Rotation Nation: The Integration of a Forgotten Sensation

Sunday, July 21, 2013 • Los Angeles, CA 90064


I am going to tell you all about something readily present to all moving organisms, but a like a visually stunning insect, is often overlooked. I am talking about the pot-o-gold, the unicorn, the Lucky Charms of movement. Indeed, I am talking about the….




What is this transverse plane you ask? Well to understand the most neglected and challenging plane of motion, you must understand the other main two.


The first is the Sagittal Plane, moving forward and backward. This is the road most traveled, as most of us participate in movements in this plane (sitting, walking, and most traditional exercises).


The second plane is the Frontal, or lateral. This plane is traveled when you move from side to side, or do exercises such as dumbbell lateral raises or lateral band walking.


Understand before we move on, it is VITAL to move and exercise in ALL these planes of motion, as they come together to form true happiness for the body. But we are talking about the transverse plane only since it is often overlooked, and therefore must be better understood.


The third plane being the Transverse Plane includes twisting and rotational movements. Many movements in sports and everyday life incorporate all three planes in an integrated fashion, but the transverse plane is often the weakest link. Even if it is traveled in, the mechanics of doing so may be altered by biomechanical “hiccups” and inefficiencies. If you read my previous blog post about redefining core training, as well as my core training video (, you will understand some of the principles in overcoming these obstacles.


All musculatures of the human body benefit greatly from traveling in the transverse plane, both functionally as well as kinesthetically. In fact, any unaccustomed stimulus will be stressful for the body, both mechanically and metabolically. If one were to look at many muscle fibers in the body on a microscopic level, one would see that they literally "spiral". The structured is an evolution of efficiency to overcome the downward forces of gravity, as our bodies always take the path of least resistance.

As a Personal Trainer and gym-goer, it truly saddens me to see individuals ignore this plane and continue to negatively impact their bodies in repetitive movements. This article is not just educational, but a challenge to the entire human population to learn about and love the transverse plane. I’ll cut to the chase now; here are some tweaks to common movements to include the transverse plane.

Fitness modeling courtesy of Tracy Kelpadlo


Movement Preparations/Stretches: I encourage you to use these movements as stretches and preparations before moving as well as for general daily mobility. Everyone is different, so only go to a range that is comfortable for you.


Calf: Using the wall for support and the hip as a driver, twist left to right in slightly bent knee position.



Hip Flexor: One may use the hand, hip or knee as a transverse circular driver in both directions.



External Rotator: Using support if necessary, with trunk or hands as a driver.



Hamstring: In a bent-leg and dorsiflexed (toe pointed up) position. One may hold onto a doorframe or kneel for added support.



Internal Hip: Externally rotate the targeted hip in a kneeling position on the support leg, using the hands as a transverse driver.



Shoulder Girdle, Version 1: Raising the hand high against a pole or doorframe and making sure the tissues are elongated use the hips as a driver to twist left and right.




Shoulder Girdle, Version 2: Externally rotating the hand in a cobra-like position, use the hips to drive in the transverse plane.




Movements/Resistance Exercises: The following are movements in which you can use as exercises or for more specific movement preparation. If you do add resistance, make sure to progress slowly and decrease range of motion as a precaution.


Internal and External Rotation of all Lower Body Movements with the Foot as a Driver (Lunge, Squat, and Calf Raise): MANY variations for this exist, but only angulate the toes in or out slightly, and continue to show caution as you move in any unaccustomed fashion. These variations can be used in cooperation with upper body hand drivers (as reaches) to compliment desired emphasized musculatures. These movements can be adapted to strength, mobility, agility, and power exercises. Rotational Movements can be added to create more compound rotational components.




Deadlift: The internal or external rotational concepts explained above can be applied to a two leg, one leg, or staggered stance deadlift. The rotational variation in a single leg deadlift is shown below. A rotational and reactive component may be added to agility and partner exercises, using tubing and medicine balls as possible tools options.



Push Up: The rotational movements shown come from the chest as a driver in one variation and the hand as a driver in another. The hips may also be used as a driver, and the pushup can be on other implements such as a stability ball.



Plank (side and low-prone): The hips or hand are commonly used drivers. A quadruped position may also be adapted.




Bridging: The foot is used as a driver, and instability implements and carpet sliders may be used as additional tools.



Shoulder Presses: In a basic standing press, the dumbbell overhead press is shown with a single arm movement; while endless other variations may be applied. If adapting to a hypertrophy or strength program in which heavier weights are used, it would be wise to reduce to range of motion.



Medicine Ball Rotations and Chops: The following exercises can be used with medicine balls, tubing, dumbbells and other implements. The movements shown are sagittal plane lunges, but any lunge, squat, or other lower body variation can be incorporated. 




Rows: In a standing single arm row using a band as resistance, the opposite hand is shown as a driver for the rotation. This method may be applied to a bent-over row or suspension trainers.



Foam Rolling: Both used for movement preparation and recovery, self-myofascial release or foam rolling is an essential part component of exercise programming. Understand that the soft tissue is 70% water, so gentle compression in necessary to avoid “tensing up.” Make sure to move slowly as you release tight tissue with these seldom-used techniques.


Lats: Place a foam roller under the bulk of your armpit in a side lying position, using the arm as a driver.



IT Band: The foam roller may be placed on the lateral side of the thigh anywhere between the knee and hip, using the hip or hand as a driver.



External Rotator: Using a foam roller or ball on where the back pocket on a pair of jeans would be, use the foot as a driver in external and internal rotation.



Calf: Placing a foam roller or ball underneath the base of the bulkiest portion of the calf, place slight pressure downward using the foot as a transverse driver.



Thoracic Spine: Placing the ball between the scapula (shoulder blade) and spine lay down in a supine position, using the arm as a driver in the transverse plane as well as other directions.


Posterior Neck: Gently pressing a ball, thumb, or massage tool against the back of the neck lateral to the spine, use the head as a driver to the left and right.



Remember that no exercise is the "right or wrong" exercise. Everybody is an individual and these variations are simply tools and models to stimulate new ideas for your workouts or clients. Make sure to be creative and innovate your own movements within all planes of levels of movement complexity.