms. Catch the ball with both hands and rest and repeat.
Even if you’re not a fighter, you can benefit from rotational punches. You can perform them without dumbbells to prime your body and get all your muscles and limbs working together to rotate. Then you can perform the same movement holding light dumbells to stress the core a bit more and get a shoulder pump. Boxers and MMA fighters perform this exercise often to increase shoulder endurance and increase their rotational speed — a movement you perform weighted will feel a lot faster when you take the weight away.
Benefits of Dumbbell Rotational Punches
- Trains your serratus, upper back, and core stability simultaneously.
- Strengthens your shoulders in a different plane of motion.
- Improves your rotational power.
How to Do Dumbbell Rotational Punches
Stand and hold a light pair of 5-to-10-pound dumbbells in each hand with palms facing each other with elbows bent at 90 degrees. Pivot (pivot with your feet and rotate at the hips, not lower back). right and punch your left hand directly in front of you and extend your left arm as far out as it will go across your body. Then pivot back to your left, bringing your left hand toward your chest, and repeat with the right hand.
Landmine press with rotation is performed with slight hip rotation by having the lifter face perpendicular to the landmine attachment. The movement is initiated by driving through the back foot and hip and rotating the hips so that the lifter is facing forward while explosively pressing the barbell overhead. This is a great exercise for transferring power from the lower to the upper body needed for many rotational sports like baseball, tennis, boxing, and golf.
The Benefits of the Landmine Press with Rotation
- Develops coördination and power from the lower to the upper body.
- Great exercise for rotational athletes and for those who lack shoulder mobility to overhead press.
- Improves rotational strength and power.
How to Do the Landmine Press with Rotation
Stand perpendicular to the landmine with feet hip-width apart and toes pointed forward. Holding the end of the barbell with one hand and position it at chest level inside the shoulder. Lower into a quarter squat, drive through, pivot off your back foot, and press the barbell overhead. Reverse the movement to the starting position and repeat.
Benefits of Rotational Strength
Rotational training can improve sports performance, improve the transfer of power from the lower to the upper body, and improve core stability in explosive movements like weightlifting and sprinting. Here are three other important benefits of integrating rotational strength exercises within your training program.
Improved Anti-Rotational Strength
Developing stronger obliques and abdominals in the rotational plane can improve a lifter’s/athlete’s ability to stabilize the spine and hips during explosive movements such as swings, slams, jumps, running, and even the Olympic lifts.
Total-Body Power and Explosiveness
Strengthening the core with the rotational movements above can help athletes integrate the hips and upper torso into rotational movement. (1). When performing rotational exercises, you will improve core stability, muscle development (obliques), and total-body coordination.
Unwanted rotational movement of the spine can affect the hips and knees in movements like overhead squats, back squats, pulls, etc. (2). By not having the required coördination and strength to control rotational movement during both controlled and ballistic exercise, you may run the risk of stressing muscles, joints, and tendons that are not intended for rotation.
How to Program Rotational Exercises Into Your Training
Below are three ways to program rotational strength exercises into your training program, allowing you the flexibility to use them where they benefit you the most.
Rotational exercises like med ball throws and woodchoppers can serve as a light warm-up for more explosive-based rotational work to come in the power, accessory, or conditioning training.
Rotational strength exercises programmed using moderate to heavy loads will help develop stronger muscles, coordination, and improve total body power. Supersetting rotational strength exercise with other accessory movements will increase your training efficiency too.
While conditioning leads to greater amounts of fatigue because most power movements are fueled via non-aerobic systems, programming rotational strength exercises here is helpful because you’ll increase training volume and enhance movement under fatigue, which is important for injury prevention when you play for a living.
More Rotational Power Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best rotational strength exercises to strengthen your core, you can also check out these other helpful power training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- No Barbell, No Problem — The Best Medicine Ball Exercises for Power
- The 8 Best Plyometric Exercises to Power-Up Your Training
- Mcgill, S. (2010). Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(3), 33-46. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e3181df4521
- Willson, J. D., Dougherty, C. P., Ireland, M. L., & Davis, I. M. (2005). Core Stability and Its Relationship to Lower Extremity Function and Injury. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 13(5), 316-325. doi:10.5435/00124635-200509000-00005
- Earp, J. E., & Kraemer, W. J. (2010). Medicine Ball Training Implications for Rotational Power Sports. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(4), 20-25. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e3181e92911
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