As a coach, I think a lot about movement. I write a lot about it, too. A couple of months ago, Dan John clued me in to a model of movement that I love called “The Five Human Movements.” I loved it so much that he named a workout after me that used all five. But in hanging out with Dan and the other fitness nerds at the Coyote Point Kettlebell Club (like Rob Umfress who actually texted me the inspiration for this article), I came to realize there is a sixth human movement.
You know that old expression, “I trust that person about as far as I can throw him?” I think Dan John would trust that person a lot because he can throw heavy things very, very far. But I have a confession to make. I can probably front squat, power clean, bench, and carry that person, but I can’t throw much of anything to save my life. This is a problem, because like the squat, hinge, push, pull and carry, throwing (the ballistic application of rotational force) is the sixth human movement.
Throwing is ballistic rotation. Everything that leaves your hand leaves on a ballistic trajectory. It starts from the ground, transmits through your body, and is directed into whatever you want to get rid of through the rotational force of your coordinated muscles around your center of mass. And that includes throwing a punch. Hooks, uppercuts, even jabs involve rotation. But rotational force is hidden in a lot of other athletic movement. You generate (and resist) rotational forces when you
- Change direction
- Swing anything
- Pound someone’s face
- Have sex
- Or do anything with one hand or on one leg.
As you can see, pretty much every athletic movement involves the application or resistance of rotational forces. So how does one, especially someone like me who never played ball sports as a kid, train this human movement?
In his brilliant DVD Intervention (with a brilliant cameo by Coach Stevo) Dan John talks about a teaching progression that I call “Pattern, Grind, Ballistic.” The idea is you need to learn the pattern before you add weight and you need to get strong and stable before you start adding speed. For a hinge movement a good progression is goatbag, deadlift, swing. For throwing, the progression is as follows.
Because we aren’t born standing up, everything starts on the ground. The movement pattern for applying rotational force begins as basic rolling. That’s right, rolling around on the ground as a newborn is how we learn to throw. The ground provides more stability and allows us to break down the movement into little parts that we can learn as kids. Rolling around with our arms. Rolling around with our legs. All without the risk of falling over and getting hurt. It also allows us to work against gravity instead of across it, which is a lot more complicated. As adults there are lots of great ways to mimic this progression that also safely increase stability and range of motion along the spine. Here are a few examples from the Coyote Point Kettlebell Club PDF:
- Lie on your back and roll onto your stomach using only your legs
- Lie on your back and roll onto your stomach using only your arms
- Get Up Planks
- Cuddle bells
- Rolling 45s
- Rolling 45s to the T
- Half-Get Ups
- Turkish Get Ups (the ultimate rolling exercise)
Once we are on our feet, we start twisting our body in space. This looks a lot like just moving around to adults and we barely think about it. We pick up stuff slightly to one side or the other. We put on backpacks. We move typewriters from one side of a table to another. These are grinding applications of rotational force. We also resist rotational forces when we try and remain upright in a car or on a bike, hold an uneven load, or do anything unilateral like hold ourselves up in a push up position which people do a lot more than they think. Some of these motions are very common causes of injury so a lot of the exercises to train for them come out of the rehab world. Here is a short list:
- Any of the rolling movements with heavier weight
- Half-kneeling Paloff Presses
- Paloff Presses
- Half-kneeling Chops
- Half-kneeling Lifts
- Rotational Rows
- One Arm Bench Press
- One Arm Push Ups
- One Arm Rows
- One Arm Presses
- One Arm Front Squat
- Long Presses
- Cross-plane SLDL with a row (I call them HATwings)
- Gulbis Glute Twists
As soon as we are strong enough and stable enough as kids, we start throwing things. Like bowls of cereal across the room or keys into the toilet. As adults, once we are strong and stable enough from training rolls and twists, it's time to start chucking things around. Medicine balls are a popular tool for this type of training, but you can throw anything that won’t complain about it too loudly. The goal of ballistic training is total force, which is the product of mass and acceleration. In non-high-school-physics terms, this means you want to throw lighter things harder than heavier things more slowly. It’s fine to throw a kettlebell (if your hella strong and your downstairs neighbor isn’t home), but throwing something smaller like a medicine ball or even a six pack of coke will probably be more beneficial. Here are a few ballistic throwing exercises, some of which don’t even involve letting go of the object:
- Overhand throws
- Underhand throws
- Throws with a Step
- Standing Side Twists
- The Grappler
- Dumbbell Snatches
- One Arm Kettlebell Swings
- One Arm Kettlebell Snatches
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to train the throwing movement pattern. I suggest starting on the ground and just rolling around. Seriously, it feels so good you’ll get hooked. Which is a good thing because like the other five human movements, throwing (rolling and twisting) is something that you should practice Every. Damn. Day.