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The Buzz About Anti-rotation Core Training
Have you heard of anti-rotation core training? You might already be employing this method with clients, but haven’t called it that by name. It’s not a new technique, even though the term “anti-rotation” has recently become a buzzword in the industry. New or not, anti-rotation exercises can be useful for incorporating variety and, most importantly, helping clients master core stability.
“When done properly, beginning with gentle resistance and proper cuing and focus, these exercises teach clients to engage only the necessary muscles, while inviting movement or relaxation in other areas of the body,” explains Brian Richey, owner of Fit 4 Life DC in Washington, D.C. This article provides an overview of anti-rotation training and why it’s beneficial, along with a few exercises to try.
What Does “Anti-rotation” Mean?
Considering its name, anti-rotation training is somewhat self-explanatory: “Anti-rotation exercises resist rotation of the trunk (core) and spine when acted on by elements of the environment,” says Michael Piercy, M.S., 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of The LAB in Fairfield, N.J.
With that in mind, the goal is to maintain a stable core position throughout the chosen exercise even when a resistance or force tempts trunk rotation.
“Anti-rotation training means placing asymmetrical, unbalanced forces or loads on the body, causing the muscles and tissues to stabilize,” says Pete McCall, M.S., education consultant, author and host of the All About Fitness podcast in San Diego, Calif. This is achieved by keeping the shoulders and hips aligned and parallel to each other rather than having both rotate around a longitudinal axis to the same side or in opposite directions.
Anti-rotation exercises, like many other exercises, are about the deep core muscles being able to stabilize from the inside out.
“[The deep core] is anticipatory in nature, contracting and responding nanoseconds before you go into movement,” explains Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, pre- and postnatal exercise specialist and co-founder of Bellies, Inc., in Toronto, Ont.
As clients progress with core stability and isometric strength, anti-rotation exercise can occur in many forms, from basic and understated to big and multifaceted.
“It may look like a subtle and focused movement, such as keeping a neutral pelvis while lying supine and dropping the knee out to the side and back in,” says Richey, “or a full-body, dynamic exercise, such as having an athlete jump and land in the athletic-ready position while the trainer pushes on the athlete from various angles.”
“The basic philosophy surrounding utilizing anti-rotation exercises is that proximal stability leads to distal mobility,” says Piercy, “meaning that before we can effectively utilize our limbs, we need to be able to effectively stabilize the midline of the body.”
Adds McCall, “The role of anti-rotation exercises is to improve coordination and strength of the muscles that function in the transverse plane (with a longitudinal axis of rotation).” Think of anti-rotation training as yet another tool in an integrated toolbox of exercises. The intention is not to perform anti-rotation training exclusively nor have it replace core training that involves rotation. “Rotation exercises are needed, as we rotate in life, but like anything else, it’s important to build a strong foundation first,” says Montpetit-Huynh.
“The body is structurally designed to rotate,” explains McCall. So why work against this motion with an “anti” approach? Proponents consider anti-rotation’s premise—ensuring a stable core first—to be foundational. “In order to effectively harness the power of quality rotational movement, you must be able to effectively stabilize, control and manage the core,” says Piercy.
“In my facility, this is where all our clients begin, whether they’re professional athletes or grandmothers,” says Richey. “Some progress quickly to more dynamic exercises, while others will be working on foundational strength for quite some time. We don’t move forward until we’re certain that a client has a solid enough foundation for us to build upon.”
Additionally, although anti-rotation exercises may suit many types of clients, the fact that they don’t place much torque (i.e., rotational force) on the spine is notably beneficial for people with low-back pain or spinal conditions/injuries and new mothers dealing with a pregnancy-related condition called diastasis rectus abdominis, where the two sides of the rectus abdominis stretch sideways away from the body’s midline.
Whether you go by the term “anti-rotation” or not, consider how this training method could help your clients develop a stable base for a variety of movement patterns, including rotation.
The following four expert-recommended exercises demonstrate anti-rotation training from a foundational level to a more advanced application. “It’s critical to define your client’s goals, and keep these in mind when choosing and applying each exercise,” says Richey.
Seated March With Core Breath
Trainer: Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, pre- and postnatal exercise specialist and co-founder of Bellies, Inc., in Toronto, Ont.
Equipment needed: Stability ball
How to: (Part 1) Have the client sit on a stability ball with a neutral spine and feet hip-width apart on floor. Cue the client to lightly place one hand on the side of the rib cage and the other over the belly button. Inhale and feel the ribcage expand sideways and lower abdominals expand outward toward the hand. Exhale, allowing the lower abdominals to naturally draw inward (avoid sucking in the belly) and the rib cage to return to the starting position. During the exhale, gently contract the pelvic floor (avoid squeezing it). Inhale again, releasing the pelvic floor and expanding the rib cage sideways. Once this foundational pattern is established, add movement (see Part 2).
(Part 2) Have the client continue sitting on the ball in a neutral position with feet on floor. Cue the client to change hand position so both arms are extended down, fingertips touching the ball on either side of the body. Using the breathing technique described in Part 1, inhale and exhale. Inhale to prepare and during the exhale, lift the right foot 1 to 2 inches off the floor. Inhale, returning the foot back to the floor (release a gentle pelvic floor contraction at the same time). Exhale and lift the left foot 1 to 2 inches off the floor. The goal is to maintain core stability and proper breathing; avoid tilting or rotating the torso as the feet lift off the floor. Repeat the sequence eight to 12 times.
Trainer: Brian Richey, medical exercise specialist and owner of Fit 4 Life DC in Washington, D.C.
Equipment needed: None
How to: Have the client stand with good posture, feet hip-width apart. As the client holds both arms in front of his or her body, palms together, fingertips facing forward and arms slightly bent, apply light and rapid pressure to the client’s hands and shoulders from a variety of angles (e.g., forward, back, right and left). Keep the movements going at a quick pace so the client can’t anticipate your next move and attempt to counteract it. The goal is for the client to automatically stabilize the spine without becoming rigid. You can tell clients, “Don’t let me move you.” This exercise can also be accomplished in a seated or supine position.
Anti-rotation Reverse Lunges
Trainer: Michael Piercy, M.S., 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of The LAB in Fairfield, N.J.
Equipment needed: Cable machine or resistance band
How to: Using a cable or resistance band, adjust the pulley or anchor point to chest height. Cue the client to stand beside the anchor point so it’s on the right side as he or she holds one cable/band handle with both hands, arms extended in front at chest height, shoulder blades slightly retracted and depressed, and feet hip-width apart. The client should be standing far enough away from the anchor point so he or she has to resist the cable/band pulling the body sideways toward the anchor point (approximately 4 to 6 feet). Keeping the arms straight out in front chest height, perform alternating reverse lunges. Remind the client to avoid rotating the torso toward the right during the lunge. Perform 10 to 12 reps with good stability and form. Have the client turn to face the other direction so the anchor point is on the left; complete two sets per side.
Single-arm Chest Press
Trainer: Pete McCall, M.S., education consultant, author and host of the All About Fitness podcast in San Diego, Calif.
Equipment needed: Cable machine or resistance band
How to: Adjust the cable pulley or anchor resistance band to shoulder height. Instruct the client to stand with the back toward the cable machine or anchored band, holding the handle in the right hand only, palm down, feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Cue the client to mindfully press the feet into the floor while squeezing the quads and glutes to brace the core and activate muscles that stabilize the pelvis and spine. Straighten the right arm, pressing the band or cable directly forward from the pulley or anchor point. At the same time, pull the left arm back, leading with the elbow. Remind the client to avoid rotating the torso in either direction while pressing the cable or band forward with the right arm. Pause with the right arm straight for one second before slowly bending the arm and returning to the starting position. As the right arm bends to return to the starting position, extend the left arm forward at shoulder height. Repeat this sequence for 12 reps and then perform the exercise with the left arm; complete two sets total on each side.