Mike Boyle on Rotational Training

Mike Boyle on Rotational Core Training
An excerpt from Advances in Functional Training
Approaches in Core Training, pages 93, 97-99

Michael Boyle

Rotational training is really the blending of core training and strength training and is, in fact, an essential part of both core training and proper strength development.

We can probably trace the roots of rotary training probably to Maggie Knott and Dorothy Voss, physical therapists who expanded on neurophysiologist Dr. Herman Kabat’s diagonal patterns of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) from the 1950s. Although we now recognize PNF more as a neuromuscular stretching technique, the idea was originally far more extensive. Knott and Voss advocated diagonal patterns of exercise to involve both sagittal plane prime movers and the muscles responsible for transverse and frontal plane motion.

Physical therapists began to realize these diagonal patterns of extension and rotation were a vital part of movement and started to use them to provide a more real-world aspect to rehab. Specialists in rehab began to understand movement is multi-planar, and the highest form of rehab involved diagonal patterns of flexion and extension combined with rotation.

Thomas Myers in Anatomy Trains discusses what he calls the spiral and functional lines of the body, while Janda made us aware of the integrated workings of the musculature across the critical junction from the glutes to the opposite-side lat. This area, known as the thoracolumbar fascia, along with the hip joints, allows us to move force from the ground to the extremities.

The most frequent diagonal patterns we use to address these lines are called chopping and lifting patterns. Chopping is a pattern of flexion and rotation, probably best illustrated by the actions of chopping wood, or, from an athletic standpoint, throwing a baseball. Lifting is the pattern of extension and rotation, a multi-plane pushing action. Mark Verstegen describes lifting patterns as a rotational push-press.

Gray Cook's chop exercise

The chop and the lift as exercises were introduced to the athletic world by Gray Cook. Gray advocated diagonal patterns of trunk flexion with rotation — the chop — and trunk extension with rotation — the lift. His 1997 article Functional Training for the Torso was a quantum leap in training, combining the concepts of conventional strength training with the concepts of rehab to produce a new category of strength exercise: Rotational Training.

Cook originally described sequences of chopping and lifting, moving from a regular kneeling or a half-kneeling position with one knee down, up to standing.

Cook has since modified his original versions so the chop-and-lift exercises are initially exercises in which the arms transfer force in a diagonal pattern through a stable torso.

In Gray’s view, the initial concept of rotary training involves stabilizing against a rotational force rather than simply rotating.

Shirley Sahrmann’s thoughts support Cook. She wrote, “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree of rotation of the trunk… A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5- S1 level.”

The initial chopping and lifting patterns involve movements primarily in the frontal plane that force the athlete to isometrically resist rotation with the muscles of the core.

Athletes must be able to prevent rotation before we allow them to produce it. The action of moving through a chopping or lifting pattern prior to introducing the rotary component is a necessary precursor to the actual motions of chopping and lifting. It is important to be able to isometrically resist the forces of rotation before those forces can be used in a propulsive manner.

Performance enhancement expert Mark Verstegen probably deserves the credit for taking Cook’s concepts into the field through his work at Athletes’ Performance. In the Athletes’ Performance philosophy, rotary training is viewed as a program component much like squatting or pressing.

The chop-and-lift exercises presented here have been modified from Cook’s original ideas. The initial exercises challenge trunk stability through the use of a cable column. To properly perform these exercises, a special handle—the Cook bar, a twenty-inch-long bar fitted with an eyehook—is needed for the cable column. These handles can be obtained from Perform Better.

In Functional Training for Sports, these exercises were done standing. The influence of my work at Athletes’ Performance led me to alter my view and we now begin with a half-kneel position.

Awareness in Rotational Training

Part of the process of moving from a sagittal plane orientation to an emphasis on unilateral training and multi-planar training has been a huge push toward developing flexibility in rotation. Athletes competing in a sport that requires rotation, like baseball, hockey or golf, were urged to develop more rotation in the lumbar area.

Like many performance coaches, I fell victim to this flawed concept. I was one of the lemmings, blindly following the recommendations of others and using exercises I now consider questionable or even dangerous. As a back pain sufferer, I wrote off my own discomfort as age-related and continued to perform rotary stretches and dynamic rotational warm-up exercises.

It took time, but eventually, we eliminated a whole group of stretches and dynamic warm-up exercises that were once staples of our programs.

Here’s the key: The lumbar range of motion we were trying to create is potentially injurious.

The ability to resist or to prevent rotation is more important than the ability to create it. Clients must be able to prevent rotation before we should allow them to produce it. James Porterfield and Carl DeRosa in their book Mechanical Low Back Pain came to the same conclusion as Sahrmann.

Porterfield and DeRosa wrote, “Rather than considering the abdominals as flexors and rotators of the trunk, for which they certainly have the capacity, their function might be better viewed as anti-rotators and anti-lateral flexors of the trunk.”

Sahrmann goes on to note a key fact overlooked in the performance field: “The overall range of lumbar rotation is calculated to be approximately thirteen degrees. The rotation between each segment from T10 to L5 is two degrees. The greatest rotational range is between L5 and S1, which is five degrees.

“The thoracic spine, not the lumbar spine, should be the site of greatest amount of rotation of the trunk.

“When an individual practices rotational exercises, he or she should be instructed to think about the motion occurring in the area of the chest.”

Sahrmann places the final icing on the cake with this: Rotation of the lumbar spine is more dangerous than beneficial, and rotation of the pelvis and lower extremities to one side while the trunk remains stable or is rotated to the other side is particularly dangerous.

Most people now do rotational exercises for thoracic mobility. Why would we want to drive thoracic mobility through the stable core? Why use the hips and legs as a driver to get at the t-spine when we have to go through the lumbar region? If this area is weak and unstable, we’re going to get stress on the passive structures of the lumbar spine and not nearly enough rotational stress on the thoracic spine.

It’s very important to notice the differences in rotation movements. For example, lateral med ball tosses against a wall involve hip internal and external rotation, not lumbar rotation. Stop and consider your rotational exercises, and make sure your choices involve rotation in the hip or thoracic joints, and not through the lumbar region.

With this in mind, I have eliminated the rotational types of stretches we were using to increase lumbar range of motion. This includes seated and lying trunk rotational stretches, such as windshield wipers.

We also eliminated dynamic exercises designed to increase trunk range of motion, such as the dynamic bent-leg trunk twists, the dynamic straight-leg trunk twist, and the scorpion.

Most people don’t need additional trunk range of motion. The evidence from the experts is clear what we really need is the ability to control the range we have.

Although dropping these exercises may seem extreme to some, I have seen a significant decrease in the complaints of low back pain since removing them from our training programs.

In fact, a great deal of our emphasis is now placed on developing hip range of motion in both internal and external rotation. The future will see coaches working on core stability and hip mobility, instead of working against themselves by simultaneously trying to develop core range of motion and core stability.

It drives people crazy when I say this because these trunk rotation exercises are on every athletic performance DVD, but that’s where we are now: We no longer seek to increase lumbar range of motion.

To get caught up with the latest of Mike Boyle’s thinking on core training: Mike Boyle Complete Core—Core with a Purpose

This was an excerpt from Advances in Functional Training,by Mike Boyle

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