General Training

Stuff You Shouldn’t Be Doing in a Commercial Gym | The Torso Rotation Machine

I’m starting a new series today in the blog to provide a beacon in the rough seas of training in the “big box.” A world where logic and common sense need not apply.  A world where exercise physiology and functional anatomy have no place.  A land free of the constraints of sleeves and clothing that actually fits.  However, fear not, with a little guidance you can persevere and even thrive in this hostile battleground.  Perhaps you may even rescue another well-meaning but misinformed soul lost in the land of selectorized equipment and machines with seat belts.       The torso rotation looks, at first view, like a decent idea.  Who doesn’t, after all, want a sick pair of side-abs? (that’s a joke, hopefully)  Unfortunately, what totally “shreds your obliques” is likely doing an equally if not more effective job of destroying your lower back.  The root of the problem lies both in the design of the machine and the total lack of knowledge of functional anatomy by whomever first theorized the “ab-twisty thingy.”  Your lumbar spine (basically the portion from the bottom of your ribcage to your pelvis) is not made to rotate much by itself.  The sum total of normal movement for all the segments combined is around 13-15 degrees.    Any movement beyond that, especially under load as in the rotation machine, risks serious damage to the lower back discs.  Multiple highly respected lower back experts, who’s names you likely won’t recognize because they aren’t sexy enough for Oprah, agree that its rarely a good idea to EVER rotate the lower back, even to stretch it. Even worse, this machine ISOLATES lower back rotation by locking the upper back in place, taking away an area that’s actually supposed to rotate. So, you may ask, where does the rotation come from in a golf swing, baseball swing, etc… and more importantly, HOW DO I “DO” MY OBLIQUES BRO?!!!  I’ll answer the first question briefly, because quite frankly, its not the primary purpose of the article, and I explain it in much more detail in some of my golf training posts.  Healthy rotation in sport is created by the hips and upper back with the “core” acting as an area of stability.  Power is not created in the abdominal area; it is generated through transfer of energy from the hips through the upper body (think throwing a punch).  Trying to create power in the core will lead to reduced performance and a lot of chronic pain. Ok, so now that that’s out of the way, whats a safe way to turn those love-handles into striated webs of steel that would make the Situation jealous?  Well, first I’ll assume that you are taking care of nutrition; if not, stop reading, get a trash bag, and toss everything in your pantry that comes in a box or shiny bag.  I rarely recommend trying to target specific core muscles because, despite popular opinion, its futile to try to isolate certain muscles anyway.  Train your core to prevent movement with exercises like planks, side planks, anti-rotation cable presses, and carry some heavy stuff around.  Your  back will thank you.