7 Rotational Strength Exercises to Build Explosiveness

Rotational power is key for many athletes, not just those in the formal sports. While rotation explosiveness is key for sports like baseball, golf, mixed martial arts, and tennis (just to name a few), strength, power, and fitness athletes can use rotational strength training to maximize performance.

Core training in general is a necessary for maximal force production, injury prevention, and building better abs, with rotational training being yet another way to integrate core training into your current workouts. In this article, we will discuss the following aspects of rotational strength training to help coaches and athletes develop sound programming and progressions to improve performance and injury resilience:

  • The Importance of Rotational Strength Training
  • How to Integrate Rotational Strength Training Into Your Program
  • 7 Rotational Strength Exercises to Build Explosiveness

Benefits of Rotational Strength Exercises

Rotational training can help to increase sports performance, improve the transfer of power (kicking, hitting, etc), and can even improve core stability in explosive movements (such as weightlifting, sprinting, and contact sports). Below are three (3) benefits coaches and athlete can expect when integrating rotational strength exercise within a training program.

Anti-Rotational Strength and Awareness

Rotational strength training can be integrated within most fitness and sports training programs, developing stronger obliques and abdominals, movement patterning (in the rotational plane), and 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

Integrated rotational movement using the musculature of the legs, hips, and core (as well as upper body) occur in sprinting, contact sports, and even some ballistic movements found in training (snatches, cleans, jerks). The ability to promote rotational force goes hand in hand with the ability to resist unwanted rotational forces (most of which can impede performance in sports like powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic weightlifting if not adequately controlled).

Learning how to strengthen the core and then integrate more rotational explosive movements (like the ones below) can help athletes learn to integrate the hips and upper torso into the movement as well (1). By integrating even the most fundamental rotational strength exercises (below) within a training program, coaches and athletes can expect increased core stability, muscle development (of the obliques), and total-body coordination during more explosive-based movements.

Injury Resilience

Rotational forces on the spine can result in spinal health issues. Additionally, unwanted and/or uncontrolled rotational movement of the core can affect the hips and knees in movements like overhead squats, back squats, pulls, etc (2). By not having the coordination and strength to control rotational movement during both controlled and ballistic exercise, coaches and athletes may run the risk of using other structures for purposes they are not intended for. For example, a lack of core stability may result in the hips needing to become more rigid to support movement, which in turn could contribute to limited ranges of movement of unwanted force being now placed upon the knee in a squat.

How to Integrate Rotational Exercises into Training Programs?

Integrating rotational strength exercises into current training programs can be done in a variety of ways, allowing coaches to integrate the numerous exercises (and their variations) throughout most training programs. Below, we discuss four (4) segments of a training session that coaches can include rotational strength exercises (and power exercises) to enhance overall explosiveness.

Warm-Ups

Rotational training such as throws, woodchoppers and light swings can be done to acclimate a lifter to rotational exercises and/or can serve as a light warm-up for more explosive-based rotational work to come in the power, accessory, or conditioning segments.

Power / Medicine Ball Training

When working with athletes, I will typically put power / medicine ball training, such as ball slams, scoop tosses, etc towards the beginning of a session so that the athletes are less fatigued for these maximal velocity rotational exercises. The goal here is to move moderate to light loads at very high velocities, focusing on power output and explosiveness.

Accessory Work

In this segment of the workout, rotational strength exercises can be integrated using moderate to heavy loads to develop stronger muscles, coordination, and improve an athlete’s basis for more explosive work. These can be done supersetted with standard accessory work as well to increase to make workouts more time efficient if needed.

Conditioning

If you are looking to increase rotational strength and power, you can use conditioning segments to also train most of the below movements. While conditioning typically lends itself to greater amounts of aerobic processes and fatigue (as most power and explosiveness is done via non-aerobic systems), this can still be helpful to increase training volume, enhance movement under fatigue, and integrate rotational work in standard programs.

7 Rotational Strength Exercises to Build Explosiveness

Below are seven (7) rotational strength exercise coaches and athletes can integrate into current workout routines (as discussed above) to improve rotational force production and total body explosiveness.

Sledgehammer Slams and Swings

Sledgehammer slams can be done to increase core strength and rotational power in nearly any setting. To perform, grab a sledgehammer (which can vary based on weight) with one hand towards the base of the handle other towards the middle. Athletes can strike downwards onto a pad or tire, laterally, or in a wide array of angles; making the sledgehammer an inexpensive yet versatile way to build rotational strength and explosiveness.

Medicine Ball Variations

Medicine ball slams have been shown to be effective at helping athletes develop greater amounts of sport-specific rotational power, with the exercises ranging from slams, throws, and tosses (3). Rotational movements done with medicine balls offer coaches and athletes a unique opportunity to move with maximal velocities (lighter loads) or heavier throws to increase strength. Both can and should be used within a medicine ball training program to improve velocity (speed of movement) and power (speed and force production) of the medicine ball tosses/throws/slams.

Landmine Rotations

The landline rotation can be done using a barbell and a landmine holster, with or without added load. The landmine rotation helps to develop a stronger core that is resistant to rotational forces, while also helping lifters understand how to transfer force from the legs and hips throughout the core (assuming the lifter is allowing hip rotation, as there are various landmine rotation variations to choose from).

Woodchoppers (Cable, Dumbbell, Resistance Band, or Kettlebell)

The woodchopper is a loaded rotational movement that can be done with various equipment (see examples in title) and angles (low to high, high to low, lateral, etc). The ability to change lines of force allows coaches and athletes to customize training based on sport-specific movement patterns (golf swing vs baseball swing vs punching). If you are someone looking for the benefits outside of a sport-specific plan (general health and functional movement), changing angles can help you prepare for a wider range of motion and learn to control and resist rotational forces places upon the spine.

Tornado (Wall to Wall) Ball Slams

The tornado ball slam, is a medicine ball slam variation that requires a medicine ball to be attached to a tether/short rope. This is a great movement to increase a lifters rotational force output and train the obliques both concentrically and eccentrically at the same time (often done as explosively as one can). To perform those, the athlete stands with their back against a wall, holding on to the rope, with the ball on the other end. Simply keep the arms straight and rotate so there is not slack in the rope. As the ball slams the wall, rotate forcefully, pulling the ball towards the other side of the body/wall. Continue to do back and force, building in intensity as can.

Heavy Bag Kicks and Punches

The classic heavy punching bag can be a valuable piece of equipment for not only boxing and conditioning purposes, but for rotational strength training. Movements like punches and kicks can be done to increase rotational explosiveness and translate rotational movements into functional patterns for sport/life.

Landmine Press with Rotation

The standing landmine shoulder press can be paired with a slight hip rotation by having a lifter start facing perpendicular to the barbell. The movement is initiated by driving through the back foot and hip, and rotating the hips so that the lifter is facing the landmine attachment. Seamlessly go into a landmine press, using the rotational force that was producing during the previous step to aid in the press.

References

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.