To understand rotational power, watch Paul Rabil unleash a lacrosse shot. The seven-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star uncoils his body like a wound-up spring, whipping his stick to release a 100-mile-per-hour rocket toward goal. It’s explosive and violent, yet controlled and accurate.
To understand why rotational power matters, consider this: nearly every sport skill involves rotation. Throwing a ball? Yup. Swinging a bat or racquet? For sure. Shooting a puck on goal? Absolutely. Even wrestlers and football linemen need rotational strength—so they can throw opponents to the ground.
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Rotation involves much more than just turning your trunk. It’s truly a full-body movement. Your power comes from the large muscles in your legs. Your torso rotates, allowing energy to travel up from your lower body, through your core and into your upper body, where it finally makes it to the ball, bat, racquet, stick or hapless defender you’re about to toss.
During this movement, your core muscles perform two duties at once—“rotation” and “anti-rotation.” Your lower core muscles, including your abs and lower-back muscles, perform “anti-rotation.” Together, these muscles tighten to create a strong foundation so you don’t lose balance or control. Then the muscles of your upper core and back, including your external obliques and rhomboids, handle the “rotation,” firing to turn your upper back and shoulders into the move and adding an extra boost of power to the skill you’re performing. To do all of this and do it effectively, your core must be very strong.
“The best athletes are the most explosive,” Rabil says. “To be the most explosive, you need to have the strongest core.”
To build rotational power, then, an athlete needs to perform both “rotation” and “anti-rotation” exercises. An example of a rotation exercise is the Med Ball Rotational Throw, in which you turn your body to generate a powerful movement. The Pallof Press is an anti-rotation exercise, challenging you to not turn your core, despite an outside force pulling on it. It doesn’t look as cool, but it’s equally important.
“If you look at any sport like lacrosse, tennis, golf or hockey, you have to be able to control and produce rotation, because that’s what creates power,” says Pete Holman, C.S.C.S.
Holman created the TRX Rip Trainer, a 43.5-inch bar with a resistance cord attached to one end, which Rabil uses to enhance his rotational power. Rotational power allows you to channel the strength you’ve built in the weight room with traditional strength exercises like Squats, Deadlifts and Bench Presses, directly into your sport’s skill. For Rabil, that means faster, more explosive shots on goal.
Rabil swings the Rip Trainer as if he were taking a lacrosse shot. The cord resists his movement, forcing his core muscles to fire to keep the resistance from pulling him backward. This allows him to train rotation and anti-rotation at the same time—and in exactly the same way he needs to improve at his sport. As a bonus, training with the Rip Trainer allows Rabil to practice his shooting motion, so the pattern of muscle firing during the movement becomes ingrained in his brain.
“We’re always taking shots on the run,” Rabil says. “So we need to make sure we are functional as we shoot and aren’t just throwing our body into a shot without knowing which muscles to properly activate.”
Using the Rip Trainer at TRX’s headquarters in San Francisco, Rabil demonstrated a workout that develops rotational power and improves conditioning. Here is the workout he performed, along with alternative exercises you can do if you don’t have access to a Rip Trainer.
Rabil’s Rotational Strength Workout
Perform the following exercises in a circuit. Do each exercise for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds between moves. Repeat each exercise with your opposite side. Complete two to four sets.
Rip Squat Row
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart facing the Rip Trainer anchor point. Hold the Rip Trainer with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Extend your arms in front of your shoulders. Lower into a Squat. As you drive up out of the Squat, row the bar to your chest.
Rip Split-Lunge Press
How to: Assume a split stance with the Rip Trainer anchor point behind you and the cord on the same side as your rear foot. Hold the Rip Trainer at your chest with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Lower into a Lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and perform a Chest Press. Stand up and bring the bar back to your chest.
Rip Triangle Drill
How to: Stand at the Rip Trainer anchor point and hold the bar over your right shoulder with an alternating overhand grip. Sprint at a 45-degree angle from the anchor point for five yards. Stop with your left foot forward and perform an overhead strike. Sprint back to the anchor point, switch your hand position on the Rip Trainer, bringing it over your left shoulder and repeat to the opposite side.
Rotational Exercise Swaps
If you lack access to a Rip Trainer, you’re not out of luck. Try the two rotational exercises below.
Med Ball Rotational Throw
This move increases rotational power.
- How to: Holding a med ball in front of your waist, stand with your left side facing a wall about five feet away with your knees and hips bent. Shift your weight to your right foot and swing the med ball to your right hip. Drive through your hips, rotate through your core and throw the med ball against the wall with an underhand toss. Catch the ball off the wall and immediately repeat.
Sets/Reps: 3×5 each side
Build Rotational Power With Advanced Med Ball Drills
This is an anti-rotation exercise, training your core to resist rotation.
How to: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width and your body perpendicular to a cable machine. Grasp the cable handle with both hands directly in front of your chest. Keeping your core tight, extend your arms in front of your chest. Bring your hands to your chest to return to the starting position.
Sets/Reps: 2-3×10 each side