Ab Rotation

In the first two semesters of physical therapy school, a portion of the curriculum includes the foundations of biomechanics and ways to translate these properties into the real world.

The one point that was absolutely nailed down over the course of that year was avoiding the worst possible situation for the longevity and health of the lumbar spine. Above all else, avoid moving through the terrible triad of lower back movements: simultaneous flexion, rotation, and side bending, especially under loading.

In other words, avoid the seated ab rotation machine!

Primary Problem: Everything

The seated ab rotation machine superficially seems to have some merit due to the rotational component that supposedly targets the internal and external obliques on opposite sides simultaneously. Unfortunately, everything from positioning to safety, efficacy, and effectiveness is wrong with this abominable waste of space. The seated position isn’t advantageous for your aesthetics or general orthopedic health.

More specific to the ab rotation machine, the force planes just don’t match up (again). Sound familiar? The internal and external obliques encompass the anterior and posterior lateral trunk, attaching to multiple sites throughout their large surface area and distribution.

The internal and external obliques are adjacent layers of core musculature positioned in a relatively perpendicular orientation to one other. This orientation doesn’t include being horizontal for either of these two muscles.

To target the obliques in this machine, spinal flexion must be incorporated into the movement. (Remember that thing about the terrible triad of positioning for lower back health?)

If you want to argue that this dynamic rotational movement targets the deepest layer of the abdominal wall, think again. Though the transversus abdominis fiber orientation is indeed horizontal in position, this muscle is responsible for tonic contractions, meaning it wouldn’t be optimally activated or stimulated for functional or aesthetic purposes during the violent rotations afforded by this machine.

Finally, the amortization phase of this movement creates a slippery slope for both soft tissue and structural spinal health. “Amortization” is the phase between the eccentric and concentric contractions and largely depends on fine neurological functioning.

But when cranking out rep after rep on the ab rotation machine, you’re actually frying the neural system that would normally stabilize the spine properly. You then lose the dynamic stabilization your spinal segments and core need to protect themselves against the external load.

Alternative: Pallof Press

Pallof Press

Want to target the entire core, including the shoulder and hip complexes, in addition to the abdominal wall? Give the Pallof press a shot. This anti-rotation movement will challenge your static and dynamic stability of the pillar all at once.

Think it looks too easy? Load it up and don’t budge an inch except for controlling your arms in a smoothly coordinated manner. The internal tension you’ll be able to achieve will skyrocket your heart rate, burn your core, and make you wish you were back on the ab rotation machine.

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