Monday, July 26, 2010

Core Stability- Rotation

Leave the Twist to Chubby Checker
The core is a critical link in rotational movement, and perhaps more often, resisting rotational movement.  Previously I defined the core and discussed its role in bending.  As a quick refresher, the core refers to the area between the ribs and pelvis, including the lumbar spine, and its primary role is to provide a stable connection to transmit force between the upper and lower halves of the body.

The less obvious role of the core is to twist and resist twisting the spine, technically called transverse plane movement or rotation.  Resisting rotation is more important than creating it- this is called anti-rotation, and is a form of stability.  Anti-rotation stability is critical for functional strength and athletic performance, and for avoiding injury to the low spine.  The internal and external obliques are the primary muscles involved, but as always it's a team effort.

Twisting the spine means that the hips, ribcage, and head point in different directions.  The head isn't part of the core of course, so it's the change in orientation between the ribcage and pelvis we're talking about and trying to build strength to resist.  Being able to twist is good, but heavy exertion while twisted is definitely bad, and trying to twist the low spine as a stretch is also not advised, although maintaining existing range of motion is appropriate.

Anti-Rotation Examples
As always, I advocate compound, full body exercises, and discourage using machines.  The one machine that is OK though is the adjustable cable column, usually seen as a cable crossover machine or the fancy Free Motion machine.  These machines will serve well to learn about anti-rotation.

Stand facing a cable column with the pulley at shoulder height.  Grasp the handle and pull it toward you.  Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As you pull the handle, it pulls you, and the pull is a combination of rotating your spine toward the pulley and bending it forward.  Do the exercise, called a row, with the hips and chest facing straight toward the machine the whole time, and those anti-rotation muscles will get used nicely.  Do both sides, then face away from the machine and push.  Again, use the core muscles to keep the torso in line.

The progression from this to really work at anti-rotation is to stand in the middle of two cable columns and push one while pulling the other.  This will really, really, work those anti-rotation muscles, without including the bending muscles, plus give you some nice shoulder exercise.

These show how to keep the torso stable motionless while working the upper extremities, but more fun is to move the whole body while keeping the core in a strong, stable alignment.

It's All in the Hips
Here's the absolutely critical part:  We do need to twist, but not the lower spine.  Twisting should come from the hips.  Too much sitting down and general lack of movement causes tight hips.  Since the hips are tight when you do try to twist, extra stress is put on the spine.  This means that equally important to strengthening the core in order to protect the spine from this stress is gaining hip mobility and movement patterns to avoid the stress in the first place.

When the body needs to turn to the side, the pelvis and ribcage should both turn, and at the same time the legs should be turning in the hip sockets.  This gets a bit difficult to explain in writing, so I'm going to include a couple of videos from great coaches that further explain this idea.  These are my first embedded videos, so let me know if they don't look right.  The first is Rotary / AntiRotation Core Training from Nick Tumminello, a huge name in the training world with a blog well worth following:

Second is from TCU coach Zach Dechant from his blog post Rotational Movement Series, which gives details on an example exercise and other excellent rotational training information:

I'll discuss this more in the future and give more exercise examples that integrate anti-rotation with other movement.

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