Standing Rotary Training is Whole Body Training!

I’m going to be quite honest…I love rotary training. I believe it helps bridge the gap between traditional weight room strength and on-the-field power. Any fool will realize that simply increasing muscle mass via heavy compound lifting (let’s ignore performance enhancing substances) will improve rotary power – just look at guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. These guys could practically bunt homeruns after they sufficiently increased their muscular hypertrophy. This is due to the fact that standing rotation power relies on high contraction velocities via a bunch of different muscles throughout the human body. On a scale of 1 to 10, general training through heavy compound movement might get you to an 8, but if you want to reach your maximum capacity (ie: a 10), you need to perform specific rotary movements. For example, squat strength is important but it’s not the end-all be all for shot-putters using the rotational technique (Kyriazis et al. 2009).

Loads Aren’t the Only Determinants of Spinal Loading and Muscle Force Requirements

Standing rotary exercises are usually performed with loads held at arm’s length which create exceptionally long levers and high torques at the spine which are countered through ground reaction forces at the feet. For this reason all of the joints between the arms and the feet are called into play, making rotary training a highly-effective form of “total body training.” You’ve got spinal rotation, hip internal rotation in the front leg, and hip external rotation in the rear leg all summating to generate maximum torque which is transferred through the body from the feet to the hands. This requires a tremendous blend of stability, mobility, propulsive power, and coordination. Despite the fact that modest levels of resistance are often used during rotary training, the long levers and multiple muscles involved in producing or preventing rotation produce large compressive loads on the spine and require high thresholds of neuromuscular and metabolic activity. This is why a couple of sets of rotary training can leave you quite exhausted.

Sports Mastery Requires Hip Power

Most people throw in some token rotary training toward the end of their sessions and try to feel the movements solely in their obliques. While the obliques are certainly important for rotary power, so are the gluteus maximus and other hip external rotators.

In fact, I believe that a strong, powerful gluteus maximus is often what separate the elite athlete from the average athlete. As athletes advance, they learn to incorporate their hip and leg musculature into their movements to a much higher degree. For example, beginner shot-putters use predominantly their upper body muscles when throwing, whereas advanced shot putters use predominantly their leg muscles. The correlation between athletic achievements in beginner athletes’ arm strength is .83, whereas the correlation between athletic achievements in beginner athletes’ leg strength is .37. That means they’re not using their legs enough! For advanced athletes, the correlations flip flop to .73 and .87, respectively. In other words, in order for athletes to advance, they must learn how to derive maximum power from the hips and legs.

Elite golfers show greater angular velocities of trunk rotation than less-skilled golfers (Zheng et al. 2008) and higher spinal rotation is correlated with increased clubhead speed (Hellstrom 2009). Upper torso and pelvis separation (called “the X-Factor”) is a must for maximum golfing proficiency (Myers et al. 2008, Chu et al. 2010). However, when you perform rotary movements, don’t try to target the spinal muscles. You need to get the hips into the mix – for a couple different reasons. Chan et al. (2011) found that rotary motion was indeed healthy for the lumbar discs as long as end ranges were avoided. How can going to end-range lumbar rotation during explosive movements be prevented? First, ensure proper hip and thoracic spine mobility, and second, make sure the hips are strong and powerful so they’re used extensively during rotation tasks.

For this reason I recommend really trying to “feel” the glute and other hip external rotators of the rear leg working hard during standing rotational exercises, and you should even feel the hip internal rotators of the front leg assisting in the task. If you want to know which muscles act as hip external rotators and which muscles act as hip internal rotators, you need to know how much flexion is involved at the hip, as the levers change as the hip moves from a neutral position into flexion. Delp et al. (1999) examined these changing roles and found functional subdivisions of muscles and altering roles of hip rotators.

If you examine this chart you’ll realize that the hip external rotators vary considerably between a standing exercise, where the hips are more neutral, than the bottom of a squatting or single leg squatting motion, where the hips are substantially flexed. At hips neutral, posterior glute med and min, anterior and posterior glute max, pyriformis, quad fem, obt int, and obt ext are hip external rotators, whereas anterior glute med and min and iliopsoas are hip internal rotators. At hips flexed 90 degrees, some of anterior glute max and posterior glute max, iliopsoas, quad fem, obt int, and obt ext are hip external rotators, whereas anterior and posterior glute med and min, most of anterior glute max,  and pyriformis are internal rotators.

Rotary Training and Landing Mechanics

Recent research has shown that standing rotary training can improve landing mechanics in the absence of jumping exercise (Nyland et al. 2011a, Nyland et al. 2011b). Both of these studies involving a GroundForce 360, which looks pretty badass to me but I have never experimented with it.  Click on the link and check out the video.

In a nutshell, proper landing mechanics require rapid hip abduction and external rotation moments (torques) about the hips in order to prevent valgus collapse. Knee valgus is characterized by hip adduction and hip internal rotation and can be quite detrimental to knee health (ie: leads to patellofemoral pain) and performance (ie: energy leaks). The studies above showed that improving neuromuscular output through rotary training led to improved landing efficiency, which is very interesting considering that no jump training was performed. This suggests that rotary training can transfer to a myriad of tasks such as jumping/landing, squatting, climbing, throwing, striking, and swinging. Hell, Louie Simmons even noticed increased deadlifting strength after using the grappler.

Best Rotary Exercises

In a perfect world, we’d all have access to a Ground Force 360. Since this is not the case, standing rotary exercises can be performed with bands and cables to simulate various chopping and lifting motions in different positions including tall kneeling, half-kneeling, split stance, and parallel stances. Bands exercises that challenge the hips have been used quite effectively in improving golf mechanics and performance (Lephart et al. 2007). Medicine balls can be used for higher contraction velocities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Band Hip Rotation (if you do this one right, your glute activation can sore through the roof)

Half-Kneeling Cable Anti-Rotation Press (this isn’t performed standing but the rear glute and hip rotators get worked tremendously)

Band Rotary Hold (I like this more than Pallof pressing as I never feel like the pulses adequately tax me)

Rotational Medball Shotput (Tim gets his whole body into this one)

If you haven’t seen Gray Cook talk about chops and lifts, check it out below. I love listening to Gray speak – he’s so eloquent.

I definitely recommend learning chops and lifts this way as beginners lack segmental control in the spine and don’t know where to move and how much to move. Over time as this control is mastered, I recommend progressing toward some slight movement in the spine (but not much) and progression to standing stances. I like bands more than cables for hip rotations and rotary holds, but I like cables more than bands for variations of chops and lifts. Often beginner women find the band movements problematic and do better with cable rotation movements until they get stronger and can use the bands efficiently.


Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought. Most lifters do not view standing rotary work as effective full body training. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and if you get freakishly strong at these movements than you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve been teaching the band hip rotation to some big and strong rugby athletes here in New Zealand and they’re amazed at how weak they are initially at this movement. Within a couple of months strength sky-rockets on these movements which is very important for balanced strength.

As far as programming is concerned, I like to perform just two sets on each side for 8-12 reps, and I do this at the end of my training sessions. Sure my long segments help with rotational inertia, but whenever I see a punching bag arcade game like the one below I always test it out and I’m usually able to set the all-time record. I credit some of this to the consistent amount of rotational work that I do week in and week out.


  • Steve says:

    Have you ever tried swinging a rope-medball overhead like a helicopter? Extremely humbling.

    I saw a McGill Lecture where he had a pro MMA guy (can’t recall who)doing this and “pulsing” or rapidly firing the core muscles everytime the ball was at a certain point. He had the thing flying.

    I obviously had to try it when I got back to my facility. It takes crazy strength to maintain it for more than 2 revolutions.

    Great post as usual Bret, thanks 🙂

    • Nick Horton says:

      If you’ve ever done the hammer throw, it’s similar. Whenever I do the highland games, the hammer event is VERY humbling!!

      • Bret says:

        I’d love to see what I could do in various throwing events. While not suited for powerlifting or Oly lifting, I could probably fare a little better in these types of events. Of course not elite or anything, but certainly better than average.

        • Nick Horton says:

          Actually, given the different strength sports, I’d bet Highland Games would suit you best. You’ve got long levers, are strong, and you’re relatively tall. ALSO, you’re patient enough to learn new (hard) skills. Highland throwing events have a large skill component that you’d likely find really fun to learn and try to master.

          A lot of the best guys in the B and A classes are built like you. Of course, you’d have to add an extra 100 pounds to the Pro’s! Those guys are from another planet!

          • Bret says:

            Well this 100 lbs wouldn’t be a problem. I bet I could pack it on in three months haha! My life can be summarized as a constant struggle to avoid overeating, and by overeating I mean consuming three times what I should 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Hey Steve, I have tried it and didn’t really like it. Did you? I know McGill likes that for pulsing purposes and possibly for teaching contraction/relaxation and double-peaking, but I confess to not having enough experience with it to comment about its effectiveness. I only tried it one time and wasn’t able to get in the groove. -BC

      • Steve says:

        I wasn’t a fan but I am my own lab rat. It didn’t feel right and isn’t something I would do with any of my clients due to risk/reward. I don’t think they would appreciate eating a medball. Granted I don’t train any MMA fighters.

        My toolbox has much more effective and efficient exercises.

        • Bret says:

          Agree, but I’ve also learned from past experience not to write off methods that didn’t feel right the first time around. I can remember hating pistols, single leg RDL’s, cable chops and lifts, kettlebell swings, and even front squats. Glad I didn’t give up on them. Still, I don’t think I’d come around to liking the helicopter pulses as I prefer more strength and power oriented rotary work.

  • Trevor Judson says:

    Interesting post Bret. It leads me to ask whether this might be a panacea to soccer-style kickers in Football, Rugby and err… soccer! I’ve found precious little research on how best to train for leg speed and wonder if a ‘Groundforce 360’ for the legs might need inventing.

    • Bret says:

      I’ve thought about this quite often too Trevor as cyclical actions are quite hard to mimic, but I think that having a blend of standing and non-standing exercises to help with both vertical and horizontal forces, as well as proper development of the glutes, hams, and quads through their entire ROM’s, provides the best methodology up to date. Of course, that’s just the strength training aspect, of course you have explosive strength training, plyos, sled work, etc. as well.

  • Ray McCarthy says:


    Nice Job on this.
    Keep posting. Hope to run into you again soon.

    Ray Mccarthy

  • Chris Butler says:

    Great post!
    Ultimate Sandbag’s are really effective rotary tools!

  • Well done Bret. I’ve been meaning to ask you about this; When you do band hip rotations you keep your rear foot (the side where you are working your hip ERs) stationary. Nick Tumminello had that video talking about why he no longer does the kneeling side MB toss (because your LB has too much torque since your hips can’t “come along for the ride”). Therefore, he does this exercise standing since the standing version allows you to pivot your rear foot, reducing the torque on the lumbar spine.

    With that said, what are your thoughts on this in regards to not rotating your rear foot on band rotations? Do you think this increases (more than we want) the torque on the lumbar spine? Or to you, is it not a problem b/c we are not reaching end range? Something else?



    • Bret says:

      Hi Danny, good question. I think that there’s no way around getting huge torques on the lumbar spine with these movements, and the goal shouldn’t be to minimize it for healthy, athletic populations. You’ll get huge compressive loads due to all the core muscular contractions. And you’ll get huge rotational torques due to the long distance from torso to shoulders, and this is maximized when the direction of the bands is perpendicular to the arms. As long as your spine is in neutral, I don’t think it really matters what the rear foot does. But if you’re moving the bands in a rotary direction (in other words not holding the bands as you would in a Pallof press or band rotary hold), then there has to be some body rotation at the spine/pelvis and hips. I think we’d both agree that we’d prefer that this rotation occur at all areas rather than purely in the spine.

      So you don’t need to pivot your foot; you can actually rotate the hips and achieve the same goal, which is to prevent too much rotation in the lumbar spine. And I don’t know of any other “strength” movements for the hip rotators where you move them dynamically (concentric and eccentric) for high-force purposes. I believe that doing this, along with high-velocity work as in swinging a bat, throwing, etc. leads to the best outcome in terms of power production. Hope that answers your question, BC

  • chuck says:

    In high school, I sometimes won the shot put despite being the skinniest guy competing. I would then go on and win the 100m and 200m, my real strong events. Although I didn’t have the best absolute strength, I was able to coordinate posterior chain explosiveness with last second rotational strength into something that caused the implement to fly off my hand. Get me in the weight room doing a shoulder press against my competition and I would have been demolished. BTW, I know I had strong glutes back then but never trained them. My strong hammies and glutes paid for my college education.

    • Bret says:

      Chuck, I was just talking about this to some colleagues. I bet that had you been tested back in the day, you’d have found that kinematically you indeed did what you described – some perfectly timed explosion in the posterior chain to add significantly to your power. Right now I have my niece working on getting her college education paid for and it’s coming along quite well – she’s a freshman varsity volleyball player and her vert (and glute strength) is through the roof. Cheers!

  • Jeff says:


    I’d like to incorporate the rotary exercises with the bands into my 12-year-old son’s workout (he’s a hockey player where big butts rule!) – can you recommend the bands I should buy?


  • Glenn McElfresh says:

    Hey Bret,
    I totally agree that standing rotary training is whole body training, but do you think it applies to a pure strength athlete like a powerlifter or a weightlifter? I tend to think that it doesn’t because the needs of the sport are so specific and prescribed, however there are times where a heavy squat or snatch causes the lifter to rotate. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how it applies to the strength sports. Thanks.

    • Bret says:

      Hey Glenn – I’m on the same page as you. Powerlifters and Oly lifters don’t need to spend much time with rotational training as their sports are axial in nature (aside from the bench press).

      On another note I think many coaches go wrong trying to purely mimic the training of powerlifters and Oly lifters. Sure we should listen to them about getting strong and explosive through barbell training and about good form, but we need to add in what works best for sports as sports have all kinds of vectors, forces, velocities, types of contractions, etc.

      Some of the meathead coaches I know might laugh at band training, slideboards, kettlebells, etc. but these are great additions for sport training.

  • Andy... says:

    The great Koji Murofushi (Thrower).

    I think the exercise at 0:14 is potentially one of the greatest rotational exercises in existence. I think it’s part of every throwers program.

    • Bret says:

      Andy, I’ve seen this video before. I prefer bands and cables to barbells, dumbbells, kettelbells, plates, etc. for rotary work. Bands and cables allow you to create purer long-axis rotary torques whereas free weights have axial components and don’t allow for eccentric contractions. This is not to say that the exercise you showed isn’t useful, but I just wanted to throw out my 2 cents.

      On another note I think the Ground Force 360 has huge potential because the line of force would dynamically reorient throughout the movement and remain perpendicular to the line of action throughout the entire movement. This is something that free weights and bands/cables cannot do. But of course, some times things look good on paper (or in a video) but don’t pan out in the real world. So I’d need to test it out to form a proper conclusion.


  • Dawn says:

    I really liked that video by Gray Cook, that was awesome, thank you. I’m going to start working those exercises now. After my low back surgery I have a terrible inbalance in my core from side to side and I’ve really struggled to even it up. This looks like it could really help me!!

  • Jay says:

    Hello Bret, nice article.

    About the last Gray Cook vid, what do you think about Gray Cook’s idea of getting core stability before strengthen the core. The hard roll like the chop n lift is a core stability and timing exercise. What you do you think of rolling patterns in general, seems good on paper. But I always say to myself what would a powerlifter think, (they are the least inclined to fall for stuff that doesn’t work). Powerlifters do a ton of standing pull downs and side bends ala Louie Simmons. Im sure their core is stable and strong as steel, without doing things like rolling and PNF chop n lifts.



    • Bret says:

      Great question Jay. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the most guilty guy at getting all esoteric. While I love Gray Cook and have learned tons from him, and I like this theory, in terms of practical application I’m not sure I agree. For example, if I have a newbie I’m going to have him doing some form of squatting, deadlifting, planks, side planks, rotary holds, etc. If I add in some straight leg sit ups and hanging leg raises I’m not too worried that I’m going to create problems. And I don’t like any of the rolling patterns because there are so many good standing movements which are more functional in my opinion (though I think he does these as a beginner progression for other purposes). I’m a huge Gray Cook fan but I don’t always agree with everyone. And one thing I like about the powerlifters is that the dynamic work builds some serious hypertrophy which I believe is important with powerlifting. I think the best core strategy is to perform static and dynamic movements from all vectors. Hope that helps, BC

  • Garrett says:

    I love those punching machines. I tried convincing my boss to get one for our office. Out of curiosity, what’s your best score? I think I hit 920 once, but it’s always after a couple beers.

    • Bret says:

      I always get between 850 and 950. I think my all time best is around 951 or something like that. But there’s a trick to it which will add to your score. Instead of coming straight on, stand to the side, and twist your body to get all of your rotary force into it. I was at the Mr. Olympia contest last year and they had one of these and the guy in charge told me that the three leaders over the three days all used this technique. I tried it and could score around 20 points higher this way. And there were a couple of girls at the expo who could get to 900, and they weren’t overly manly looking (but tall)! Crazy!

  • Thanks for the post and doing the research on this one. Great topic.

    I don’t understand why everyone gets their undies in a bunch over rotary training. As long as you are working within your limits (or client/athlete), it is just a movement.

    I do have to respectfully disagree with searching for a “feeling” of muscle activation.

    This only means it is conscious, and I don’t feel overly related to actual activation. I am open to any data that has looked at this though, as I have not found a study on it.

    Makes sense though, when do we feel better? 1) with more sensation or 2) with LESS sensation? I vote for less.

    Pain is an extreme example of too much sensation. We do want the muscles to work in a coordinated manner, but I am not sure that searching to feel a better contraction is the correct direction.


    Rock on and enjoy Kiwi land!
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • Bret says:

      Hey Mike, I’ve been meaning to reach out to you on this as I know we disagree with this topic. A while back you posted that rather than try to “feel” a muscle working one should instead change the kinematics of the lift. I believe that these are one in the same. For instance, trying to feel the glutes working in a squat will result in sitting back, keeping knees out, and driving the hips forward. Trying to feel the glutes in a hip thrust will result in less lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt as the movement rises. Are we on the same page with this?

      And regarding research, two studies have come out in the past two years regarding glute activation. One showed that hamstring cramping and contribution during ground contact was reduced through glute activation, and the other showed an 8% increase in peak power via a glute activation warm-up. One was a case study and the other didn’t compare to a simple dynamic warm-up, but I still find these studies highly intriguing.

      I should also mention that I don’t feel this way about all muscles, just the glutes, as they tend to be the one group that really shuts down on folks. Once you get really good at using them, then it becomes automatic and you don’t need to focus on it anymore. Of course coordination is the key, but as I’ve said in the past, you want the river flowing equally to three waterfalls: erectors, glutes, and hammies. Most folks have too much flowing to erectors and hammies and not enough to glutes. Fix this and then it’s coordinated.

      Do we agree on this? Thanks, BC

      • Hi there man! Sorry for the delays on this. In regards to your comment

        ” I’ve been meaning to reach out to you on this as I know we disagree with this topic. A while back you posted that rather than try to “feel” a muscle working one should instead change the kinematics of the lift.”

        Close, but I don’t think we should TRY to change the kinematics of the lift unless it is not good for the lifter.

        Example–I don’t have clients attempt to “feel” their glutes during a deadlift. I put them in a good start position and my only cue is “stand up”
        It works really well. Now, this does not mean everyone will do a perfect DL rep one, but all this monkey motion about feel this muscle, contract the lats so you can feel them, etc is not a good idea.

        Do I want all the muscles to contract and do what they should at the right times? Yes! Of course, but I don’t think the “feeling” this or that is the right direction.

        Ideally, I want LESS feeling during lifting NOT more. I want to execute the lift in a way that is good for my body at the fastest speed possible (which may be slow with a heavy ass weight).

        Does that help at all? So I don’t feel they are the same, but I think we are trying to go to the same place.

        “I believe that these are one in the same. For instance, trying to feel the glutes working in a squat will result in sitting back, keeping knees out, and driving the hips forward. Trying to feel the glutes in a hip thrust will result in less lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt as the movement rises. Are we on the same page with this?”

        If the kinematics are altered for the better, I am all for it; but I prefer to use EXTERNAL cues and not INTERNAL cues. There is a fair amount of research on this aspect.

        External cues all that big brains of ours to figure out the best way without us (trainers) mucking it up.

        I don’t think there are any special rules that apply to the glutes only. I do agree that this is a major weakness for many though since their glutes are not used much during the day (read: adaptation to sitting). Maybe you should invent an office hip thrust machine instead of a chair! Big money!!

        Make sense? I appreciate the good discussion here!

        Rock on
        Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

        • Bret says:

          Mike, I understand your point and believe that just getting people into good positions and having them stand up is fine, but it’s not optimal in my opinion. I believe that people should be driving the glutes forward to finish with strong hip extension and prevention of anterior pelvic tilt. That’s my current take on the matter, and I don’t see how it can be detrimental in the long run.

          I do have some research to support the point that cueing is valuable. One study showed that cueing hip extension via the hamstrings, or via the glutes, resulted in just that; more hammy or more glute contribution. The theory is that more glute contribution decreases stress on the anterior hip.

          Though I understand your point about trainers “mucking it up,” I don’t think that in this case it applies. Like you said, the glutes are a muscle group that tends to shut down, so we have to constantly remind them to fire (in my opinion). Just the glutes though! Thanks for the good discussion, BC

          • Hi there Bret. Thanks for taking the time to response, much appreciated as I know you are super busy.

            I totally agree that their are times that cues are needed–no doubt!

            My point is that HOW we cue matters.

            I believe sending the athlete down a path searching for sensations is a bit in the wrong direction.

            Can internal cues help? I am sure that it can as compared to nothing, but it may NOT be best.

            Do you know what types of cues were used in the study?

            While this one is not perfect since it was in PD patients, you could argue that it is a “worst case”

            Mov Disord. 2011 Feb 15;26(3):430-5. doi: 10.1002/mds.23450. Epub 2010 Dec 13.

            Targeting dopa-sensitive and dopa-resistant gait dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease: selective responses to internal and external cues.
            Rochester L, Baker K, Nieuwboer A, Burn D.


            Conclusion (yes I know I am pasting only a concl here, so release the pubmed ninjas)

            “Although internal (attention) and external cues target dopaminergic gait dysfunction (stride length), only external cues target stride to stride fluctuations in gait.”

            Also “….external cues may effectively address nondopaminergic gait dysfunction and potentially increase mobility and reduce gait instability and falls.”

            My whole point is that based on what I have seen and read, I believe (again, wiling to be proven wrong) that external cues are better than internal cues.

            Rock on
            Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

          • Bret says:

            Hi Mike,

            Here’s the study:

            The link will allow you access to the full paper…conducted by Lewis and Sahrmann. I read it a while back but basically telling someone to use the glutes in hip extension resulted in more glute and less hammy, which to me is very valuable especially for beginners.

            Give me an example of an internal vs. an external cue por favor.



  • Echo says:

    This article, and all the ensuing comments, is so educational – fabulous job, Bret! I was just talking about rotary training with my sons’ wrestling coach. Of course I didn’t have the correct verbage and was calling it “twisting abs” or “side core” or some such nonsense. His conditioning involves some seriously torturous exercises with Ultimate Sandbags and we have one at the house as well – trying for 60 seconds of continous work with that mess will smack the swagger right out of a person, quick-like. Love the band work ideas – thanks for the vids!

  • Hammered says:

    Check out the World Champ in women’s hammer throw:

    Talk about rotary coordinated speed-power. After you guys ogle her shape, watch the vid looking only at the feet – poetry in motion. Imagine precise but driving foot placement while spinning off-axis at what looks like around 150 rpm, overcoming the centripetal force of a heavy steel ball on a highly angled plane, and timing the release to avoid throwing into the net. The release sector is just 35 degrees, less than 1/10th of a rotation! I couldn’t spin that fast and release a tennis ball from my hand within that angle. Respect for hammer throwers.

    And the men’s comp:

  • I’m a big fan of rotary training but have always been a bit limited in my exercise bank. Thanks for the motivation and ideas for a few new exercises to incorporate into my programming.

    Always enjoy reading your stuff, Bret. Keep up the good work!


  • Dave says:

    This is great stuff. We’ve recently employed rotary training on our rugby players and monitoring any improvements. Will post this up for you soon.

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