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June 09, 2021 9 min read

Whether you lift, run, play baseball, or do any other physical activity, your core is the main driving force of all your power. Having a strong core is the first step to having a strong body overall. 

While many people utilize strength training for an ab-focused core workout, there is a great lack of knowledge and understanding when it comes to the core muscles. Having a better understanding of the muscles and movements can influence your workout choices, leading to much more efficient training.

Muscular and fit young bodybuilder posing demonstrates the core muscles

You and Your Core

When many people talk about their core, they are typically referring to just their abdominal muscles. In actuality, your core is much more. The core is comprised of:

  • Pelvic Floor muscles 
  • Transverse Abdominis 
  • Multifidus
  • Obliques    
  • Rectus Abdominis 
  • Erector spinae
  • Lumbar muscles 
  • Latissismus dorsi 
  • Gluteus maximus 
  • Trapezius

As you can see, your is a lot more than just your abs. You can think of your core as basically your entire torso, like a tree trunk providing strength and support to the rest of the body. 

Strengthening the core has a profound impact on core stability, which affects your posture and ability to sit upright.

Not only does a strong core heighten athletic performance, but it can also be  an effective way to prevent certain injuries, especially for older individuals.

Planes of Motion

Typically, when we workout we work in three different planes of motion, they are:

  • Sagittal Plane: Also called the longitudinal plane, the sagittal plane divides your body into the right and left sides. The sagittal plane allows for flexion and extension. Movements in the sagittal plane would be anything that requires an up and down movement, think bicep curls, front lunges, and deadlifts.
  • Frontal Plane: The frontal plane divides the body in front and back, or anterior and posterior. Any sideways movement like abduction or adduction of a muscle is considered movement on the frontal plane. Jumping jacks and side lunges are a frontal plane movement.

  • Transverse Plane: The transverse plane divides your body into upper and lower halves starting at the waist. An abdominal twist or even a golf swing are examples of transverse plane movements.

Despite the equity of importance of all the planes, we tend to neglect the transverse plane of movement. To figure out whether you do enough transverse movements, simply imagine the planes during your workout. If the exercise you’re doing moves parallel to, for example, the frontal plane, then you can accurately categorize it within that plane of movement.

Rotation and Anti-Rotation: What Do They Mean?

Now that we have covered the core and the planes, you’re probably wondering what exactly rotational and anti-rotational exercises are. We don’t blame you, these aren’t really common terms used in the gym. However, they are simple concepts and something everyone should know.

Rotational exercises are just as they sound: a movement that requires rotation. Exercises that take place on the transverse plane are considered rotational exercises. These exercises employ the use of your thoracic spine in addition to several other vital body parts. Rotational training will boost core strength, range of motion, and overall performance.

Anti-rotational exercises are the opposite of rotational exercises as there is no rotation involved. However, they still occur on the transverse plane of movement. “If you’re not rotating, how are you working the core?”, you may ask. Well, anti-rotational movements want your torso to rotate, but the workout is in resisting this rotation. This can build amazing stability and strength within the core.

5 Best Rotational Core Exercises

1. Landmine Rotation

Landmines are a great tool to utilize in the gym when you’re wanting to build your rotational power. Simply a barbell attached at one end to an anchor, these exercise tools provide great resistance for several movements. To use a landmine for landmine rotations, pick up the unanchored end of the barbell and hold it over your head.

If you’ve never done the movement before, try with no added plates first to get your form down. Next, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Stand up straight so that you have good posture, which is always important when dealing when lifting things over your head or involving a load on the spine.

Fix your grip so it is just under bushings, or the fatter part of the loading end. Hold the bar at your full arm’s length. Begin the movement by bracing your core and lowering the bar to your left side while twisting your core and hips in the same direction.

Keep your arms straight throughout the movement. Maintaining good posture and controlled mannerisms, move the bar back up to the starting position. Repeat again for the right side.

2. Russian Twists

Russian twists have long been a favorite for rotational strength exercises. You’ll be sitting for this exercise, so a yoga mat may be best. Prepare for the movement by bending your knees while in a sitting position. Next, lean your upper body back, forming a “V” shape with your torso and thighs.

To begin the movement, lift your feet off the ground, engaging your abs to keep yourself steady. Next, hold your hands together and use your torso to drive them to each side, much like a rowing movement. Some people also like to hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball for extra resistance.

3. Rotational Medicine Ball Throws

Like landmines, medicine balls can be an amazing tool for gaining core strength. For this exercise, you’ll need a good amount of space and a wall. This exercise is very dynamic in nature, so paying attention to form is very important.

To start, stand about three to four feet in front of a wall holding a medicine ball. A lighter weight is best for those new to the movement. Next, bend your knees slightly and assume a balancing stance. This is typically a stance in which your feet are shoulder-width apart and a straight, neutral back.

Next, bring the ball behind your left side slightly for a “windup”, twisting your torso in the same direction. Then, using your torso for power, throw the ball to the wall. Catch the ball as it bounces back, and immediately begin the movement on the alternative side.

This movement should be one fluid motion. With speed, this exercise can quickly get your heart rate into the cardiovascular exercise mode, making it an efficient fat-burner.

4. Rotational Lunges

Lunges have long been used to build the lower body, but adding a rotation can make lunges an effective way to also get core stability. To do a lunge, simply step out in front of you with one foot and bend the knee so it is at a 90-degree angle. The other leg should be back behind you with the knee bent downwards also in a 90-degree angle.

Check-in with your posture. For lunges, your back should be nice and straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your chest out. Be sure that your front knee aligns well with your foot and is not too far over your toes before starting the movement.

To begin, don’t start in the lunge, but rather in a standing position with good posture. Next, start a dynamic lunge while simultaneously twisting your torso in the same direction as the leg that is in front of you. So if you’re beginning with the right leg, twist the torso also towards the right.

Next, stand back up and do the same with the left side. This movement should be pretty fluid to get some core engagement. If you find the movement too easy, simply hold a dumbbell or kettlebell for added resistance.

5. Hanging Knee Circles

Hanging knee circles are done with a pull-up bar. They aren’t for everyone, it is ideal to have decent upper body strength before attempting this particular exercise. To prepare for the movement, simply grab the pull-up bar with a grip of your choice. Be sure your chest doesn’t cave in too much so the load is evenly supported across the upper body.

Keeping your feet together, simply draw a circle with your toes. This means a movement that is up, out, and back around for a full circle ab engagement. You’ll notice your core does a lot to propel the movement. For more of a challenge, experiment with circle sizes.

Athlete wearing blue shorts and black t-shirt doing one hand push-ups

5 Best Anti-Rotational Core Exercises

1. Half-Kneeling Single Arm Row

For a half-kneeling single-arm row, you will need a cable or anchored resistance band. Get in a half-kneeling position with the left leg out in front at a 90-degree angle. Grab the cable with the right hand. Leave your left hand at your side, don’t use it for stability.

To start the movement, pull the cable straight back like a conventional row. Bend at the elbow and squeeze the shoulder blade. Keep your chest up and maintain a good back posture.

You’ll notice that as you do the rows, your torso wants to twist. However, the entire point of the movement is to avoid any rotation on the transverse plane. Resist the natural urge to twist the torso by engaging the core and maintaining stability.

2. Anti-Rotational Band Squat

Squats are known to build glutes and quads. While this isn’t wrong, squats are a great compound movement that also involves a lot of work from the core. Add another force with a band, and you have the perfect anti-rotational exercise.

To set up, anchor a long power band to a stable object. Grab the band, and walk backward from the anchor until you feel a good amount of tension in the band. Then, turn your body 90 degrees to the right.

Start the movement by performing a conventional squat. This is done by placing your feet shoulder-width apart and maintaining good posture. Then, lower yourself down by bending at the knees. Drive your weight back up by pushing into the floor with your legs. 

You’ll notice the sideways pull from the resistance band creates a lot of core engagement since you must resist the rotation. Be sure to turn around and to the opposite side, too.

3. Single-Arm Planks

Planks are an amazing muscular endurance exercise that also provides a great full-body workout but especially focuses on the core. You can use bodyweight planks as a precursor to the pushup as they also build incredible upper body strength.

To turn planks into an anti-rotational exercise, use only one arm for support. Your torso will naturally want to twist toward the supported side, but oppose this rotation and you’ll get some serious burn.

First, get in a normal plank position. Only your toes and hands should be in contact with the floor. Keep your back straight, your shoulders back, and your neck in line with your spine.

Next, lift one hand off the floor and place it behind your back. This is when the anti-rotation aspect begins. If you thought planks were hard already, you’ll be shocked at how much just one hand makes.

Hold this position for as long as possible for the highest stability building potential. Then, switch to the other hand.

4. Bird Dogs

Bird dogs are a favorite in yoga practice and a great stretch to add to any warm-up or cool-down routine. You’ll be on your hands and knees for this movement, so a yoga mat is best for comfort.

To start, get on all fours with your hands, knees, and toes in contact with the mat. Your hands should line up with your shoulders. Next, check-in with your back posture, making sure you are well-aligned.

To begin the movement, stretch one leg out behind you pointing your toes. Next, lift your opposite hand out in front of you. So, if you lifted your left leg, you’ll extend the right arm.

Brace your abs and bring your elbow and knee together at your core. Then, extend the limbs back out. Repeat these movements, then move on to the other arm and leg.

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

If you have ever stepped foot in a gym, you’ve likely seen or maybe even done a deadlift before. They are a great tool as they are highly variable compound movements. While you can use a single-leg Romanian deadlift to grow your glutes and hamstrings, they are also a great tool for core stability.

To do this movement, you’ll need a dumbbell or kettlebell. Begin by standing with your feet together and hold the weight in one hand. With the same coordinating leg, so if the dumbbell is in your left hand then also use your left leg, swing your foot behind you create a hinge at the hips. Keep your leg straight.

During the leg swing, lower the weight down to the floor, keeping your back neutral and your shoulders squeezed. Once you’ve lowered the weight to just above the floor, return to the starting position and repeat. If you have a hard time feeling muscle engagement, flex your toes and use your core to drive the movement. 

You’ll notice a great deal of work needs to be done with the core in order to keep this motion controlled and keep the load from causing pain to the lower back.

Core Conclusion

While rotational exercises are incredible core builders, anti-rotational exercises are just as important to implement. Many training programs simply train the core on the frontal or sagittal planes of motion, forgetting the beneficial rotational aspects of the transverse plane.

A well-rounded training routine should have a good mixture of both rotational and anti-rotational movements. If you find that after all the strenuous training you do in the gym, you are just simply too tired to focus on core work, try using a high-quality pre-workout supplement for a boost.

Your core is the center of everything you do. Without a strong core, you have no driving force behind your lifts, throws, or whatever else your sport requires, so neglecting core training is not a choice when wanting to perform at your best.