Rotary training is probably the newest and most interesting area of core training. Rotary 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.
Rotary training probably traces its roots to Knott and Voss and the diagonal patterns of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). Although most of us now recognize PNF more as a neuromuscular stretching technique, in fact, the idea was far more extensive. Knott and Voss advocated diagonal patterns of exercise that would involve both sagittal plane prime movers and the muscles responsible for transverse and frontal plane motion.
Physical therapists began to realize that these diagonal patterns of extension and rotation were a vital part of movement and began to use them to provide a more “real world" aspect to rehab. The specialists in rehab began to understand that movement was multi-planar and that the highest form of rehab would involve diagonal patterns of flexion and extension combined with rotation. More and more information points to the diagonal nature of the human body. In the book Anatomy Trains, Myers discusses what he calls the spiral lines 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, know as the thoraco-lumbar fascia, along with the hip joints allow us to move force from the ground out to the extremities.
Most frequently these diagonal patterns were simply termed “chopping patterns” 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, best illustrated as a multi-plane pushing action. Verstegen has described lifting patterns as “rotational push press.”
The chop and the lift as exercises were introduced to the athletic world by nationally recognized physical therapist Gray Cook. Cook advocated diagonal patterns of trunk flexion with rotation (chop) and trunk extension with rotation (lift). Cook’s Functional Training for the Torso was a quantum leap in training as he advocated combining the concepts of conventional strength training with the concepts of rehab to produce a new category of strength exercise: rotary exercise.
Cook originally described sequences of chopping and lifting, moving from a kneeling or half-kneeling (one knee down) position to a standing position. Cook has since modified his original versions so that the chop and lift exercises initially are exercises in which the arms transfer force in a diagonal pattern through a stable torso. In Cook’s eyes, the initial concept of rotary training involves stabilizing against a rotational force rather than simply rotating.
Sahrmann’s thoughts support Cook. Sahrmann states, “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree 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.” In effect, the initial chopping and lifting patterns involve movements primarily in the frontal plane that force the client or athlete to isometrically resist rotation with the muscles of the core.
Clients or athletes must be able to prevent rotation before we should allow them to produce it. The action of moving through a chopping or lifting pattern prior to actually introducing the rotary component is a necessary precursor to the actual patterns of chopping and lifting. It is necessary 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 - a 20-inch-long bar fitted with an eyehook - is needed for the cable column. These handles can be obtained from Samson Equipment (800-4SAMSON). In Functional Training for Sports, these exercises were done standing. The influence of my work at Athletes’ Performance has led me to alter my view and begin with a half kneel.
Half-Kneeling Stability Chop
To do the half-kneeling chop, kneel at the cable column on the inside knee with the outside knee up. Grasp the handle with hands approximately 14 inches apart, pull to the waist with the outside hand and then press down with the inside hand. This should be a distinct push-pull action and should be performed without altering the position of the torso. Watch for hips shifting right or left or for inability to stabilize the scapula. A big key in the half-kneeling exercises is to get the athlete or client to concentrate on firing the glute on the inside leg. Firing the glute and drawing in the abs will create a stable “tall” kneel.
As this is a cable column exercise, three sets of 10 can be done and the weight increased in week two, or you can use a set weight and an 8-10-12 progression.
Half-Kneeling Stability Lift
The lift is the opposite of the chop. To do the lift, the cable column is placed in its lowest position. The half-kneel is again with the inside knee down. Grasp the handle with the hands 14 inches apart. The action is again pull-push, but you pull one hand to the shoulder and then press the opposite hand overhead while keeping the pulling hand at shoulder height. Press to a position directly over the head. Watch for shifting of the hips. Both of these lifts should be done with no more than 20 to 30 pounds at first.
Three sets of 10 can be done and the weight increased in week two, or you can use a set weight and an 8-10-12 progression.
Half-Kneeling Sequential Chop
The next exercise in the rotary progression is a half-kneeling sequential chop. In the sequential chop, trunk rotation is now introduced in a pull-turn-push sequence. The thought process is a simple logical progression from the stable chop. Posture is still maintained through drawing in the abdominals and firing the glute, but rotation is introduced. The handle is replaced by a triceps rope to allow for rotation.
- The athlete or client grasps the handles and turns to face the cable column.
- A two-handed pulling action is used to bring the hands to the chest.
- After pulling to the chest, turn the head and shoulders away from the cable column and execute what looks like a diagonal triceps pressdown.
- This is the pull-turn-push action alluded to above.
The obvious question is why sequential. A three-part sequence allows the coach or trainer to teach the motion and introduce rotation without fear of compensation. Rotation is introduced but in a very controlled manner.
Half-Kneeling Sequential Lift
In the half-kneeling sequential lift, the action is now a pull-turn-press action. This is the beginning of Mark Verstegens’ rotational push press concept. The triceps rope handle is again substituted for the handle. The ropes are gripped with the thumbs up, and the initial action takes on the appearance of a close grip upright row.
- The athlete grasps the rope with the head and shoulders turned toward the cable column. Abdominals are drawn in; the glute is fired.
- The athlete pulls with hands to the chest, rotates the trunk and presses diagonally out past the opposite shoulder.
Lunge position. Chop and lift done as above.
Dynamic Chop and Lift
Both the dynamic chop and lift now move to a standing position and truly become multi-joint extension-rotation or flexion-rotation exercises. The emphasis is now on teaching an athlete or client to transfer force from the ground, through the trunk and into the hands in the diagonal chop and lift patterns. I prefer standing lifts to standing chops. The dynamic standing lift is one of the most “sport specific” actions that can be performed in the weight room. To perform the dynamic standing lift, do the following:
- Grasp the handles with the thumbs up.
- Position yourself perpendicular to the cable column with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Begin in a squat position with the hands outside of the leg closest to the cable.
- The action from here is now squat-rotate-press down in a rapid, fluid motion.
This article hopefully makes you think about core training in a very different light. I feel we will continue to make advances in this area through research and writings from people like Stuart McGill, Paul Hodges and Shirley Sahrmann. Core training is, in my mind, at the center of the functional versus non-functional and isolation versus integration arguments. I can honestly say I have been on both sides of this argument, and that my work over the past two years has totally changed my opinion. As I stated previously, I believe many athletes cannot properly use the glutes or the abdominals. These inabilities are at the heart of many dysfunctions, from low back pain to hamstring injury. I also believe that isolative core work is essential to “rewire” these neural patterns and correct these dysfunctions. I am clearly not advocating a return to single-joint exercise, but I do feel that isolative work in the core is a necessity. It is also obvious that the definition of core continues to move outward and truly does encompass the hips and, in reality, the scapulo-thoracic joints. However, the scapulo-thoracic joint will be dealt with in conjunction with upper body pulling.
From core stability to core strength to hip stability and into rotary training, it is clear that our approach to training is changing rapidly. The days of uni-planar, rectus-dominant abdominal work is clearly gone and is being replaced by an ever evolving series of exercises emanating primarily from the world of physical therapy.