Considerations for Training Rotational Sports: Part 1

Nearly all sports that require an implement, whether it is a racquet, club, or simply a ball will necessitate rotational demands in order to be successful. The multifaceted considerations that are present in order to train rotation demand that the strength and conditioning professional has an understanding of how rotation affects muscle, connective tissue, segmental stability, mobility and stability patterns within the body, and also timing. Part one of this series will demonstrate important variables to consider when designing programs for rotational sports and provide examples of some key exercises that can be utilized to improve rotational qualities and ultimately power application. This will include positional considerations in reference to biomechanics, the importance or kinematic sequencing and ultimately how these variables are the foundation to rotational efficacy, power, and health. Part two will serve as a progression of part one into higher levels of rotational exercises while the third and final part of the series will demonstrate the highest level of rotational exercises where all of the aforementioned variables will be present at the highest levels.

To dive straight into this without at least identifying key anatomical components would be ill regarded. For starters, we identify the hips and shoulders as crucial components of rotation and, in fact, 30-50% of force elicited during rotational based movements originates from these areas (4). Upon further examination there are numerous structures that also contribute to the function of the hips and shoulders. The lumbopelvic hip complex is comprised of 29 pairs of muscles of which internal and external rotation of the hip is accounted for by 16 of these muscles (1, 2, 3). Moving superiorly from the lumbopelvic complex the muscles of the lower trunk and thorax all must work synergistically to deliver summated forces. This summation of forces can be analogously compared to that of cracking a whip. In order to effectively get a loud “crack” at the end of the whip all of the energy must travel from the handle of the whip out to the end. If the person operating the whip creates any unnecessary motion that deviates from the intended travel of the whip, the “crack” will not be experienced. This also has a timing component that should be noted. From the onset, the energy from the whip is being generated from the handle through the body of the operator. In order for the task to be effectively completed, the energy must travel out through the handle and to the very tip of the whip in a sequential and unwavering fashion. If the operator deviates the intended path or timing component in any way, the “crack” will be elicited and the goal has not been accomplished. This essentially correlates closely to the kinematic nature of how rotation must be initiated from the lumbopelvic area superiorly through the thorax, ultimately achieving the “crack of the whip” through the upper extremity(s) of a golf swing, slap shot, or baseball swing, to name a few. Conversely this may also be seen through lower extremity activities such as kicking a soccer ball or a kick in martial arts. Below are example illustrations of each.

An important factor to note is the importance of maintaining a neutral spine position in the lumbar region during such rotational activities. This is a major point of emphasis during training. Through basic testing it has been identified that excessive (> 7°) anterior tilt in the pelvis will correlate to an increase in groin strains and low back pain. Simple standing pelvic tilting exercises can be done to teach the athlete to better mobilize, coordinate, engage and maintain neutrality. The illustration below demonstrates this simple activity. Additionally, the lack of hip mobility and thoracic spine mobility are common and often responsible for ineffective rotary ability. Two simple drills to improve both hip and thoracic spine mobility are demonstrated below.

Standing Pelvic Tilts:

Pelvic Tilting: Start Position

From standing position with slight hip and knee bend maintain good posture.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt;

Rotate pelvis forward or down and a “rounded in” posture with the lower back. To cue this, tell the athlete to stick out their backside.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt:

From previous position rotate pelvis back & under hips. Repeat this forward and back rotation of pelvis for prescribed reps. This can be cued by telling the athlete to tuck their tail under them.

Note: The pelvic tilting exercise can be modified by performing from a supine position if the athlete lacks the coordination to execute this exercise from the standing position. It is performed in the same manner by cueing the athlete to create space and take space out of the lumbar area. This modification can be used as a progression to the standing position.

Windshield Wiper: Start from a supine position with feet shoulder width apart and feet dorsiflexed. Keep low back neutral and rotate knees downward to the side. Pause and then rotate knees to opposite side as shown in figure 2. Repeat this series for 2x10.

Kneeling Reach Backs:

Begin on all fours and bring one hand behind head. Keep the back flat, reach elbow toward opposite arm as far as possible.

Kneeling Reach Backs:

From the previous position rotate elbow out and upward as high as possible. Repeat for 2x10 each side.


Although these introductory drills may seem fairly simple, they are extremely crucial to rotational success, greater force production qualities, as well as injury prevention. Often times as coaches we have the urge to jump ahead because these lower level activities are not as fun or as ‘sexy’ as the higher level exercises. This is like putting the cart before the horse. If we truly want to improve function and performance we must lay the foundation to enable future success. Through repetition and consistency with these simple drills, your athletes will be ready to execute and perform at improved levels and for longer durations. Part two will be a continuation of this article and will begin to demonstrate a progressive nature of improving rotational qualities.

1.Fredericson, M., and T. Moore. (2005) Core Stabilization Training for Middle and Long Distance Runners. New Stud. Athletics. 20:25-37.

< >Goodman, P. (2004) Connecting the Core. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, 3(6), 10-14. Retrieved from Ninos, J. (2001). A Chain Reaction: The Hip Rotators. NSCA Journal. 23(2):26-27 Yessis, M. (1999) Explosive Golf. 1st Ed. Toronto ON. Master Press ![endif]--![endif]--![endif]--

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