Have you ever wondered how your favorite athlete is able to deliver a "one-punch knockout" or blast a slap shot through the rink glass? The answer is rotational power. All too often training is focused on strictly linear activity like straight line running or bench press. While these can be good exercises they do not address the crucial component of rotational strength and power. Most exercise is done through the sagittal plane, which means the body is moving in a forward and backward direction. Occasionally exercise will be performed in the frontal plane which means the body will move in a side to side fashion. However, in order to produce the torque required to perform many sporting movements, more time needs to be spent in the transverse plane where rotational movements are made.
The keys to unlocking huge rotational power are A: Use the correct training exercises and B: Understand the optimal biomechanical sequencing of movement patterns which result in maximal rotational power production with minimal power leaks due to inefficiencies.
Generally speaking, you want to activate muscles in the sequence of largest to smallest or proximal to distal. 'Proximal' refers to being close to the middle or midline of the body while 'distal' refers to being further away from the middle of the body. In the example of a baseball pitcher throwing a ball, the pectoral muscle group would be considered proximal while the wrist flexors would be distal.
The secrete to maximal rotational power generation is to start your movement with the large muscle groups and transfer that force to the next muscle group, with each muscle adding to the building of force until the power is finally transferred into the ball, stick, bat fist or other object.
It is important to know that a fully lengthened muscle has the greatest potential to transfer power. This lengthened muscle also has the greatest potential to generate its own force. Now comes the crazy part, a lengthened muscle is only achieved when it is relaxed. This is a crucial concept that professional athletes understand and everyone else can't wrap their head around. This is why the greatest athletes make everything look so effortless and easy. It's because they are relaxed. Each muscle group must be relaxed and lengthened to allow the energy to be transferred through and then it can contract to add and additional boost.
In the example of a tennis forehand, the whole swing is started by activating the glutes which rotates the hips towards the direction of the impending shot. This hip rotation generates a huge amount of power that is transferred to the (lengthened) obliques which then contract adding additional force that is transferred to the (relaxed) pectoral group, that then contracts passing more power down the line until the summation of forces reaches the fingers that hold the racket which finally contacts the ball. When you think about it, the fingers and wrist can only generate minimal forces by themselves but with proper sequencing, they can transfer enormous forces that originated far away in the glutes.
Understanding how to maximize rotational power is the secrete you need to throw 90 mph fast balls, bomb 350 yard drives, throw that knockout punch or whatever your athletic goals may be.
Dr. Craig Slaunwhite is a Doctor of Chiropractic, the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Florida Panthers NHL club, and a Scientific Advisor to RIVALUS Inc.