Becoming a stronger, more resilient runner isn’t just about the miles you log. Each exercise you do in your off-road workouts can help build a body that’s better able to handle those miles. One prime example: anti-rotation exercises.
Anti-rotation exercises refer to any exercise in which you’re resisting a rotational force, explains physical therapist Kate Bochnewetch, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of the Running DPT in Buffalo, New York. A plank shoulder tap, for example, is an anti-rotation exercise because your body naturally wants to rotate side-to-side as you shift from one hand to the other—you have to work to resist that rotation by engaging your core. In fact, every anti-rotation exercise will light up your midsection.
Compared to basic core moves like crunches, which primarily isolate superficial muscles (think: the six-pack ab muscles known as the rectus abdominis), anti-rotation moves also help recruit muscles that sit deep in your core, says Bochnewetch. This includes your obliques as well as your pelvic, hip, and mid- to low-back muscles, all of which play a big role in stabilizing your spine and helping you move safely, efficiently, and with power when you’re out there hitting your stride.
Anti-rotation moves are “such a simple thing to be able to add into your standard strength training program with great payoff benefits,” says Bochnewetch, who typically pencils in one to two anti-rotation movements a week for her running clients as part of their normal strength training workouts.
How do runners benefit from anti-rotation exercises?
“With running, there is a huge rotational component, whether runners realize it or not,” explains Bochnewetch. Think about it: As you step, your legs and arms move forward and backward in opposition to each other, which causes your torso to naturally rotate. A little rotation is fine. But too much rotation can make your running inefficient, says Bochnewetch. That’s because it’s wasted energy–essentially, energy that should be used to propel you forward is instead spent on excessive rotation, Bochnewetch explains.
In other words, anti-rotation exercises teach you to keep your midsection stable, even if your arms or legs are moving. And they improve core strength and stiffness, which allows for better transfer of energy between your upper and lower body. Moreover, improving your core strength and stiffness through anti-rotation movements and other core exercises can boost your ability to stabilize against external forces (think: the impact of the ground or trail as you run), which in turn can reduce your risk of injury.
One caveat: Incorporating anti-rotation exercises into your routine doesn’t mean you should avoid all rotational movements. Because of that natural rotation that happens when you run, a little rotational work can also be a source of energy transfer and power. The key is to find balance between rotation and anti-rotation exercises with a strength routine that includes both types of moves.
The Best Anti-Rotation Exercises for Runners
To get you started with building core stability as you resist rotation, we turned to Runner’s World Run Coach, Jess Movold to share her go-to moves.
How to use this list: Complete 2 sets of the following exercises, in order. Do each exercise for the number of reps listed below. Each move is demonstrated Coach Jess in the video above so you can master the proper form. You will need a yoga block, kettlebell or dumbbell, and a long resistance band. An exercise mat is optional.
Bird Dog With Yoga Block
Why it works: “This is a really good beginner-friendly anti-rotation exercise,” says Bochnewetch, adding that it’s great for shoulder stability, too. Coach Jess also explains that the yoga block gives you feedback on your form, letting you know if your hips or shoulders aren’t aligned and you need to reset that core.
How to do it: Start on all-fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Place a yoga block on low back. The goal is to keep hips and shoulders level so the block doesn’t fall. Engage core by pulling belly button in toward spine. This is the starting position. Slowly raise left arm and right leg and extend straight out, driving through right heel and reaching through left fingertips. Pause. Then slowly return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating for 6 reps per side.
Weighted Offset Dead Bug
Why it works: The anti-rotation component of this dead bug exercise is the same as the bird-dog, just in a different position, explains Bochnewetch. If you’re having trouble keeping your low back on the ground, keep your knee bent instead of straightening your leg. Make sure to keep the low back pressing toward the floor, too.
How to do it: Lie faceup. Grab a kettlebell with left hand and press up, so weight is in line with shoulder. Lift legs, with knees bent 90 degress, and position knees directly over hips. Lift right arm straight up, wrist over shoulder. Press low back into the ground to engage core. This is the starting position. From here, slowly lower right arm toward the ground behind you, as you simultaneously straighten left leg, also lowering it toward the floor. Pause for a moment with limbs hovering just a few inches off the ground, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides. Do 6 reps per side.
Plank Pillar March
Why it works: The arm reach is what makes this plank variation an anti-rotation movement, says Bochnewetch. Make it easier by lifting your arm just a few inches off the ground. Make it harder by simultaneously lifting your opposite leg. Coach Jess also suggests starting with plank shoulder taps before moving to this progression. You can also step feet wider if you want more stability and closer together if you want more of a challenge—either way, keep those hips steady the entire time.
How to do it: Start in a high plank with feet shoulder-width apart, arms straight, shoulders stacked over wrists, and core, glutes, and legs engaged. Your body should form a long straight line from the top of your head to your heels. This is the starting position. Lift right hand off the ground and slowly reach it out in front. Pause for a moment when arm is straight, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating for 6 reps per side.
Why it works: This movement is one of Bochnewetch’s favorites that she uses frequently with athletes. She likes the fact that it’s easily scalable–you can crank up the difficulty by using a stronger resistance band, or by performing the move while standing in a staggered stance–which makes it easy to keep challenging your body as you build strength.
How to do it: Loop one end of a large resistance band around a sturdy object, like a pole or rig, about at chest height. With the left side of your body facing the anchor, stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Hold the band with both hands at chest (make sure you’re far enough away from the anchor so that there’s resistance on the band). Engage core and push the band directly in front of chest. Pause, then pull arms back to chest. Repeat. Then switch sides. Do 6 reps per side.
Single-Arm Press With Balance
Why it works: The unilateral component of this move makes it an anti-rotation exercise, explains Bochnewetch. Coach Jess loves this exercise for the balance challenge—runners need strong balance to hit their stride—as well as the stability it requires from the core, glutes, and ankle.
How to do it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in right hand at shoulder, palm facing left. Engage core and lift left foot, knee bent 90 degrees, so that quad is parallel to the floor, knee and hip aligned. This is the starting position. Press the weight directly overhead, bicep by ear, while driving through standing right foot. Pause when right arm is straight, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides. Do 6 reps per side.
Why it works: As with the previous move, the unilateral component of this move is what makes it an anti-rotation exercise, says Bochnewetch. Your core has to really engage to prevent your torso from rotating towards the arm that’s holding the weight. Coach Jess loves ending a workout with an explosive exercise like this swing, as it helps you build power, enhances core stability, and gets that heart rate up.
How to do it: Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and a kettlebell positioned arm’s length away from you. Hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, just a slight bend in knees and back flat, and grip the kettlebell with right hand. Keeping hips hinged, swing the kettlebell between legs and behind you. Then, drive through feet and send hips forward in a fast and powerful motion, so the kettlebell swings up to chest height. Let the weight guide you back down into the hinge position, with bell between legs and behind you. Repeat. Then switch sides. Do 6 reps per side.