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Rotational core strength – the key to knockout power

In an athletic sense, rotation and indeed, counter rotation, is a key player.

Power is best generated in our bodies by using spiraling actions.

If we take a throw or a punch, we can clearly see that a right handed athlete will plant their left foot forwards, turn the hip, rotate the spine, stretching the core musculature and shooting the right shoulder forwards which propels the arm. A runner uses the shoulders turning in opposition to the hip to both balance and develop more speed.

We’ll assume you have already developed a good level of core stability. This means you can plank for 2mins, you can do a decent barbell squat (front or back) with a significant amount of weight and you can deadlift heavy stuff from the floor.

Now, lets talk rotation.

And counter rotation.

If you’re a coach/trainer, then you must have heard that the role of the core musculature is to prevent movement, rather than create it. In the gym, this is fine, but in the real world of athletic performance, there is more to it. Thomas Myers, the author of the incredible text Anatomy Trains, talks about the spiral line of the body. Here’s an illustration:

The Spiral Line of the body

The Spiral Line of the body

Now look at that line, and pay particular attention to the lines through the front of the torso and back of the hips and legs. These are the lines that real power comes from.

Not Andy Bolton powerlifting power, but Chuck Liddell knockout power.


The development of rotational power comes as part of a complete training program, a program that includes the basics of Squats, Deadlifts, Pull ups, Overhead Presses, Rows and Horizontal presses. The simplest way to start the development of rotational strength is to work unilateral, or single limb variations of each of the these staples. So try single leg squats and deadlifts, standing one arm overhead work and rows. Stick a barbell in the corner and do some landmine presses and rows. These all ask for counter rotation, they will build on your established base of stability and help prepare for more intense rotational movements.

The top tier of rotational movements are:

  1. Heavy Bag work

  2. Medicine Ball Throws.

The problem with both these is in they require serious quality control. If you haven’t spent time under a good coach, you may be better off with other methods, but if you can get genuine instruction and have the discipline to keep to the instructions, then these are all you need. Keep the reps moderate in order to maintain quality. As soon as fatigue becomes a factor and the punch/throw slows down, we’re no longer gaining benefit.

For everyone else, try the following (in no particular order):

  1. Standing Russian Twists I talked about these in a previous post and received a few questions about them. So here we go in a little more detail: First of all, Maria, one of my regulars ans the current team captain of our Kettleheads Girevoy Sports Team, once described these as “twisty on the belly’s”, this was after her first introduction to the lift. That ought to tell you all you need to know, both about Maria and about the lift! I like these as they are performed standing, as are most athletic actions, they also require the feet and hips to turn as if throwing a punch or a ball. Start with an angled barbell held in both hands. Now rotate to one side, lets say the left. Turn into the hip on that side and allow the now rearmost (right) foot to turn. The bar will come down to your left hip. Now quickly reverse this power out of the left leg and hip, rotate back to centre and raise the bar back to the start point. Lower the bar slowly but explode back to centre. Pretty soon after adding these into your training, no one will want to hold pads for you!

Russian Twist Top

Try 4-6 reps per side.

  1. Plank with arm excursions Take a standard plank, the body held in a straight line, supported on the toes and elbows. You know, the “rest position” Now take one arm and slowly bring it take it of the floor and bring it across your waist. Hold this for three seconds and replace the arm. No wobbling allowed. You can also take the arm out the side, or the front. These double as rotator cuff drills, assuming you have the core strength to do them!

  2. One Arm Push Ups Possibly the closest an exercise gets to actually throwing a punch. The force vectors through the body are almost identical, ie the load passes from the working arm, diagonally across the body and into the opposing leg. For the combat athletes training with me, this is the go to drill for both horizontal pressing strength as well as rotational power.

We mostly work these in the ladder format: 1 rep each side, 2 reps, 3 reps and so on until we hit a max, then repeat from 1 rep

  1. Kettlebell Single arm swing or snatch Watch this clip and pay attention to the hip and waist, see how they move in a whip like fashion to accelerate the kettle overhead, and then solidify to stabilise the bell in a lockout.

Take care with rotational work, be sure to develop a solid base first.



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