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Generating Torque 101

The what, how, and why behind generating torque in the weight room.


Generate torque in a deadlift by externally rotating your legs to create a stable joint position in your hips.

There’s nothing more important to me as a strength and conditioning coach then making sure my clients reach their max potential and to do so in a safe and effective way. One way this is assured is by coaching progressively and teaching proper form and technique in all exercises. Creating a stable platform to move and lift from is the most important part of that, which is why today I’m going to be writing about torque - what it is, what its purpose is and how to generate it.

Torque is defined as a rotational force and in reference to the human body it is referring to rotating your limbs away from the centre of your body (external rotation) or rotating your limbs toward the centre of your body (internal rotation) to build tension in your hips and shoulders. The main reason we set ourselves up to generate torque immediately before lifting is to create stability, if you do not generate torque your body will find stability by defaulting to a bad position and putting you at higher risk of injury. If you do not create torque, in a squat for instance which uses an external rotation of the legs, you will have slack within the joint capsule making it impossible to get the hip joint into a safe and stable position, not to mention open you up to a huge loss in functionality and power.

Now, that being said, we cannot forget about the importance of midline stabilization. Both of these principals, torque and midline stabilization, help create stability and tension of the entire body which is the foundation to moving efficiently and safely, thus should be coached as such. These two laws work together, if you cant keep your spine in order you will not be able to properly generate torque and if you do not generate enough torque you wont be able to maintain your trunk in a good position. Ideally you would use the two together, creating an equal amount of tension with each, to safely allow you to efficiently generate maximum force. Lets move on to how to practically apply this to your training.

As described by Dr. Kelly Starrett in “Becoming a Supple Leopard”, there are two “Laws of Torque”:

“Law #1: If your hips or shoulders are in flexion, you create an external rotation force.”

A good example of this is in the squat, deadlift or over head press. All these exercises demand an external rotation to generate torque in the hips or shoulders.

“Law #2: If your hips or shoulders are in extension, you create an internal rotation force.”

The best example of this law is the split jerk or any exercise in a split or staggered stance, in which you must internally rotate the rear leg. This second law can get a little tricky because your arms have an independent rotational capacity at the elbow unlike in the leg. Your shoulder may be in extension but if your arm is bent at the elbow that puts it into flexion, there for you have to be in an external rotation instead of internal, such as a bench press or dips, these both demand an external rotation of the shoulder to create that stable joint position.

Common cues coaches use to get athletes to generate torque and create a stable position: screw your feet into the ground, spread the floor between your feet, push your knees out, break or bend the bar, elbows in,

screw your hands into the floor.

The most common mistake lifters make when trying to generate torque is that they over exaggerate how much torque they need to create, which can be as bad for your form as not generating torque at all. You want to create just enough tension to support the demand of your movement, and load so that you can maintain a functionally stable position. As you increase the load, or add speed, you have to increase both torque and trunk tension to match the demands of the movement. When it comes to setting up your stance to generate optimal torque, a straight or neutral foot/hand position is ideal. From there you must “screw” your feet or hands into the ground. You cannot generate torque with a foot/hand position that is turned outward or inward. It is also difficult to reclaim torque at the bottom of a movement, this is why it is important to set up properly and begin by creating torque right from the get-go.

Source: Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett with Glen Cordoza


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