Rotational Power: An In-Depth Look into Hitting Bombs

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Rotation is everywhere. 

 

Sure, we can look at the major athletic movements that incorporate rotation: Golf, Baseball, Tennis. 

 

But, it’s found in more than just those three. 

 

A basketball player is playing defense, gets beat, and is forced to open his hips and run with the ball handler – Rotation. 

 

A football wide receiver is running a 12 yard comeback. He starts to breakdown at the 9 yard mark, puts a foot in the ground at 12 yards, turns his hips towards the side line, where the ball hits him in stride – Rotation.

 

A volleyball player approaching a spike. It may seem that jumping and swinging is found permanently in the sagittal plane of motion, however, many elite jumpers, volleyball players included, will generate additional power via internal rotation of the femurs, increasing the stretch on the glutes and vastus lateralis – Rotation. 

 

Now, while every athlete is different, the goal of this article is to outline the foundational aspects of building rotational power. 

 

What allows Rory McIlroy to maintain a 118 mph clubhead speed? 

 

Or Bryson DeChambeau’s 125 mph?

 

What is Mike Trout doing to produce an exit velocity of 95+ mph?

 

First, let’s dive into some physics…

 

The Physics

 

Newton’s Second Law states that Force is the product of (Mass * Acceleration). Said another way, a body accelerates when acted upon by net external force. 

 

For example, let’s say you attach a rope to a heavy sled. When you attempt to pull, the sled does not go anywhere. In this case, the external net force acting on the sled is 0. Your pulling force is equal to that of the frictional force acting in the opposite direction, and therefore, the object (in this case, the sled) does not move. 

 

Now, your partner comes over to assist you in pulling the sled and it starts to move. You have created a pulling force that is larger than the frictional force opposing you, leading to the sled accelerating in the direction you are pulling it. 

 

But, why does this matter for rotation?

 

The movement of the object being hit through the use of rotation (Golf ball, baseball, tennis ball, etc.), will be determined by the magnitude of the applied force (Mass * Acceleration). The larger the net force we can apply to the ball, the greater the change in momentum the ball will experience. 

 

Lots of net force, lots of dingers. 

 

The second principle of physics we need to understand is the Law of Momentum Conservation. According to this law, momentum, which underpins motion, will remain constant at all times within the system. 

 

Relating it back to a golf example, all of the momentum we create within the golf club via internal bodily forces, will transmit into the golf ball at impact. Said another way, no momentum or energy is lost at impact. Because of this, the initial velocity of the golf ball (VBALL) at impact will be equal to the velocity of the clubhead (VCH), multiplied by the ratio of the mass of the clubhead (MCH) to the mass of the ball(MBALL) (5). 

 

VBALL = VCH * ( MCH / MBALL )

 

The Law of Conservation of Momentum can also be applied when discussing transmitting forces throughout the body and into the club head – but we will dive into this later.

 

So, I’ll ask it again, why does this matter? 

 

We need to understand the underlying mechanisms of movement and athletic success in rotational sports, in order to understand how we should train it. 

 

Check out the visual below that does an awesome job at breaking down all the principles and underlying characteristics that impact rotational success and clubhead speed generation in the golf swing.

Knowing the physics, and seeing this image, we can more clearly understand the trainable aspects of rotational success (highlighted in yellow): 

  1. Create high levels of force. The more force we can create and transfer into the golf ball, the more momentum we can generate within it – Newton’s Second Law. 
  2. The more velocity we can create within the clubhead (or bat, or tennis racket), the more velocity we can transfer into the golf ball (or baseball, or tennis ball) at impact, increasing the subsequent distance and momentum of the ball – Law of Conservation of Momentum. 

 

Boom. Now let’s train it. 

 

General Force Production 

 

Rotational sports like golf, tennis, and baseball make use of extremely forceful movements. While being forceful, they are also fast. When we combine force with velocity, we arrive at power. However, that being said, strength (synonymous with force production, for purposes of this article) has been shown to be a determining variable when it comes to the creation of power as well as overall athletic success. 

 

A 2016 literature review concluded the following: 

 

Greater muscular strength can enhance the force-time characteristics (e.g., RFD and external mechanical power) of an individual that can then translate to their athletic performance. Muscular strength is strongly correlated to superior jumping, sprinting, COD, and sport-specific performance (1).

 

Further, when we look at research surrounding the golf swing we see that one differentiating factor in the elite players is their ability to generate large amounts of ground reaction forces during their swing (2,3). 

 

Strength training can also offer other benefits outside of its contributions to force production, and subsequent power development, including: 

  • Tissue integrity 
  • Tension production 
  • Tendon health
  • Joint health
  • Increased mobility 
  • Core strength 

 

The list goes on and on… 

 

For our purposes, we simply need to understand that if the goal is to develop maximal rotational power, general force production abilities (strength) are a necessary foundational piece. 

 

However, we similarly need to understand that strength training has a threshold, and it is a relative metric. There comes a point where the benefits achieved from strength training do not produce the same value that other mechanisms will produce. If an athlete already possesses the ability to produce large amounts of force, it is time we begin the process of expressing that force in a manner more specific to the rotational power shown in the batters box or on the tee box. 

 

Expression of Power

 

As I mentioned earlier, almost all rotational movements in sport include the element of time, that is, there isn’t much of it. Even in golf, while you have as much time as you need to set up your shot, the actual swing is rapid, fast twitched, and, in many ways, reactive (just like baseball, or tennis, or hockey, or any other movement you find in the transverse plane) 

 

Power = [( Force * Displacement ) / Time]

Power = [ Force * Velocity ]

 

Our body creates power in many different ways, one being the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). Other ways include high levels of concentric rate of force development. Check out the side bar below for a deep dive into the SSC and it’s potential contributions to rotational power.


The stretch shortening cycle is the body’s way of utilizing our muscles’ elasticity to produce huge amounts of power. There are two schools of thought here. 

 

Mechanical Model

 

When our muscles are stretched, we store elastic energy in the musculotendinous. This elastic energy is then released when we reverse our movement and contract (shorten) our muscles – producing power. 

 

Neurophysiological Model 

 

When our muscles are stretched, proprioceptors in our muscle called muscle spindles are activated and send a signal to our central nervous system (CNS). Once received, this signal is bounced back to the muscle via neural pathways and tells the muscle to contract rapidly – producing power. 

 

For example, say I am attempting to dunk a basketball. As I take my final step, my body naturally dips into a small squat in order to load my muscles. This loading mechanism places muscles under stretch, elongating them, and then, under the mechanical model, storing elastic energy in the musculotendinous unit. Under the neurophysiological model, this loading would trigger the activation of the proprioceptors within the muscle, sending a signal to the CNS. As I reverse my movement in the upwards direction, my muscles shorten and contract. Under the mechanical model, elastic energy is released in order to generate huge amounts of power. Under the neurophysiological model, the signal sent to the CNS is redirected, sent back to my muscle, telling it to contract rapidly. 

 

It is unclear the exact level of significance the stretch shortening cycle has on clubhead speed and rotational power as a whole. Some research has shown correlations between concentric-only power movements and clubhead speed. This would indicate, along with the fact it takes about 290 milliseconds to complete the downswing, that the SSC may not be the largest contributor to clubhead speed (6). Under this assumption, the large amounts of force produced in the downswing would be created by enhanced cross bridge formation or increased time for angular acceleration. However, other research has shown that a larger, and more rapid, stretch placed on the muscles during the backswing will result in a more powerful subsequent downswing. This would insinuate that a degree of stretch-shortening is taking place (5). 

 

In the end, while the exact level of significance the SSC has on the golf swing is unclear, the importance of power development and being able to showcase large amounts of force in rapid amounts of time is not arguable. If our goal is clubhead speed, we need to find a way to generate large amounts of force in a very short amount of time, and the SSC is one potential way our body will do so. 


By making use of fast and forceful movements, we can increase our body’s ability to express force in a powerful and rapid manner. Training modalities such as plyometrics, ballistic training, sprinting, velocity based training, etc. can all be utilized to increase our body’s power output (so can strength training, up to a point). 

 

A few of my favorite for rotational athletes: 

  • Medicine Ball Rotational Scoop Throws (and all of the variations)
  • Lateral Bounds 
  • Sprinting + Curved Sprints 
  • Unilateral jumps and bounds 
  • Banded Starts

 

Building Dissociation 

 

Have you ever watched a rotational movement in slow motion – it’s jaw dropping. 

 

It is the most beautiful movement in sport. 

 

Check out this slow mo of Tiger Woods’ swing. There are three massive takeaways from this video: 

  1. Notice how big his shoulder turn is during the backswing. 
  2. To go along with #1, notice how his hips don’t rotate as much as his shoulders during the backswing. 
  3. Watch how significantly his hips lead the downswing and are always in front of his torso, arms, and the club. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSKxfqYOuCs 

 

We could watch a baseball swing and maintain those same takeaways, the only difference is there’s a much more limited backswing as the athlete begins the movement in a pre-loaded position. 

  1. Shoulder turn away is still very prominent. 
  2. Hips don’t rotate as much as the shoulders (although there is still a degree of hip turn to initiate and increase the angular displacement). 
  3. Hips lead the movement. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKeiaJ3a_aM 

 

What these takeaways are showing us is the prominence of the X-Factor Stretch as a loading mechanism for rotational movements.  

 

In order to load a jump, we squat down, placing a stretch on our quads, glutes, calves, etc. which will all subsequently contract and launch us into the air. 

 

Rotationally, while it still is about placing a load on a muscle to build the stretch, and redirecting that stretch into a contraction, the mechanism of doing so is very different due to the fact that we don’t have gravity to help us load and we need to create rotation. The way rotational athletes create this stretch is by #1 and #2 discussed above. By turning the shoulders to a greater degree than the hips, we elongate the front side latissimus dorsi, obliques, and upper back, as well as the trailing side pec major. A slight hip hinge and trailing side internal rotation places the glutes in a loaded position, and frontside hip external rotation stretches the leading adductors. 

 

Once stretched in the back swing, these muscles proceed to be contracted rapidly during the downswing, creating the rotational power we need.

 

This loading mechanism has been called the X-Factor Stretch in research and has been shown to be a leading differentiating factor between elite and ameteur golfers (4). The exact reason for this differentiating factor is unclear and has been given three potential causes: 

  1. A larger stretch creates a bigger loading mechanism, and therefore a more powerful subsequent downswing via the stretch shortening cycle. 
  2. A larger stretch potentially enhances the neuromuscular systems length:tension relationships,  allowing for increased crossbridge formation to occur, creating higher levels of force production.
  3. A larger stretch increases the angular displacement of the swing, allowing for increased time to utilize compounding angular velocities (summation of speed principle), and the efficiency of our kinetic chain, to develop high levels of clubhead speed.

 

In the end, a greater load (bigger stretch and/or loaded faster), leads to greater angular velocity and power. 

 

Rotational Effeciency 

 

The last piece of building dissociation involves discussing the Summation of Speed principle – check out the image below (7). 

What this shows us is how the most proximal bodily segment reaches peak angular velocity first (hips). From there, as we move distally, angular velocity is compounded upon (thorax, arms) until it eventually peaks at the club, maximizing clubhead speed.  This is the summation of speed principle. Check out the video of Justin Thomas below. Notice:

  1. The hips initiate the downswing.
  2. The clubhead lags behind the hips, torso and arms until it catches up at impact via fast hands. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shk6obgJMsE 

 

The way a golfer attempts to sequence the downswing, and efficiently transfer forces throughout the kinetic chain plays a huge role in being able to maximize clubhead speed. Notice in the graph how each segment begins decelerating before the next most distal segment maximizes velocity. This deceleration is synonymous with increasing tension, and force transfer. Efficient energy transfer can be established through total body movements that help build appropriate sequencing and also through simply perfecting your golf swing. 

 

Reminder – based on the two physics principles discussed above, the angular velocity of the clubhead is a massive contributor to distance. 

 

The image below is from a 2008 research study that looked at the kinematics of the golf swing (7). What they noted is that pro golfers transfer forces much more efficiently through proper sequencing, which leads to much higher clubhead speeds and subsequent distance. Notice on the pro graph below, all of the lines increase speed together, compound upon one another, and almost parallel one another. The hips reach their maximal angular velocity first, followed by the thorax, then the lead arm, and then the club. All of the bodily segments accelerate in an orderly and sequential fashion moving from proximal to distal. The most proximal segment (hips) breaks off first and begins the deceleration process of developing tension. The torso and lead arm subsequently follow in this deceleration process in order to build tension for the more distal segments to pivot around and maximize velocity at impact. 

 

Now look at both amateur graphs, the angular velocities at the different bodily segments are much more unorganized and chaotic. Further, the lead arm reaches its peak angular velocity prior to the hips and thorax which tells us that the sequencing is off, and because of this, the subsequent increase in clubhead speed is not as significant as the pro graph – which leads me to the last piece I want to point out. Notice how the amateur’s bodily angular velocities aren’t that much lower than the pro’s. However, due to improper sequencing, the compounding effect is much more insignificant, leading to the smaller jump between bodily segment velocities and the club velocity. 

 

Practice. 

 

The last, and most important, discussion to have surrounding rotational power – go play your sport. 

 

The best way to build rotational power in a manner that is most applicable to your sport, is to play it. 

 

Go take BP. 

 

Go to the driving range. 

 

By doing so, we can work on the efficiency of our rotational abilities as well as the muscles most responsible for our specific form of rotation. No amount of weight room training can make up for poor technique or abilities in the sport you play. 

 

If you have a terrible golf swing, lifting weights for 2 hours a day isn’t going to make you better. 

 

But… 

 

We can complement our rotational sport with training, when we approach it correctly. 

 

We can build an athletic foundation. 

 

We can improve weaknesses, and solidify strengths. 

 

We can teach our body how to sequence more efficiently. 

 

We can connect our bodily system to function at a higher level. 

.

.

.

We can empower growth. 

About Carter Schmitz

Carter Schmitz

I graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2019 with a business degree and a minor in exercise science. While there, I played football (as long as we consider being a kicker, playing football) and found two of the deepest passions in life - learning and human performance. Since then, I have become a certified strength coach, TPI Specialist and have had the opportunity to train hundreds of athletes ranging from the middle school to the professional level.

I believe in building humans first, athletes second.

I believe that everybody has extraordinarily high amounts of value to offer.

I believe that the pursuit of improvement will lead to growth, no matter the outcomes.

With my writing, I strive to break down and apply complex ideas in order to boost understanding, draw comparisons from seemingly separated and opposing topics, and empower growth in my readers. Knowledge and understanding are power, and they create the foundation of improvement. Moving forward, I plan on continuing to seek the betterment of my athletes, myself and my community, empowering growth along the way.

Be sure to check out my Instagram and YouTube channel for more content:
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/coach_carter_schmitz/
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ7DxYHKGuZIykzVIaxp3XQ

Sources

  1. Suchomel, Timothy & Nimphius, Sophia & Stone, Michael. (2016). The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance. Sports Medicine. 46. 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0. 
  2. Kawashima K, Meshizuka T, Takaeshita S. A kinematic analysis of foot force exerted on the soles during the golf swing among skilled and unskilled golfers. In: Farrally MR, Cochran AJ editors. Science and golf III. Proceedings of the 1998 World Scientific Congress; 1998 Jul 20-24; St Andrews. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1999: 40-5
  3.  Wallace ES, Graham D, Bleakley EW. Foot-to-ground pressure patterns during the golf drive: a case study involving a low handicap player and a high handicap player. In: Cochran AJ editor. Science and golf I. Proceedings of the First World Scientific Congress of Golf; 1990 Jul 9-13; St Andrews London: E & FN Spon, 1990: 25-9
  4. Cheetham, P.J., Martin, P.E., Mottram, R.E., and St Laurent, B.F. The importance of stretching the “XFactor” in the downswing of golf: The “X-Factor Stretch.” In P.R. Thomas (Ed.), Optimising performance in golf (pp. 192-199). Brisbane, Australia: Australian Academic Press. ISBN 1 875378 37 5. 2001. 
  5. Hume, Patria & Keogh, Justin & Reid, Duncan. (2005). The Role of Biomechanics in Maximising Distance and Accuracy of Golf Shots. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 35. 429-49. 10.2165/00007256-200535050-00005. 
  6. Read, Paul J.1; Lloyd, Rhodri S.2; De Ste Croix, Mark1; Oliver, Jon L.2 Relationships Between Field-Based Measures of Strength and Power and Golf Club Head Speed, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 10 – p 2708-2713. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318280ca00 
  7. Cheetham, P. J., Rose, G. A., Hinrichs, R. N., Neal, R. J., Mottram, R. E., Hurrion, P. D. and Vint, P. F. 2008. “Comparison of kinematic sequence parameters between amateur and professional golfers”. In Science and Golf V: Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf, Edited by: Crews, D. and Lutz, R. 30–36. Mesa, AZ: Energy in Motion.  

 

 

Meet Dave

Dave Schmitz, PT, CSCS, PES has been writing, teaching and training how to implement resistance band training for rehabilitation, general conditioning, and performance since 1996. He is the founder & co-owner of Resistance Band Training— the leading band provider worldwide.

Along with being a co-author of the Amazon best seller, Total Body Breakthroughs, Dave is also the author and producer of numerous fitness & nutrition articles, E-books, DVDs. His passion is focused on trainers, clients, and athletes improve their body’s ability to handle momentum, gravity and ground reaction forces using elastic resistance. Dave also consults online with several high schools, universities, private performance training business and is also on the board of experts for the International Youth and Conditioning Association (IYCA).

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