You might be wondering…what is torso rotation and how can I do it properly in my core strength training or sports performance training routine?
At first appearance, the concept of properly rotating the torso seems fairly straightforward.  Twist to the left and twist to the right, what’s so tough about that?  Actually, rotating the hips and spine or torso, is not so simple.  It involves flexibility and a coordinated effort of the core musculature.  And the majority of people, even those who are active, rotate incorrectly.

Why is proper rotation relevant to regular people?
Just think of all the times you bend and twist to pick something up off of the floor or lean over to grab the dog before she runs out the door.  Rotating through the spine is an unconscious movement we perform almost every day.  At the same, hasn’t almost everyone bent over to pick up groceries out of the car, twisted to reach, and then thrown their back out?   It’s not rotation itself that’s the problem, but the improper rotation form and the lack of flexibility most people experience with age.

Why is core strength training and rotation relevant to athletes?
Just think of all the different sport movements that require rotation.  From golf to football, almost every type of athlete needs to generate power by rotating the torso and by observing the elite athletes in our culture, you can see they have mastered the ability to twist, pivot, and rotate with power and seeming effortlessness.

The core musculature serves as a mechanism for mobility that both dissipates force and transfers energy.  Therefore the core must be both strong and flexible and all movements, especially strength training movements should be biomechanically sound.  Learning to perform movement correctly in the weight room will allow the athlete to use proper form and technique during athletic movements.

Depending on the sport or action, the core may or may not perform a twisting movement.  If rotation is required and the athletes’ core is weak or the twisting motion is biomechanically incorrect, the athlete will not perform at his or her highest ability level and the risk of injury is increased.

Optimal biomechanics for torso rotation are the same for athletes, core strength training program, and regular people.
Although the three purposes for rotating the hips and spine (torso) are different, there are basic elements common to athletes, core strength training enthusiasts, and regular people.  The most common mistake people make is compromising the lumbar spine instead of using hips and thoracic spine during movement. Unlike the lumbar spine, which is designed to flex and extend with almost no ability to twist, the joint structure of the hips and thoracic spine facilitate a range of motion that includes many different movements including rotation.

If you had the opportunity to hold a working model of the spine in your hands, you would notice the joints in vertebrae of the thoracic spine rotate and move far more easily than the lumbar vertebrae.  The reason for this is the design and structure of the joints between vertebrae called facet joints.  Facet joints of the lumbar spine have a rounded design which enables flexion and extension but not twisting while those of the thoracic vertebrae are flatter which allows for twisting and greater mobility.

Concepts described in this article will reduce your risk of injury in daily life and sports related activities.
If you are wondering why everyone doesn’t just do it right and avoid using their lumbar spine for twisting, the answer is tri-fold.  First, there is a lack of knowledge of how to perform movements correctly.  I mean seriously, I’m one of the only people I know who thinks about this stuff while working out or at all for that matter.

Second, most people aren’t aware of their diminishing flexibility.  Diminished flexibility comes with age and sedentary lifestyle and causes many people to compensate by using their lower back (lumbar spine) while performing simple or difficult tasks.  Third, sedentary lifestyle and work environments leads not only  to tight hips but also causes the upper back to round, the shoulders to slump, and the stomach to flop around.  Hours and hours spent in these flexed postures gives no support to the spine, results in limited mobility in the upper back, and causes people to compensate with the lower back.

To reduce your risk of injury, while twisting or improve your athletic performance and core conditioning, follow these three steps:
1.  Use your thoracic spine and hips to twist and rotate.
2.  Engage abs while performing all movements and even while sitting.  (no more flops)
3.  Work on flexibility and stretching, even if only 5 minutes a day.
These are some of the steps you can use to improve your mobility and form during movement and sports activities.  Depending on your age, you may not see instant results but I encourage you to stay diligent in these practices and you will see and feel a difference.

References:
1.  Functional Training for the Torso; Cook, Gray MSPT, CSCS; Fields, Keith MS, CSCS
2.  http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/facet-joints-spine-anatomy
3.  http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/thoracic-spine
5. http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/spinal-structure-body-mechanics
6. Loads on the lumbar spine; A Schultz, G Andersson, R Ortengren, K Haderspeck and A Nachemson