The concept of anti-rotation and using anti-rotation exercises isn’t new. However, it was highlighted and popularized by Eric Cressey about 10 years ago. Since then there has been a debate over whether or not these exercises actually do anything. Many movement professionals think they’re a waste of time. Some are skeptical and others are “all in”. Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument, but start by clearly defining the concept and giving a few examples of exercises.
What is it (concept)?
It’s all about staying in a neutral position to maximize leverage and force development. “Anti-Rotation” as it is discussed today in fitness and performance training is the ability
of the “core” (musculature of the torso) to stabilize the spine and pelvis to maintain a neutral position, while being acted upon by rotation forces. This is important in all physical activity… from running to performing a bent over row to a kettlebell swing. There is always some combination of muscles involved in preventing rotation against external forces in exercise and sport. When applied to ballistic and grinding exercises the amount force required to prevent rotation, especially in single-sided exercises, is significant when under heavy loads. Both anterior and posterior core muscles must “fire” at the right time and with appropriate force to ensure adequate stability to prevent rotation of the spine and minimize injury risk. While we are focusing on anti-rotation, it is important to note many performance professionals also address anti-flexion, extension, and lateral flexion in their programming. For simplicity, we are focusing on anti-rotation.
What is it (exercises)?
So… The Paloff Press is the exercise everyone thinks about when they hear anti-rotation. The exercise can be done kneeling, half kneeling, standing, and in split-stance positions (the position should be dictated by the goal or movement you want to “fix” in mind). Additionally, the exercise can be performed with bands, cables, or manual resistance. In most iterations of this exercise the handle is pulled in towards the midline and then pushed away from the torso. This creates variability in the load as the mechanical advantage/disadvantage changes. The obvious goal is to maintain neutral while in good posture.
Another example of an anti-rotation exercise is the shoulder tap. Same concept… just a different set up.
Assume a high plank position and slowly tap the opposing shoulder. The goal is to maintain neutral (most important pelvis) throughout.
The argument for anti-rotation exercises:
There are a countless number of people (athletes included) with significant motor control issues. As a species we find very creative and ineffective ways of accomplishing tasks with all the wrong muscles. Over time, this can lead to injury and/or poor joint position which negatively effects leverage, the amount of force we can produce, and increases the likelihood of injury. When the “anti” exercises are implemented they can improve motor control, help establish a stronger base and increased force production. However, the exercises should only be implemented when there is an obvious deficiency. For example, if a uni-lateral overhead kettlebell press is in your program and you can’t seem to maintain a neutral spine at a certain load there is a chance a stronger base (which can be created via anti-rotation exercises) will improve performance. In this scenario, you would want to mirror the foot position to achieve the desired outcome. Either shoulder taps OR a standing bilateral stance would do the trick. Additionally, YOU are are likely already prescribing “anti” exercises. Plank, Side Plank, TRX/Ring Core work, unilateral farmer’s or overhead carries, etc, etc… are all exercises in the “anti” family.
The argument against anti-rotation exercises:
People just need to get stronger through traditional strength training. If you want a stronger core squat, deadlift, press and squat heavy weight loads on a regular basis. With appropriate coaching and volume, your ability to maintain neutral in sport and exercise will get better. You don’t need fluff exercises to make this happen.
We sit somewhere in the middle. While we do believe regular strength training (with good programming) will help anyone maintain neutral under heavy loads, there are some instances where “anti” exercises are needed. We look at anti-rotation exercises as a sort of a movement “hack”. If an anti-rotation drill helps a client get in better touch with how to maintain neutral in another exercise or skill, and they improve performance, it’s a win. We are all about implementing coaching drills which have an immediate positive impact on performance.
Another consideration is the age of your client as it may have an impact on your decision to include or exclude “Anti” exercises. Older individuals will most likely need more of this than youth trainees. Older individuals (25+ years) tend to have movement patterns that have been destroyed by life, improper training, or accumulated sports injuries. Kids, on the other hand, can make better use of their time by including the big compound exercises and developing a solid foundation of strength. For kids, most of the time, movement flaws are a result of skill and motor control deficiency. Adding “anti” correctives won’t always lead to a boost of skill. For some clients, anti-rotation exercises are the answer. If it works, great. If not, move on.
The anatomy and physiology of anti-rotation:
Want to learn a little more about the science? This section has been designed to help develop a better understanding of the muscular anatomy of the “core” and each muscle’s involvement in preventing rotation.
Anterior (Inner and Outer) Core
Posterior (Inner and Outer) Core
|External Oblique||Prevents Torso Rotation|
|Glute Maximus||Lumbar Spine and Pelvis Stabilization|
|Internal Oblique||Prevents Torso Rotation|
|Latisimus Dorsi||Prevents shoulder Elevation and Protraction, Thoracic Spine Stabilization|
|Quadratus Lumborum||Prevents Torso Lateral Flexion|
|Rectus Abdominus||Spine and Pelvis Stabilizer|
|Transverse Abdominus||Torso Stabilizer|
As you can see from the above chart stability/maintaining neutral is a result of a variety of muscles working together. If you are going to maintain neutral in most athletic situations the appropriate musculature must “fire” at the right time in order to prevent significant rotation of the Pelvis, Lumbar and Thoracic Spine.
**Please note that there should be a mix of voluntary and reflexive muscle activation.
In the end you need to decide if you are on the “anti” exercise ban wagon. We find these exercises to be very helpful when applied in the right situation. Our approach is to apply these exercises with a very specific outcome in mind (i.e. improve stability in a kettlebell overhead press). Our approach includes the “anti” exercise immediately followed up the exercise/skill we are trying to improve. We have found this approach to be effective. To be clear, this is the only situation where we implement “anti” exercises. Try our approach and let us know how it work.