Rotation Training for Athletes & Lifters

The 7th Functional Movement Pattern

Perform better, build great abs and obliques, and prevent injury with these moves.

The 7th Movement Pattern

Rotation is actually NOT one of the 6 foundational movement patterns (squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry). But rotation is just as important to athletic development and injury prevention. And many times, rotation helps us combine foundational patterning into more transferable function.

But rotational movements are easy to get wrong. Rotation can’t be trained the same as its foundational movement counterparts. It needs to be programmed differently in order to yield optimal results. Here are four ways to implement it, along with some of the most effective drills that’ll upgrade your ability to do rotational movements.

Movement Pattern Correction

Many lifters don’t have the coordination to execute sound rotational patterns. It requires syncing up the hip and shoulder complexes around a strong and stable core unit. Relearning rotational mobility and stability are some of the most powerful movement corrections an athlete can make. And it can lead to instant improvement.

The two regions that you need to address first are the shoulder and hip complexes, which are the highest yielding anatomical locations to target with rotational-based corrective movements. They’re also the most commonly dysfunctional, especially among regular gym-goers and barbell sport athletes.

The shoulder complex consists of the shoulder blade, thoracic spine and cage, and shoulder joint working together in and out of the rotational plane of motion.

Since many of these regional components are in need of remediation, all three aspects can be controlled into rotation in more isolation out of both the quadruped and side-lying positions. Program any of these drills into the 6-Phase Dynamic Warm Up Sequence during the 1-2 minutes of concentrated active practice.

Quadruped and Sidelying T-Spine Rotation Sequence

The hip complex consists of multiple components: the hip joint, pelvis, and lumbar spine. The key is to coordinate the pelvis and spine to provide optimal stability in order to get non-compensatory rotation at the hip joint in both internal and external rotated positions. But it’s something that must be practiced.

For getting the most out of your hip rotation, especially during the squat, hip hinge, and lunge, you must first have a stable pillar unit. From there, you’ll be able to rotate your hips in other movements.

Here are a few of drills for neurologically locked hips that you can use in a pre-training routine for both internal and external rotation limitations:

Hip IR/ER Corrective Sequence of Drills

Though nearly every joint and region of the body has some rotational abilities, both the hip and shoulder regions were designed to display wide ranges of mobility. This is the case with ball and socket based joints. Address these first, and chances are you’ll never have to correct misplaced rotation elsewhere.

Dynamic Power Skill Sets

Correcting rotational deficits is a major component in coordinated rotational movement, but once those issues are addressed, rotation must be trained properly through dynamic power and skill-based movements.

Dynamic power depends on maximizing the force velocity curve and using proper loading that allows an athlete to maximize force production, keeping in mind the equation: Force = Mass x Acceleration.

When it comes to accelerating loads, there are countless methods such as Olympic lifts and their derivatives. But the ability to accelerate a weight with rotation as the primary direction of dynamic action becomes challenging with barbells and dumbbells. This is where unconventional tools like medicine balls, bands, steel maces, Indian clubs and a host of other implements can play a role.

Since the highest yielding exercises need to be centered around multi-joint movements that require coordination of the entire body, using methods which place the feet in ground contact and the hands in contact with the weight are preferred. In this base setup, you can maximize ground reaction forces through the lower extremities, transfer force through an integrated core unit, and display dynamic power through the upper extremities moving the load through space.

The medicine ball is my tool of choice for power-skill. Below are a few medball rotational power-skill movements. Use them at the end of a dynamic warm-up or before your first major strength movement of the day. They’ll prime the central nervous system and hone your rotational power-skill.

Multi-Planar Medicine Ball Rotational Throw Drills

When doing medicine ball throws, you’ll need to train the pure rotational plane of motion and the intermediary oblique planes. This sounds complicated but it’s not.

Movement is comprised of oblique and rotating musculature, tendons, ligaments, joints, fascia, vasculature and dermal tissue all spiraling together. But training it properly doesn’t need to be complex.

Just add slight angle variations to all explosive rotational movements. Exploring new planes of motion will give you the motor learning necessary to sync up the segments of the body to wire and fire together. And that’s what you’re after with the dynamic power-skill block of training.

Integrated Core & Pillar Training

Slowing down rotational movements can also be useful. It’ll allow your body to become more reactive to new positions and postures. And it’ll help you tap into more of a strength-endurance training effect. How? Through increased time under tension.

You’ll achieve a true core training affect by moving through rotation with your isometrically-braced torso. And unlike many core movements like sit-ups and crunches, this type of core training can be transferred into bigger compound strength movements and sports.

The best tools for this are bands and cables. You can use them interchangeably based on availability. Here are three foundational rotational core exercises: the rotation, chop, and lift.

Banded Rotation, Chop & Lift Sequence

As rotational core work slows down the movements, you can identify many weak links and dysfunctions. Movement dysfunction hides behind compensatory speed, so keep that in mind as you’re moving through both dynamic power-skills and rotational core work. When struggling to execute these chop, lift and rotational patterns, revert back to the rotational correction strategies mentioned in the first section.

In addition to corrections, you can add anti-rotational movements to your training. Two of my favorites are the traditional banded Pallof press and side-banded overhead Pallof press.

Side and Overhead Banded Pallof Press

With minimal movement at the core, you can get a desired training effect with isometrics. Since isometrics have been shown to have a 15-20 degree carryover, be sure to train multiple points in the range of motion for best results.

Sport Specific Movement Training

Coordinated rotation is a requirement for the vast majority of sport-specific skills. Athletes depend on their ability to transfer force and power through rotational planes of motion for both performance and injury prevention.

Those who can develop, maintain, and ingrain these patterns will thrive. And those who struggle with these skills will have unpredictable results and unpredictable orthopedic health.

Where strength and power athletes make their biggest mistakes in sport specific training is trying to recreate field and court actions in the weight room. They’ll often use cables, bands, or unstable surface training, but why not just coach the actual movement pattern itself? This simple application provides the greatest transference along with the most optimal motor learning environment.

Sport Specific Skill vs. Functional Exercise

Specificity matters. Especially when training complex rotational actions. Metrics such as frequency, loading, and movement velocities must be as close to the demands of competition as possible. That usually doesn’t happen in the weight room with conventional methods. It happens with the fine-tuning of movement patterns in real time, using real tools, in real motor programming situations.

The sooner athletes and coaches realize that squats and deadlifts aren’t the only movement patterns that need honing, and proper movement coaching transcends the skill at hand, the better sport-specific rotational actions will become.

One of the most powerful ways to add sport-specific rotational training into more traditional strength and conditioning is by running block-based skill practice before or after the bulk strength work of the day.

By coupling these skills that are neurologically demanding, you can enhance your lifts of the day by doing them before the training session. Or if you do them afterward, you can get the benefits of a heightened CNS to challenge and solidify skill patterns.