How to Perform Trunk Rotation

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Trunk Rotation

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Also Known As: Supine trunk rotation

Targets: Obliques, rectus abdominis, and lumbar multifidus (low back stabilizing muscle)

Equipment Needed: Bodyweight and exercise mat

Level: Beginner

Trunk rotation is an exercise used to improve core strength, stability, flexibility, and greater mobility of the spine. The exercise can be done in a variety of ways allowing you to progress, challenge, and perform what works best for you.

The trunk is a vital part of any motion the body performs according to research. Trunk muscles help you walk, maintain balance, and provide body stability. Without a strong trunk, optimal body functioning with daily activities and sports could suffer. Achieving greater trunk mobility through rotation exercise is said to help improve fitness levels and decrease the potential for injury.

Performing trunk rotation is also a popular rehabilitative exercise to reduce low back pain. Having low back pain is a common problem among athletes and non-athletes alike. You may have sustained an injury or using improper form on your competitive golf swing to cause chronic back pain for example.

Training the trunk muscles is recommended as a great way to improve body movement, balance, and stability. Trunk rotation is one of many exercises that can be easily added to your existing core routine. It would enhance your workout program, target specific trunk muscles, and improve the quality of your fitness in and out of the gym.

Benefits

Trunk rotation is a movement that involves the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and surrounding muscles including:

  • External oblique – side abs that help rotate the trunk
  • Rectus abdominis – flexes the torso and spine
  • Lumbar multifidus – helps stabilize the spine
  • Latissimus dorsi – supports the back during spinal flexion
  • Internal oblique – helps rotate and turn the trunk
  • Transversus abdominis – helps stabilize the low back and pelvis

Trunk rotation is used during functional daily activities and while participating in sports. As you twist and turn your body, the trunk muscles are often the first activated to help maintain stability. This is the very reason research indicates the importance of knowing what methods of exercise help maintain optimal function of these muscles.

Performing trunk rotation is one of many exercises that can help improve strength, function, and mobility of the trunk muscles. Adding this trunk training exercise into your regular fitness routine can provide the following benefits:

  • Increased trunk rotation - range of motion (ROM)
  • Decreased potential for injury
  • Improved functional fitness (daily activities)
  • Reduced low back pain
  • Ability to obtain peak fitness levels
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved stability
  • Improved core strength
  • Improved balance and gait (walking)
  • Increased low back and hip flexibility
  • Improved spinal mobility
  • Improved posture

Step-by-Step Instructions

Performing trunk rotation is a popular exercise to improve strength and function of the trunk muscles. That said, and as with any exercise, it’s important to work at your fitness level and capacity for this type of movement.

The following steps will help you perform the exercise safely and effectively:

  1. Start in a supine position (lying on back) on an exercise mat.
  2. Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Maintain your upper body firmly against the floor.
  4. Outstretch your arms and press into the floor to help with balance during the movement.
  5. Engage/tighten the abdominal muscles.
  6. Slowly rotate the knees to one side with control and working within your range of motion. Your feet will shift but remain on the floor.
  7. Hold the position for 3-5 seconds.
  8. Engage/tighten the abdominal muscles to move your legs to the opposite side.
  9. Hold for another 3-5 seconds.
  10. Stay focused and breathe normally through the exercise.
  11. Repeat the exercise for a determined amount of reps.

Common Mistakes

Performing trunk rotation may appear to be an easy bodyweight exercise, but it does require attention to good form and technique. The following are common mistakes to avoid while performing this exercise:

Not Working at Your Fitness Level

Trunk rotation as with any exercise training requires working at the appropriate fitness level. The exercise should provide an effective challenge without overloading the muscle tissue. Because it’s a bodyweight exercise, some individuals tend to overexert causing more harm than good. Start slow and progress as you gain strength and spinal mobility.

Not Engaging the Core

Tightening your abdominal core muscles throughout trunk rotation is an important part of the exercise. If you’re only moving your legs back and forth without activating your core muscles, the exercise is being done incorrectly. Not keeping your core engaged can also increase the potential of a low back injury during the exercise. A tight core properly engages the trunk muscles as you rotate the legs from one side to the other.

Incorrect Range of Motion (ROM)

Trunk rotation is a slow, controlled, small movement. The goal is not to see if you can touch your knees to either side of the floor. The goal is to control the motion not performing a big movement. Work within an appropriate range of motion for a properly executed and effective exercise.   

Modifications and Variations

Trunk rotation is a progressive exercise that can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level.

Need a Modification?

If you are new to exercise and training the trunk muscles of the core, you may want to apply a few modifications or other helpful exercises:

  • Practice core engagement by tightening your abdominals (think navel to the spine) without moving your legs to opposite sides. This will help with body awareness and muscle control during trunk rotation.
  • Perform pelvic tilts to help release tight back muscles and increase flexibility. These are done in the same supine position with knees up and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your core (think navel to your spine) as you tilt your pelvis up toward the ceiling.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have mastered basic trunk rotation, there are a variety of ways to increase the challenge of the exercise including:

  • Perform trunk rotation in the supine position but with your feet raised off the floor and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. This increases the intensity of the exercise by activating greater abdominal contraction during the movement.
  • Perform trunk rotation in the supine position but with legs extended at the knees. This advanced modification engages the core muscles even more during the movement. The focus remains on working slowly and with control.
  • Seated trunk rotation is another variation to consider and can be performed sitting on your exercise mat with legs extended in front of you. Engage your core as you twist your body touching the floor on one side and moving with control to the opposite side.
  • Standing trunk rotation is considered an intermediate form of this exercise and sometimes better option for those who feel discomfort/pain in a seated position. The same rules for core engagement during this and all variations of the movement apply. Additional challenge holding a weighted medicine ball is another option with standing trunk rotation.

    Safety and Precautions

    Trunk rotation is shown to be an effective exercise to improve spinal mobility, flexibility, and core strength. The following tips will reduce the risk of injury and help you apply proper form during the movement:

    • Maintain body awareness during the exercise for proper form and technique.
    • Engage your core during the exercise to effectively execute the movement without risk of low-back discomfort/injury. Think navel sucked into your spine.
    • Perform the movement slowly and with control.
    • Focus on controlling the motion not increasing the motion. Think a smaller range of motion (ROM) for stronger trunk muscles.
    • Perform the exercise at your fitness level and spinal range of motion.
    • Apply appropriate exercise progression principles (add challenge when you have mastered the basic movement).
    • If you experience increased pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right during the movement – stop the exercise.

    Try It Out

    Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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