Anti-Rotation Core Exercises: What They Are and 3 to Try

WEveryone knows core strength is important, but knowing how to strengthen your core can be confusing, especially for beginners. Should you do crunches? plank? What about social media’s favorite new buzzword: anti-rotation exercises?

Although anti-rotation core exercises have been used by athletes for years, the term has only recently become trendy — especially among “fitfluencers” committed to your back pain. Yet most people still aren’t sure what “anti-rotation exercises” actually are.

Well, just like it sounds, an anti-rotation exercise challenges your trunk to resist rotation. “Anti-rotation exercises are core and shoulder exercises that require you to resist rotational forces while maintaining a certain position—either standing, sitting, or lying on your back,” says Luke Greenwell, DPT, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning coach. Experts say at RecoverRx Physical Therapy. “Resistance can come from cable machines, resistance bands or free weights.”

Dr. Greenwell says that since anti-rotation exercises require resistance to rotation of the trunk, they’re great for isolating four main body parts:

  1. Shoulder stabilizer muscles: deltoids, pectoralis major, rhomboids, trapezius and rotator cuff muscles.
  2. Primary rotator core muscles: internal and external obliques.
  3. Deep core muscles: transverse abdominus anteriorly and multifidus and erector spinae posteriorly.
  4. Stabilizing muscles of the hip: Gluteal muscles, hip abductors and hip adductors.

How can anti-rotation exercises reduce back pain?

Because anti-rotation exercises strengthen the deep core muscles, they’re one of the most effective ways to protect your spine — and avoid back pain.

“The spine is a very mobile structure, moving in multiple planes of motion. Therefore, it needs both passive and active stabilizers to protect it from injury,” explains Dr. Greenwell. “In many cases, we have to lift or resist rotational forces throughout the day and because of this , must build resilience to reduce injury risk.”

Dr. Greenwell says that anti-rotation exercises are more effective than other core exercises because they require you to fully engage your core while stabilizing against multiple directional forces. In contrast, something like a crunch or sit-up actively contracts only one set of muscles in one plane of motion.

“By strengthening our shoulder, core, and hip muscles, we are able to increase the load we can carry through the spine,” says Dr. Greenwell. “The shoulder, core and hip muscles are connected through the fascial plane which helps create stability in the spine.”

Try three anti-rotation exercises

Try incorporating anti-rotation exercises into your routine twice a week to start and gradually increase to three or four times a week. “I find the most success implementing these exercises is either in the middle or at the end of your workout when you’re a little tired because that’s when your body is usually at risk of injury and needs to be strengthened at this time,” Dr. Greenwell said.

He recommends choosing an anti-rotation exercise while standing and one sitting or on your back. Try to keep it as functional as possible – meaning it should mimic everyday movements. Here are three steps he recommends:

1. Pallof Press

This anti-rotation exercise works your core and shoulders.

  • Attach a resistance band to a pole or stationary object or use a cable exercise machine. You can do the exercise kneeling or standing, but the band should be at chest height. You should be far enough away from the anchor point that there is tension on the band.
  • Hold the band towards your chest.
  • Bracing your core and squeezing your glutes, straighten your arms by pushing away from your chest against the tension of the band.
  • Hold the stretched position for a full breath and then slowly bring your arms back to your chest.
  • Repeat 12 to 15. Rest for a minute. Do three sets.

2. Anti-rotation dead bug

“It’s a little more challenging than the bench press because your feet aren’t fixed on the ground,” says Dr. Greenwell.

  • Lie on your back in dead bug position with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees and hands on your chest holding the handles of a resistance band or cable column. You should feel the tension in the band like you did with the Pallof Press.
  • Using the same pressing motion, straighten the band handle or cable toward the ceiling without letting the band pull your arm or body to the side.
  • Repeat 12 to 15. Rest for a minute. Do three sets.

3. Lunge with anti-rotation hold

  • While holding a cable or resistance band with an anchor at your side, press the band away from your body and perform a lunge without letting the band rotate your torso toward the anchor point.
  • Continue alternating lunges while keeping your core active and trunk as stable as possible.
  • Do 12 repetitions per side (24 lunges total). Rest for one minute. Do three sets.

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