Let’s say you deadlift, squat, lunge, press, pull-up and throw in a little ab work at the end – you’ve done a complete workout right? You’ve balanced your pushes with your pulls and you’ve covered all of the bases of what the body can do, right?
Bzzzzzzzt, not exactly.
While it may be a common belief that pushing and pulling or front-to-back is a good way to ensure that you’re creating a balanced workout it neglects entire planes and ranges of motion of the body. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies in a very literal way, and ignoring movements of the body means you’ll soon be giving up those functions, setting you up for a greater chance of injury and limiting your strength and success in the gym.
One of the most often neglected types of movement is rotation, yet it is part of almost every movement in daily life or sport. There aren’t too many sports that you can play without rotating your body, and if you’ve ever seen someone in a neck brace you can see how awkward daily life is without rotation
Here are five movements that you can use to substitute for non-rotational movements any time you need a little twist in your life.
This movement combines a rotation of the trunk with an overhead press. You can think of it as a sort of push press where instead of using a knee dip and drive, you transfer rotational momentum into a vertical press. To perform a rotating press:
- Bring a dumbbell or kettlebell to the shoulder position as if you’re doing an overhead press.
- Twist your body as far as you can towards the opposite side that you’re holding the bell on.
- Rotate towards the bell side pressing =directly overhead as you reach the end of the range of motion.
- Face directly forward, lower the bell under control back to the rack position and begin the next repetition.
Rotating Side Sled Drags
This movement has become a favorite of mine for increasing lateral force transfer as well as building upper body pulling strength. The setup of this movement really focuses the pull on rotation and pulling with the upper back muscles. To perform a rotating side sled drag:
- Set up a sled with about 10 feet of strap length and a handle you can easily hold on to.
- Facing perpendicular to the sled, grab the handle with the hand that is furthest away from the sled so that you have to reach across your body.
- Step away from the sled until there is tension on the strap and you are reaching across your body as far as you can reach. Note that you should twist your hips as much as possible, not keep them facing perpendicular to the sled.
- Pull briskly and powerfully, extending your arm out as far as you can. This is not a slow movement, be explosive.
- Reset your position by side shuffling until you’re at the position describe in step 3.
Don’t think for a minute that I would write an article about rotational exercises without including my perennial favorite the Jefferson deadlift. I write about this lift so often that it may seem at times that I am a one trick pony, but I assure you there is no better bang for your buck and I wouldn’t omit it just for the sake of variety. How to perform a Jefferson Deadlift.
- Set up by stepping over the bar with your body at a 45-degree angle relative to the bar.
- Squat down until your hands meet the bar.
- Adjust your feet from this starting position to where your leverage feels the strongest.
- Keeping your chest up, stand up with the bar.
This variation on a squat is, in my opinion, an underrated and underused movement. While you won’t be breaking your traditional squat PR weights with a rotational squat, you might be surprised at how natural this movement feels and how much weight you are actually able to handle. It’s a fantastic way to develop strength outside of the strict confines of the saggital plane.
How to perform a rotational squat:
- Set up as in a traditional squat, with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. I like to use 2 kettebells in the front rack position, or a safety squat bar for this movement. You can use almost any piece of equipment though, so feel free to experiment.
- Rotate your upper body all the one to one side.
- Squat down as low as you can, keeping your chest up.
- Stand back up, maintaining the rotated position throughout.
You can perform all the repetitions on one side, and then do the other side however I would note that the movement may feel better or more natural on only one side. I’d encourage you to take that biofeedback and to only do the squats rotated to that side for the day. The next time, try both sides and see if there has been a change. Contrary to popular belief, this will not cause you to develop asymmetrically.
Full Contact Twist
The full contact twist is a strangely-named exercise allegedly popular with martial artists. I can tell you that it is popular with clients, and a fantastic core strength and stability builder. You get a two-for-one of rotation and anti-rotation in one movement. It works best with a landmine, but you can also just stick one end of a barbell in a corner and it works just as well.
To perform a full contact twist:
- Load the barbell opposite the end in the landmine or corner.
- Pick up the end of the bar, and hold it out in front of you at arms length.
- Keeping your arms and back straight, turn all the way to one side.
- Taking a breath of air and then bracing against it, twist all the way to the other side, slowing the bar down as you reach the end of the range of motion. Pivot on your toes and allow your heel to come up furthest from the bar to allow the rotation.
- Alternate rotations from side to side.
Substitute any of these rotational movements when you need something different or your programmed movements aren’t feeling right, or go ahead and use them as a programmed part of your training.