Prepare to Rotate and Rotate to Prepare

By: David Howatson-Begg


When thinking of a list of things I loved for an icebreaker on a training day, I came up with a pretty extensive catalogue of activities, types of music and sports, all of which could be utilised to drive engagement through the roof. Naturally, at the top of my list was food (specifically a certain American brand of double stuffed cookie…but only as a treat). There are very few things in our world that the human body enjoys more than food, in fact, we can’t live without it. When it comes to creating movement in our physical world, the body has another necessity - functional feeding in the form of rotation…again, we can’t live without it. We are built in spirals that are apparent in everything we do, from how we move to the very structure of our DNA. If every fibre of our being involves coils, curves and corkscrews, it’s no surprise that our greatest efficiency in movement lies in the rotational or transverse plane of motion. Despite this knowledge, we often see a limited amount of rotational movement during warm-ups, stretches or preparatory activities in standard exercise programs. If I asked you to perform a twisting motion through your ankle, knee or hip you might cringe at the mere thought of it!

Neglecting to move the body through transverse plane spiral movements at the start of your training session could restrict the body’s ability to perform most efficiently. Let’s take running for example; one of the most natural, innate functional exercises we can execute, where vital transverse plane motion occurs, even though we may think typically think of only the sagittal (forward and backward) plane. As the foot strikes the ground, the legs and pelvis rotate in all three planes of motion at the same time, with the transverse plane being critical to allow the body to accommodate the ground and then prepare for flight. If I’m going to get rotation in my hip, it stands to reason that I’ll get some movement in the transverse plane at my knee and ankle, as well as up in the shoulder region. Without preparation in the transverse plane, dysfunction becomes inevitable leading to discomfort and eventually breakdown. At best, I’ll struggle to beat my lap time, but either way, my mind and body won’t be completely happy.

Everything Moves That Way…

From skin to bone, muscle to facia all of our tissues move in three planes of motion. Some parts of our bodies, such as joints, like a little more of a certain plane than others, but in the spirit of authentic function, they’ll all give you at least a few degrees of rotation. An ideal way of integrating the transverse plane into your pre-workout program is to start with a stretch or a movement that is familiar to you. Put yourself into a standard position to stretch the front of your hip or hip-flexors, a split stance, commonly shown in a lunge pose with one knee posterior or behind you, elevated on Power Plate®. A recognisable stance for most of us, but not one we see being made dynamic, and even more rare to see with rotation added into the mix. From that position, you can drive the hips forward and back lifting the chest driving the whole body, side to side (in adduction and abduction), and in what we are most interested in here, rotation of the hips and trunk from left and right (internal and external). Hitting each of these planes means you’ve prepared the hips for a bit of everything, and most importantly, for how movement really occurs throughout the body, in everyday life.

The beauty of doing a simple task such as opening up the hip with Power Plate is that the body is allowed to move through its own range, and you are in control. Should you take the movement a little farther, or drive the hips into a different plane of motion, the vibration will be very accommodating. Due to the increased activity in the nervous system, the subconscious excitation, and increased circulation, the hip has been authentically prepared for the rotation it needs to perform the upcoming exercises you have planned.

Power Plate stimulates/loads the body from the bottom up as opposed to top down like a barbell or a free weight, giving you the freedom to move in any way you choose. As long as it’s safe, and you have a rationale or reason for doing it, then go for it! Add some gentle twists and turns to the patterns you’d normally use to mobilise the body. A sound strategy for achieving this is to choose a range of movement in which you feel that you move comfortably and with success. If you normally mobilise the hips or hip flexors in that split stance mentioned earlier, start there and think about adding a simple tweak such as positioning a leg more to the left or right. How does that change the sensation? What about turning the foot in or out? Can you change the distance of the split stance?

Every single time you adjust your pose the muscular and connective tissues will adapt, changing where the tension or ‘stretch’ is felt. This, in turn, will change where the vibration is transferred and how the body absorbs it as the vibration will follow the lines of tension. By adding a little dynamic movement in the transverse plane on Power Plate we are rapidly stimulating the system to improve the motion and enhance the motor learning involved. Once we can wrap our heads around the concept and appreciate the presence of rotation in all of our daily movements, it is then, and only then, can we truly get the best out of our movement preparation.

If you want to test the importance of the transverse plane, try getting out of the bathtub or your car without rotating and see how far you get. Good luck!

By David Howatson, Performance Health Systems UK Master Trainer