Sports Training & Conditioning Zone!

Developing "Rotational Power"

By Guy Massi, SSC, SCS, CFSC, CTBS
Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development
Massi – Machado Strength & Conditioning

Much has been made, and many a phrase coined concerning the term “rotational power”. It has been utilized, packaged, repackaged and over utilized again, and again - ad nauseum in sport, and training. Many a person has been sold a program centered on “rotational power” that oftentimes amounts to little more than a “bill of goods”. I submit that rotational power is inherent to a majority of sport worthy movement, and should be considered an important element in all programming as it pertains to anti-rotation, rotational control and targeted delivery of power. (Henceforth lending to dynamic trunk-torso, and postural stability and mobility) But what is it really? Most references apply to its presence in sports that possess an obviously discernable rotational element during play, yet categorization remains ambiguous in its actual contribution and development. Normally, prescribed training involves generic uses of medicines balls to appropriate this rotational power. But what of properly generating, harnessing and translating the appropriate, focused delivery of that power to an intended target or particular movement segment? To what depth must we focus on controlling the degree of rotation associated, and how does the counter requirement of avoiding over-rotation and pre-mature rotation (facets of anti-rotation) play into its development? What about torsion and shearing control throughout dynamic, multi-planar movement? What on this quest for rotational power, isn’t truly being produced and harnessed to its fullest potential and suffering considerable dissipation before reaching and intended goal or target?

Well, after a series of “rookie years” failing to exploit the fact that this elemental training exists to some degree in most of my athletes (and fitness clients) programs; I will now attempt to shed some light on its importance and intentions based largely upon my experience, opinions and proven athlete and client results.

Obviously we run across this term in abundance as it pertains to baseball and golf. But what about any sport where there is a particular degree of rotation and torque involved in energy production associated to the goal of power translation and delivery? (I.e. boxing, hockey, lacrosse, etc.) You see, whenever we rely upon our body to generate power via a discernable macro movement through particular planes, secondary to a series of predicating micro movements – it generally falls within the scope of “rotational power”. But what good is that power if it isn’t properly generated and delivered with accuracy? Equally important is the athlete’s ability to recover and immediately reorient to play after that delivery. Quick example; A particular baseball batter who possesses a propensity for excellent rotational power production (or really strength, as it is a one shot deal for hitting a ball) has the initial proprioceptive abilities (cognitive) to create and lend that power, yet lacks the kinesthesia (learned behavior) to successfully delivery said power accurately, to its fullest extent and then return to a viable playing position immediately thereafter. Furthermore, when that power is delivered to the intended target (maybe not to the fullest extent) in an effort to drive the ball, they then find themselves falling all over the box before being able to acquire and enter into the base path. (Better pray for all home runs!) In other words: “Dude swings for the fences every time, hits the ball hard, yet stumbles like he’s drunk attempting to get off and sprint.” Indulge me as I begin to break things down point-by-point and utilize medicine ball training as the most widely understood example associated to this type of training. I apologize in advance if the content found herein seems a bit rhetorical at times, yet I am eager to provide readers with a clear understanding of what I believe to be some very viable and adaptable developmental sequences:

First Let’s Look at the Required Movement's Association to a Rotational Element”

(Specificity of training the movement)

Learn and examine the kinetic “firing order”, paying diligent attention to the sequential segmental progression. (Chronology of biomechanical involvement) At what juncture does that rotational sequence begin? In general, a baseball/softball player or golfer is providing a uni-planar (sagittal presentation) to the field of play. (While concealing that of the frontal/coronal plane) Yet, if we perceive the goal associated with these sports as merely a uniplanar consideration; we are missing a grave deal of its totality. The instant hands come back or move, we pass through the median (a.k.a. sagittal) plane and begin to enter the parasagittal plane. As we attempt to produce and harness the required force we quickly travel along, then break the frontal (coronal) plane (normally by way of a knee or shoulder) and on the way to both force rotation and its delivery almost certainly breach the transverse plane (largely with a bat, stick or club), with the ultimate finish once again breaching all of the aforesaid, despite how subtle. (In the case of hitting a ball with the bat, hands will remain high and perhaps just the barrel chiefly pass through the transverse plane. (Most of the aforesaid movement could be paralleled for a pitcher also) Therefore, what we really need to examine and train for is more the multi-planar force production and proprioceptive activity that sequentially occurs across and though the anatomy’s planes, or what I refer to as; Hyper-planing.

Is it More of a “One Shot Deal”?

Back to that baseball (or softball) player, or golfer for that matter. Aren’t we really expecting more of an explosive “1RM”, one shot deal within the immediate energy system as it pertains to force production? I mean we’re looking for that ball to be driven as far, violently and as accurately as possible, and all while under control. So should we look more towards that “1RM concept” for this delivery and follow through, as opposed to the traditional and repeated toss-catch mentality associated with medicine ball training? I believe that unless you have a specific, reciprocal, declarative requirement associated to the movement; let it go and follow through. (Incidentally, Medicine Balls are great, but NOT the only tool required to train rotational power, or under this assumption; ROTATIONAL STRENGTH)

Anti-Rotation, Rotational Control and Avoiding Dangerous Shearing Force Associated to Torsion

Let’s acknowledge that usually as anatomical components become independently involved in rotation away from its axis, there is a higher risk of shearing injury present, when “creating” or encountering perpendicular or opposing force. Shearing can occur when a given anatomical component experiences task to, or beyond its limit and away from the axis, while under excessive torsion (twisting/rotation) and in the absence of stability, balance and control. Torsion, is the naturally occurring “twisting” routinely associated with rotational movements. If trained properly to be maximally affected and appropriately delivered with correct recovery, the forces of torsion and shear should be minimally invasive, and actually translate for efficacy. However, in the presence of improper declarative phases, mis-steps or movement decompensation; we find that the incidence of injury rises. (Sort of like properly harnessing the power of electricity. Well insulated, properly wired circuits provide a useful result, while improperly wired or exposed circuits are a recipe for disaster) Additionally and normally, the greater the presence of simultaneously involved musculoskeletal components involved to support a rotational movement, the lower the risk of injury. (This is why proper biomechanical development and utilization need to become embedded and engrained in the client/athlete. Proper patterning!) For example, while striking a soccer ball if a cleat were to get “stuck in the grass” and leave a knee and/or ankle on its own, while continuing the hips and torso (larger and interrelated anatomical components) moving in a separate direction, the risk of an ACL, malleolus, etc. injury becomes greatly elevated should the brain-body not be able to swiftly re-orient and positively compensate to itself. However if that same striking action is smoothly supported by a fluent and undisturbed follow through with foot, knees, hips, torso, etc., an excellent example of a forcefully orchestrated rotational power movement is demonstrated. For the above reasons we should look to incorporating deliberate methods that address movement fluency, balance, recovery and reorientation from rotational power movements.

The Importance of Recovery and Reorientation in Rotational Power Training

So a running back executes one of his ankle breaking spin moves on a linebacker, consecutively rotates to lay a stick on the safety, and then swiftly regains footing to continue on past the remainder of the defense for a 60 yard touchdown run that leaves fans gawking at the feat. Sure there is speed and agility involved, but somewhere along the line he has either deliberately or unknowingly built components into training that have addressed recovery from power rotation that compliments a second, and third encounter on the correct path. Examine a skilled boxer that completely whiffs while throwing a cross, yet is able to instantly recover and clip his opponent with a powerful uppercut that finds his mark. You see, many times we find persons conducting rotational medicine ball slams against a wall from standing, kneeling or half kneeling, only to immediately catch the ball in order to perform another rep. (Which has its metabolic and non-specific power training place in the world). Yet, what needs to be examined is whether or not that same degree of power (or really rotational strength) can be achieved in the absence of the stored energy found in the deceleration of a catch. (Which can actually promotes reliance on the stored energy present in order to perform the next repetition. And yes – stored energy found in the catch may significantly lend to a more powerful follow-up rep by gaining speed or momentum with each rep, if no discernable stall occurs. Varying degrees of discernable stall is referred to as “Dead Stall” or “Near Dead Stall” depending on the presence of any other related movement.). You see, a catch can actually help the body to proprioceptively recalibrate, re-associate balance, and time a powerful slam utilizing stored energy - much akin to the stretch shortening cycle often referred to in strength and power resistance training. In all likelihood, a person asked to deliver a powerful rotational medicine ball toss (letting it go) who normally only trains slams, may guard the toss as their pattern is normally associated to throwing and immediately receiving the ball. (Additionally, we have seen such persons guard the toss for fear of falling on follow-thru, as they haven’t truly developed their balance and proprioceptive capabilities pertaining to a follow through). However, in most sports specific purposes, follow through and immediate re-entry into game play is a reality. Build in multi-directional protocols for recovery in game reality sequences. Train singular tosses to develop power and reorientation by using a backstop, or allowing the ball to fall and naturally come to rest before the next repetition. (Re-orientation in the context of immediately re-orientating to the field of play or the next action, as opposed to reorientation to catching that same ball over and over again). Who says there’s a need for follow through in developing rotational power (or actually strength) delivery? – Baseball, softball, lacrosse, hockey, boxing, perhaps? That’s who…..

There is More than Meets the Eye in Generating and Achieving Maximal, Targeted Rotational Power (Borrow, Lend and Create Concepts)

So then, how do we actually go about training to produce rotational power? (Force). Well of course, global strength and power training serve as a good base for power demands. However, does the traditional power training path truly serve as an adequate functional base that readily translates to a given and specific set of rotational power requirements and delivery? Most assuredly, a graduated program of incrementally more resistive, demanding movement should be implemented without neglecting the specificity of related rotational movement. (I.e. where the hips, hands, feet and shoulders relate through the movement, etc.) However, care must be taken as not to completely disrupt the finite skill associated with a highly skilled movement. Can elevated strength or power harbor more inherent broad-spectrum physiological requirement and overtake relative skill efficacy until both the skill and movement strength/power become balanced? Can a quarterback with artistic touch, suddenly build so much strength and power that he becomes more like an exploding volcano, as opposed to a surgically striking fighter plane? (Sounds like, and can actually become complicated). Well, don’t overthink it – that’s my fault and forte. Actually tapping into the associated muscle fiber and motor unit groupings in the primarily associated kinetic chain becomes a necessary focus. Look at the movement, does it come from what I call “near dead-stall” (little to no movement) like waiting to hit a baseball. Even so, if a particular requirement comes from a fairly discernable pause, nine out of ten times, there will be some sort of micro movement(s) present that can actually be capitalized upon, tapped into and harnessed for eventual translation and use in the targeted delivery of rotational strength or power. This “preparatory loop” actually possess stored energy that can be utilized to borrow, then lend to the actual creation of the intended rotational power delivery. A preparatory twitch or motion fueling stored energy is almost always somewhere along that kinetic chain. A slight rocking motion, a small shrug, minor toe pedaling, something is present that can actually lend to theory of borrowing, lending and creating from what is otherwise thought to be a zero movement prep; is actually “near dead-stall” strength and power. In other words, there doesn’t appear to be any discernable rebound energy present, yet there is. Although we don’t want to focus on capitalizing upon gross amounts of stored energy while training for rotational strength, we must recognize the nuances associated with a given sport movement, then harness and guide the related micro-movements found therein. Capitalize on preparatory momentum only as it applies to the specificity of a given movement, while remembering to develop the related strength in training as if there were none.

Utilization of Stored Energy, Follow-through and Avoiding Premature Dissipation

I am certainly not a recognized visual training specialist, yet it exists in a majority of my protocols and progressions. Believe me, target acquisition and translated posture is a biggie here as it pertains to focused delivery. The neural-visual component to where rotational strength or power is going to land should not be ignored. It is my opinion that rotational power training should not be performed in space without a discernable target. (A partner, stick, tape, a distance line, hanging target, mark on wall, etc.) Utilizing these types of markers lends to positive visual acquisition and convergence, promotes better biomechanical efficacy and ultimately assists to dissociate and desensitize a person’s natural tendency to “oversteer” towards the intended target. (Which could otherwise rob strength and power as the athlete or client becomes guarded and fixated upon hitting a target as primary focus. The progression and strategies herein should remove counterproductive tendencies and additionally move towards developing notable movement fluency.) Once an ability to produce maximal force through efficient hyper-planing and rotation is achieved, we want translation to occur with minimal dissipation – this is where the importance of follow-thru rises to the surface. We have found that athletes and clients working rotational power training against an object (wall or rebounder) who anticipate the receipt of the object on rebound for an immediate next repetition, are not truly and/or completely following through for maximal power delivery when compared to ones who freely deliver the object with follow-through. (Follow though as in; allowing the object to just run its course with force and gravity thereafter. As into a back-stop or coming to natural rest) Additionally there is a bit of a false and incomplete visual convergence that seemingly occurs during repetitive rotational slams, as one initially and only momentarily acquires final target, yet is quickly forced to re-associate with the object itself (as opposed to the target) in order to perform the task of almost instantaneous retrieval. (Good for a more metabolically based power training, as opposed to targeted, goal oriented rotational and hyper planning strength or power.) So in sum and substance, training with marginal or compete lack of follow through truly lends to rob the potential of the intended, targeted strength and power delivery, and only leads to premature dissipation of force by the athlete as they prepare for receipt. Whereas, training with free and full follow through (i.e. rotational toss or slam in the absence of a catch) will allow for maximal force development, production and translation with minimal dissipation.

Balance & Control in Sport – Making it Happen on the Move

So what about making it happen on the move? Certainly a hockey player isn’t generally standing completely still for a slap shot, nor a lacrosse or soccer player with their feet glued to the ground to rip a shot off. As a matter of fact, the most dangerous athletes are those who can deliver strength or power while on the fly. (There is where I love to practice our art) That’s the stuff that makes athletes not just great, but outstanding. As we look to rotational and hyper- planing strength and power, our progressions must also become focused on putting the strength and power into game play efficacy. We all really play our sports in our own personal space, main ring or what I call the “Power Pillar”. It is the foundationally sound base that is maintained in stance and movement that avoids angular decompensation, and allows us to remain fast and agile, while being both proactive and reactive in sport. Numerous strategies can be successfully employed in order to provide for game play, high speed translation, while maintaining a sound performance foundation. Essentially, all protocols should be built having progression in mind for the eventual dynamic usage and translation of the developed rotational strength and power movements. Otherwise, remaining satisfied with static delivery would be counterproductive. In general, we also change surface mediums during our training for both static and dynamic stances that promote the delivery of this desired strength or power wile in game-play motion. (I.e. utilize balance pills with varying stiffness, etc. for either front or back feet, or knees as the stance applies)

Putting Twists on Things You Already Know

Let’s get right back to the obvious. Medicine ball training! Although it is definitely not the only way to develop rotational efficacy, as we’ve already determined; it is certainly an easily recognizable, viable and cost effective way of doing so. It does have the market lion’s share as the rotational power training tool of choice, so therefore we must address its usage. I can’t tell you how many skills-based facilities claim to perform “strength and conditioning” or “rotational power development” merely because they break out a few cones and medicine balls. (Hey I don’t give skill lessons, and only work on movement – no offense meant. Let’s work together here!) Anyway, here’s the skinny. Reflect back to the previous paragraphs regarding follow through, and let’s look more towards utilizing movements that lend to that theory and opinion. Taking all of the aforementioned into consideration, let’s examine the adaptation of what might be one of the most commonly encountered medicine ball movements (with some follow-through twists) associated with rotational strength and power development.

Rotational Medicine Ball Toss with Follow-through into a Target

Performed similarly to your standard rotational slam and catch, we instead use a foam plyo box as a backstop (or depending on your power and rebound travel, nothing at all) and allow for the natural, unimpeded return of the ball to a resting position on the floor. Should you be using a wall or a partner, they are merely engaged as your target. A partner should merely catch and secure the medicine ball allowing for the athlete/client to follow-through on each repetition. There are five (5) main base positions, four (4) main delivery options, and four (4) primary follow-throughs that allow for many different combinations and variations, and allow for purpose and specificity. The five (5) main base positions, each with their own specific developmental benefit are; Two leg (bilateral) standing, One leg (unilateral) standing, half kneeling, tall kneeling or seated. In bilateral standing, you can also perform a variation on the back leg by either keeping the heel down (to enhance trunk and gluteal chain involvement, as opposed to sport specificity) or get right to the game play movement for the athlete that normally involves vacating the back heel from the floor and turning onto that front toe - in order to lend to appropriate pelvic and torso rotation and discernable target follow through. In performing the exercise, we also look toward four (4) main forms of projectile delivery – 1) “Tall-rigid posture delivery” with torso rotation in delivering the ball with little to no flex in the upper extremities 2) “Tall-flexed posture delivery” with torso rotation to deliver the ball having appropriately flexed extremities and elbow drive (tricep extension) in the delivery 3) “Tall-loaded posture delivery” has a discernable rearward, yet planar related “hip dip”/crease before delivering the ball via either of the aforementioned methods 4) “Sport-pure posture delivery” finds a pure, unadulterated adaptation of the sport movement to the exercise, paying special attention to the segmental or kinetic sequence, and “firing order”. Additionally, varying the degree of involvement, delivery and follow through on the front or back arm, can also lend to more accurate and powerful game play movement. (In instances such as baseball, it will actually lend to a higher bat finish, while encouraging hips to get all the way through.) Head positioning in all instances should lend to visual convergence and acquisition of a given target, and most closely relate to game play performance and expectation.

Above and beyond the aforementioned set-ups (5 main bases) and exercise performance (4 main deliveries), we can also play with variations to the follow through. As one manipulates the nuances of each follow through, they will find dynamics that lend to more or less guidance by the front hand, while allowing for maximal degree of delivery by the back side, hips and rear hand. Examples of four (4) primary “two-hand” follow throughs that can be further varied are: Neutral Finish – finds both hands finishing open and relaxed on top of the transverse plane, and intersecting with the coronal plane (Figure 1-A); Vector or Pointing Finish – has both hands in an index finger pointed position and brought nearly together forming the apex of a V, pointing at the target, while on top of the transverse plane, and intersecting at the coronal plane (Figure 1-B); Presentation or Hay Bale Finish – has both hands well above the transverse plane up near the shoulders, at intersection with the coronal plane with both palms up as if to present or reveal something. (Like a game show host presenting a prize and/or a farmhand tossing a hay bale onto a truck) (Figure 1-C); Frisbee Finish – has both hands well on top of the transverse plane, intersecting with the coronal plane, with the front hand turned up as if having just thrown a Frisbee, while the rear hand finishes turned over with palm down. (Great for high-finish/follow through sports. Allows for well-timed pull through and positive drive of the hips) (Figure 1-D). Additionally, both the Presentation/Hay Bale finish and Frisbee Finish can be regressed down to run right along the transverse plane and intersect with the coronal.

Conversely, methods to develop rotational strength and power from discernably complete or partial movement pause (“dead stall” or “near dead stall” power as previously mentioned in this article), require additional adaptations to these medicine ball movements. Some of the adaptations will include; delivery into a rearward target, or completely dropping and vacating the medicine ball at precise junctures of the movement in order to lend to the biomechanical synchronization associated and necessary to a specific sport movement, and are more so for proprioceptive development. This will lend to the development of those initial micro-movements found in the “preparatory loop” that promotes the borrowing, creating and lending of force. (This as all other movements here should be worked at a 1:1 ratio and bi-laterally, always finishing a session with the strong side movement)

(The aforementioned movements are examined and performed at length during the practicum portions of our seminars and workshops).

Agree with all, some or none of this article; I am sure that you will run across the term “rotational power” again, and again. These ideas can be as simple or complex as one would like to develop, yet always remember to remain aware of kinetic interruptions that may otherwise impair objectives, and simultaneously address functional impairments as necessary. Although the traditional methods aren’t the only tools that can be utilized for developing blistering “rotational power”, I only hope that you’ve been provoked to address the concept more aggressively and with a degree of relative passion.



About the Author

Guy Massi is the Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development for Massi-Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC with three locations in New York, and has been developing clients and athletes for over twenty years. He is also on the Board of Advisors for Tsunami Bar and serves in a network affiliate advisory capacity to Haven Physical Therapy, PLLC & Sofos Chiropractic, PC also of New York. Coach Massi is available for speaking engagements, training and workshops by contacting Perform Better or by e-mailing mmscny@gmail.com. For a complete bio, list of projects and services please visit www.mmscny.com.