Developing Rotational Power for Baseball, Tennis and Golf

Build rotational power for overhead sports with a 4-level training program from STACK Expert Nick Buchan.

Watching a baseball player, tennis player or golfer shows you the importance of rotational power in sports. If you're going to deliver sizzling fastballs, blast 350-yard drives, rip forehand winners and compete to the best of your ability, you need rotational power.

For this reason, rotational and/or explosive exercises are included  in almost all strength and conditioning programs.

One of my favorite sayings when working with overhead athletes is, "You have to earn the right to rotate." Before you can start crushing med-ball scoop tosses and shot put throws, you must make sure you possess adequate movement, coordination and balance to execute those moves properly.

RELATED: Best Baseball Exercises for Developing Rotational Power

When they work on rotational power, my athletes progress through four levels:

Level 1: Single-Leg Rotational Med Ball Taps

This exercise serves to confirm that an athlete has enough balance to train with more dynamic drills that will come later. Research has shown that balance is associated with improved pitching performance in baseball, and there are plenty of parallels with that movement and the golf swing. Also, this movement starts to develop the motor control needed to rotate your upper body around your lower body in a somewhat dynamic motion.

Although this exercise is low-level, every athlete I work with, weekend hacker to tour pro, performs it. It might be for only a few reps or an entire training block, but athletes must establish competence in this exercise before moving on.

RELATED: Exercise of the Week: Cable Rotational Chops

I often pair this exercise with a t-spine mobilization drill. The t-spine is essential in proper rotation, and working on t-spine mobility prepares you for the more dynamic t-spine rotation in Level 2.

Level 2: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Med Ball Scoop Toss

This exercise introduces the concept of hip and trunk separation through good mobility, as opposed to excessive low-back motion. This is incredibly important in the golf swing. As Mike Boyle states, "Good golfers turn at the hips and the thoracic spine. Bad golfers turn at the lumbar spine."

You're welcome to use a Half-Kneeling Med Ball Throw variation here. It offers variety in the direction of the throw while stabilizing the lower body and limiting hip turn, encourage separation and rotation through the t-spine. That said, I prefer the Split Stance, especially for golfers, because it teaches them to have a firm front side to accept force.

Strength Before Power!

The first two levels develop the physical characteristics and movement patterns needed for quality rotation. Before we can progress these patterns into a high-speed, high-power-output exercise, we must make sure an athlete's body is strong enough to absorb the forces these movements create. A well-rounded strength program takes care of this to certain extent, but a rotational power program is also needed at this stage, with particular emphasis on anti-rotation core exercises such as Pallof Presses and Cable Chops.

RELATED: Increase Athletic Strength with Rotational Bodyweight Training

The exact modalities in programming a strength block for rotational athletes is beyond the scope of this article. For a complete resource on the topic, look here.

Level 3: Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss and Rotational Med Ball Shot Put

These two moves form the cornerstone of any good rotational power program. Sequencing for them is similar to the Split-Stance Scoop Toss, with a little more dynamic weight shift. As Eric Cressey likes to say, "efficient rotation is efficient rotation."

We usually include both of these exercises in our programs, alternating between them, although one consideration is always elbow and shoulder health. The Scoop Toss is easier on the elbows and shoulders than the Shot Put Throw, so if you have a history of issues or injuries in these areas, it may be better for you to stick to the Scoop Toss.

Most athletes stay at this level for a good chunk of time. And once an athlete has progressed to Level 4, we often revisit these exercises in lighter training blocks—almost as a "break" from the greater demands of Level 4. With this in mind, we fluctuate sets and reps from week to week with the aim of increasing volume over time.

Sample progression

  • Week 1: 2x5 (10 total reps)
  • Week 2: 3x4 (12 total reps)
  • Week 3: 4x4 (16 total reps)
  • Week 4: de-load week, omit exercise (de-loads are easier weeks in training that allow athletes to recover and adapt from the demands that have been placed on them).
  • Week 5: 3x5 (15 total reps)
  • Week 6: 4x4 (16 total reps)
  • Week 7: 5x4 (20 total reps)
  • Week 8: de-load week, omit exercise.

Note: Change exercise after this training block or move on to Level 4

Top tip

Power and speed are the goals, so keep the ball light! We occasionally increase the weight of the ball as a method of progression, but our aim is to throw harder and faster rather than increase the weight.

Level 4: Scoop Toss and Shot Put Throw Progressions

This is where the real fun starts! These drills develop a great amount of athleticism, coordination and dynamic power. They also look pretty cool! These exercises build on the cornerstone exercises in Level 3 to increase coordination, minimize ground contact time and increase pre-loading, respectively.

These are our peak exercises, the most demanding of all the rotational throws. Since intensity is increased over Level 3, volume is reduced.

Sample progression

  • Week 9: 4x4 (16 total reps)
  • Week 10: 4x3 (12 total reps)
  • Week 11: 3x3 (9 total reps)
  • Week 12: de-load week, omit exercise.

Note: Change exercise moving into next training block.


Don't rush through these levels. To get the most out of the exercises, focus on doing them well. Dominate each level before you move on.

You get out what you put in, so take what you learn here, apply it to your own needs and your own body, work hard and start developing serious rotational power.

Finally, make sure to throw from both sides of your body with equal effort and intensity. You can only accelerate as fast as you can decelerate, so you need to be strong and fast in both directions.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock