Rethinking Rotational Power for Athletes
With the rise in awareness of the importance of fitness in sports like golf and baseball, undoubtedly the greatest area of interest has been how training can benefit velocity and swing speed gains. Now, as a general rule, “powerful” people tend to have a propensity for greater speed and force of movement no matter what the task. However, not all “power training” is created equal nor is even appropriate for athletes in rotational sports. Anyone who knows anything about my coaching philosophy should understand that one of my core beliefs is that the athlete and situation dictate the exercise selection; no exercise is “great” for everyone. Hang out at Coastal Performance for a whole day and you will see this principle in action; from early morning adult clients doing bodyweight exercises to midday staff heavy deadlifts to afternoon athletes doing hang cleans. One thing you may notice about those afternoon athletes, however, is that they are not baseball players or golfers. I heard recently of a PGA Tour player suffering an injury while performing Olympic lifts, which I’m assuming was an attempt at some power gains. There are two issues here: Number one, injuring a pro athlete who has already “made it” is like flattening a billionaire’s investment portfolio with high-risk penny stocks. The role of a strength coach in that situation is maintenance and injury prevention, just like the large portfolio money manager. If the player wants to do something “fun” and “intense”, have them push a sled around or do some hard Airdyne intervals. Coach Dan John has a saying, “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” The goal in this case is to keep the player playing efficiently, and losing sight of that goal by getting cute with “sexy” exercises just because they look awesome is, well, irresponsible to say the least.Now on to my second point regarding Olympic lifts, box jumps, and other forms of vertical power training I’ve seen used for golfers and pitchers recently. These exercises focus on generating power through the ground and up with extension of the ankle, knee, and hip. This explains why there is such a high correlation between sprint speed and vertical jump height. However, I’m not convinced that this carries over to rotational power for many reasons. For one, using a simple anecdotal analysis, I’m fairly certain John Daly isn’t an alternate for the Olympic high jumping team. However, he’s extremely efficient rotationally and as a result, is one of the longest hitters in competitive golf (or at least was). I’ll throw myself out there as an example also. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m kind of a long hitter. I would call my vertical jump very average. I do, however, own the staff record for medicine balls destroyed. Here’s the message: To develop rotational power, you must train power rotationally! Our pitchers and golfers do a ton of medicine ball work, along with a solid foundation of compound strength exercises and mobility work. The vast majority of the time you can literally hear who throws the hardest and hits it the farthest. Call it sport-specific if you must (painful words for me to type), but the truth of the matter is, this is where the best gains can and will be made. I would argue it’s even better for higher handicap golfers and young athletes who have trouble coordinating their sequence. This power work will be enhanced with a focus on rotational stability through the core. Anti-Rotation presses, plank variations, and other related exercises add stiffness and allow the core to improve its function as a power transducer between the upper and lower body. Lastly, the lead hip (left for right-handed athletes) is generally to blame for a lot of rotational low-back injuries. A focus on tissue quality, mobility, and strength in that area will free up some more motion and allow for more speed. So the next time you or someone you train needs more velocity or more clubhead speed, dump the jumps and Olympic lifts and start thinking about rotational power work instead!