BALANCED BODY SERIES
THE CHOP AND LIFT... Continued
To continue with the chop and lift and advance the application you need to lose the cable bar. However I hope you plan to use the bar at least 1-3 months, minimum before advancing to the new application I’m going to introduce. Remember the bar helps build a strong core and stable spine. It creates leverage against the torso and gives the arms a mechanical advantage. This produces usable core stability and functional upper body strength (read my first article to review). If you or someone you are working with is strong through the upper body, this is great because the bar forces them to produce the core stability to counteract their arm leverage advantage. Just watch form and technique and make sure they show good hip extension (not hyper-extension) and spine stability for each repetition. Conversely if you or someone you are working with is generally weak throughout the upper body the mechanical advantage of the cable bar will allow the upper body strength to build in a three dimensional pattern that complements movements like pushing, pulling, pressing, swinging and throwing for the upper body. Lower body moves like cutting, lunging, and squatting are improved by the enhanced core stability gained with these moves. The spiral and diagonal movement of the chop and lift are fundamental and follow the anatomical layering of the muscles and the alignment of the joints (refer to a PNF text). So don’t skip the bar. It is fundamental to the chop and lift strengthening program.
Now you can lose the cable bar. In it’s place you will use a rope attachment or even a towel to perform a split arm chop and lift. Place the rope attachment or towel through the spring gate hook or loop on a standard cable column. Always adjust the cable so it is taught but the weight stack is unloaded at the start position of the chop or lift movement. In my first article I discussed the tall kneeling and half kneeling positions, you should continue using one or both of these set up positions since this does not change. The only change is the additional spiral and diagonal movements of the shoulders, forearms and wrists. The grip is also strengthened in this movement throughout theentire diagonal pattern. Most grip strength exercises only work the grip in a fixed position in front of the body. However this position is only functional if it is the only place you use your grip strength. Athletics, and real life activities cover nearly a full shoulder (flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, internal and external rotation) and forearm range of motion (flexion, extension, pronation, and supination) with constantly changing lever angles, you don’t always get to look at your hands. The chop and lift work on the natural automatic grip. This means, as tension builds in the movement, the natural grip reflex is stimulated. Your grip plays an important role in shoulder function, so much so, that it is actually a representation of your shoulder strength. The harder you grip something the better your shoulder naturally stabilizes and protects itself. The chop (downward movement) and lift (upward movement) are each a pull movement followed by a push movement. The transition is at the midpoint of the movement close to the chest. The elbow position of each arm is essentially straight at the start and finish but the elbows must flex in middle third of the movement. This creates a straight line with the cable and keeps the stress close to the body. This is important because if you are working with respectable weight your best mechanics will necessitate keeping the line of pull close to the body. As you become proficient with the movement start to over squeeze or apply even more pressure than necessary to the handle, rope, or towel. You will notice an instant increase in your strength which is a result of the overflow from your grip to your shoulder stability. You should only add the extra grip pressure whenyou are fluid with the movement to the right and left side. Adding the over-squeeze advantage to a poor pattern will not help the pattern it will only increase the strength in the poor pattern. Get the fluid spiral and diagonal movement down first then work on getting strong. The over-squeeze will help stabilize the shoulders and coordinate core stability for the move. Get your angles correct and your alignment right and the extra grip will be worth extra reps and increased weight. The chop and lift involve basic cross body patterns and your strength should be symmetrical. Once you have created great symmetry with the cable bar, adding the independent arm activity may expose additional upper-body weakness. If it does not, work on it until you notice symmetry with your strength. If you usually recommend three sets to each side when symmetry is present, then you should recommend one set on the strong side and 4-5 sets on the weaker side when an asymmetry is present.
An additional strength boost will come when you learn breath control. Inhale a large amount of air at the start of the movement and pressurize your abdomen by tightening all the muscles in your hips and torso. Stiffen and brace your body but stay as tall as possible. Also try to feel totally anchored to the ground. As you start your pull force air out over your clinched teeth to produce a hissing sound. Make the transition into the push phase of the movement while continuing the steady hiss. At the finish of your push, you should have more than half your original air still in your lungs. With the remaining air, continue the hiss on the return and then release your air when the weight comes to rest. Breath twice and start the next repetition. Pressurizing your abdomen will protect your back, stabilize your core and correct your posture. If you have worked on your form the grip and breath should add an additional 10-20% to your lift. Make each rep crisp and correct in every way. If you can only do three reps stay at that weight and use breath and grip to get stronger. If you can easily do 8-10 reps add weight. The best strength does not come from between 3 and 6 reps. It comes from dealing with a resistance that limits your total clean movement to 3 to 6 reps. Be strong and don’t finish ugly because that is the one the brain will remember.
Remember this is not a simulation of one particular activity like a swing. It is a strength move and should be treated as weight training. When done correctly the split arm chop and lift will use and strengthen every muscle group in the upper body and reinforce core stability and hip control. It complements the natural range of motion of the shoulders and helps maintain flexibility while correcting muscle imbalances and adding strength. The chop and lift will give you a rock solid, reproducible power posture and great upper body and core stamina. Your smooth relaxed upper body movement will pack a punch that is solid yet relaxed.
“TRAIN SMARTER - NOT HARDER”
If I make the chop and lift sound like a catch all exercise combination for the athlete and fit individual it is not a mistake. Some form of the chop and lift test or training should be at the core of your program as well as the programs you supervise.
You can reference more information on the split handle chop and lift exercises in my book ‘Athletic Body in Balance’ or view these moves on the companion DVD of the same name. See how posture, position, grip and power breathing create amazing improvements in upper body strength and flexibility, in our 2 DVD set titled ‘Secrets of the shoulder’.