Expert Answers: Safe Rotational Exercises

Rotational exercises can be a valuable addition to your fitness routine. Our experts offer tips for keeping your movements safe and stable.

Illustration of rotational exercises

Q | I see people doing rotational exercises, but those movements make me nervous. How do I rotate without getting hurt? 

A | Rotational movements are essential in daily life, increasingly popular in the gym, and invaluable in athletics. Whether you’re turning to grab something from the back seat of your car, performing a Russian twist, or working on your golf swing, moving in the transverse, or horizontal, plane is a critical skill that requires speed, power, stability, and mobility.

“Rotational exercises are important, but how you do them is even more important,” says Jamie Yang, DPT, OCS, CSCS. “The prerequisite to performing rotational exercises safely is to improve your mobility in the upper back and hips, and to strengthen your core so you can control your lower back.”

That’s because the orientation of the joints in your back’s lumbar region does not allow for a lot of rotation. In fact, too much mobility in the lower back can lead to disc degeneration, problems with the spine’s facet joints (stabilizers that should be able to move smoothly without grinding), and other injuries.

When performing rotational exercises, protect your lower back by following these rules:

  • Maintain a neutral spine — neither arched nor rounded.
  • If your upper back and hips are tight, increase comfort and range of motion by adjusting your feet, turning your toes out up to 45 degrees.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged; this will help you stabilize the lumbar region.
  • Rotate from your hips and thoracic spine (the upper and middle parts of your back).

For more on safe spinal rotation, visit “Expert Answers On Spine Rotation“.

Yang says the Open Book (below) is ideal for developing rotation mobility.

Open Book

This mobility exercise will prep your upper back for rotational movement. 

Open-Book-1

Open-Book-2

  • Start by lying on your side, with your knees bent past your hips and hands together straight in front of you. Put a pillow under your head if you have neck issues.
  • Keeping your lower back stable, rotate your top arm up and back as far as you can comfortably go. You should feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest.
  • Hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.

This article first appeared as part of “Expert Answers” in the June 2016 issue of Experience Life magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Illustrations by Kveta

Yael Grauer is managing editor of Performance Menu: Journal of Health & Athletic Excellence.

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