October 24, 2014

Personal Best: ­­­Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

 

There’s an old adage when it comes time to buying property: “Location, location, location!” Every realtor in town will tell you that it’s the key to investing in property, both short- and long-term.

There’s a new adage when it comes to training your body: “Rotation, rotation, rotation!” Spinal rotation, that is. Every leader in fitness will tell you that it’s the key to investing in your body, both short- and long-term.

All activities, including daily tasks and sports movements, involve rotation of the spine to different degrees, from getting into the car to emptying the dishwasher to making the bed to walking the dog, to running a marathon to playing tennis to swinging a golf club to throwing a baseball and … (Breathe!) you get the idea.

This is why it is absolutely necessary to include spinal rotation training in your daily exercise routine whether you’re a pencil pusher or an Olympic-level athlete.

Rotation training exercises utilize the primary muscles that rotate the spine, as well as the core’s stabilizers, to gain strength and flexibility from the neck to the pelvis. Done properly, they are a harmonious blend of mobility and stability, conditioning for the structures that attach to the ribs, scapulae, vertebrae and pelvis.

The more flexible the spine and related attachments are in a full range of motion, the easier it is to move and the less risk of injury we incur during all activities. When our spines become stiff and inflexible, we compensate by over rotating from the shoulders and lower back. This can create a domino effect of injury to other joints and muscle groups. Spinal rotation training can alleviate many of our aches and pains—from head to toe, from migraines to stiff knees.

Unfortunately, the old school concept of fitness training sessions, consisting of a circuit of squats/lunges/planks/push-ups/crunches/bench press/bicep curls and triceps extensions, is still the norm in most gyms and fitness centers.

These are great and necessary exercises that work many of the major muscles of the body for strength and conditioning. However, they keep the spine in a locked position that can lead to chronic spinal stiffness and compromised movement over time. They should be part of a more comprehensive training regimen that moves the body through a range of motion.

Here are three spine rotation exercises from easy to advanced. I have broken down the exercises for better understanding without the aid of pictures. Practice step by step at first. Soon you’ll be able to practice on your own with ease.

SEATED SPINAL ROTATION (Easy)

This is a great chair exercise for the spine that is done in a sturdy armchair (no wheels or casters). I have included a modification if you don’t have an armchair available.

1. Sit tall with feet flat on the ground and knees at a 90-degree angle.

2. Turn your head and upper torso to the right gently placing both hands on the right armrest. If you don’t have an armchair, place your left arm on your outer right thigh and right arm on the seat.

3. Keep the chest lifted and open within the rotation. No slouching shoulders.

4. From your belly button down you should still be facing front.

5. Hold for 15 seconds breathing deeply in and out through your nose.

6. Repeat to the left

7. Repeat each set three times

8. As you gain flexibility, grab the back of the chair with your twisting side arm, turning the head and upper torso deeper behind you.

If you sit in a chair all day, hunched over your computer, do this exercise every 10-15 minutes to keep blood flowing to the spine and your brain.

REVERSE WOODCHOPPER (Moderate)

This exercise can be done with or without a weighted medicine ball. I suggest starting without any added weight to get the movement and rhythm safely and to prevent strain to the low back.

1. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Toes slightly turned out.

2. Bend knees a few inches down while twisting your head and torso to the right side, both arms reaching to the right outer hip. Pivot in on the left toes to deepen the twist. Inhale on this movement.

3. Straighten your legs and turn your head and torso to the left side while swinging your arms diagonally up to the left side. Exhale on this movement.

4. Follow your hands with your eyes throughout the exercise.

5. The twist should occur in the pelvis and hips, not the lower back. Imagine a flashlight in your belly button and shine the light straight across the room as you twist. Pull your belly in and squeeze your glutes (butt muscles) as you rotate your hips side to side.

6. Repeat 10 times, then switch to the left side and repeat 10 times.

7. Start with one set and build to three.

8. When adding weight. Start with a two-pound medicine ball. When that feels easy, add another pound or two and so on. Do this exercise three times a week on alternating days.

The reverse woodchopper without added weight is another great exercise to use as a break from sitting in a chair. Add weights during workout sessions and this exercise trains the body for lifting objects safely, from emptying the dishwasher to lifting bags into the overhead bins on airplanes.

SIDE PLANK WITH ROTATION (Advanced)

Okay, all of you plank addicts, start adding rotation instead of holding plank until you’re blue in the face. You get the same strength benefits without locking the spine.

1. Lie on your right side with your head and feet in a straight line, left leg on top of the right leg, left arm resting on the body like a plank of wood.

2. Lift your upper body onto your right elbow. The elbow should be under your right shoulder. Have the right forearm perpendicular to your torso, right hand flat on the ground.

3. When you feel secure in this position lift your hips off of the floor so that your forearm and your feet are holding up your body. This may be all you can do if you are a beginner at side plank. Practice holding this position for 10 seconds at a time to gain strength. Once secure go onto the next step for the rotation.

4. Lift your left arm off your body and gently reach in front of and under your torso until your torso is almost parallel to the floor, keeping your left arm off the floor. This will rotate the left side of your torso towards the right side of the body.

5. Return to the starting side plank and repeat 5 times.

6. Then do the same starting on the left side.

Side plank with rotation is a great exercise for strengthening the entire core, front and back, especially the internal and external oblique muscles. Remember to breathe! Holding your breath during strenuous exercise can block blood flow and raise blood pressure, acutely.

As with all fitness programs, please make sure that you have clearance from your physician before trying any new exercises.

Deborah Brooks is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and a Certified Fitness Instructor through UCLA. She is the co-owner of edgeworX sport-fitness, a company founded on the belief that there is an athlete in all of us. Deborah is also an International Adult Figure Skating Gold Medalist.