Chop and Lifts
A particular set of movements I've been loving lately are the chops and lifts. While it's not always great to program movements over principles, I figured this was a movement MNMR so it'd be OK to talk about it...
These patterns are defined by Gray Cook as, "when two hands are involved together on a stick, bar, or rope, in the same direction, crossing the mid-line of the body, in a downward or upward direction".
The patterns are based on spiral and diagonal PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) patterns. Notice I keep saying patterns not muscles. While you will get a local training effect on the muscles of the core (hips, abs, shoulders, back, etc), what you are also doing is wiring the movements in your brain. The movements you are producing are diagonal, reciprocal forces on a stable core. These could be thought of as similar to sprinting, throwing, and all rotational/dynamic movements. So for someone lacking the necessary movement quality for those more dynamic movement, Chops and Lifts may be a great regression to build those more complex patterns back up.
A few reasons why I like these so much...
1. I really like to program these movements for clients as their anti-rotation (resisting rotation through the trunk) exercises. To perform the movements- the arms and thoracic spine rotate to drive the handles across the body, but without losing position of the hips and lower back. This also creates a static stability base for us to progress clients to more dynamic stability exercises (throws, sprints, etc).
2. There is also something to be said for these and the "cross-lateral" aspect of them. When we cross the midline in this reciprocal fashion, we are forcing the two brain hemispheres to communicate (left and right side). The more we force these two sides of the brain to communicate, the more neural connections we make between the two sides. This leads to faster, smoother, more efficient communication, meaning our cross-lateral movements (crawling, walking, sprinting, throwing) patterns tend to be faster, smoother, and more efficient.
3. When we drive the handles from high to low- those are considered our "chops". These are our more "flexion" dominate patterns, which means people are usually stronger in these patterns. For anyone stuck in an extended posture (see the picture below), these may be a nice option as a corrective or strengthening exercise.
3. When we drive the handles from low to high- these are considered our "lifts". These are our "extension" dominant patterns. For someone with upper cross syndrome (see picture below), these may help to restore some neutrality to their posture. Since you don't have as much leverage and are fighting gravity, you typically don't need as much weight to be challenged here.
4. Distinguishing between high and low threshold. If you aren't sure what this is let me provide an example. If you had to hold a plank with a 100 lbs of load on your back- you are probably in a high threshold state, meaning you are using predominantly fast twitch, prime movers, mobilizing muscle contractions that are for high-load tasks and force production. If you are sitting in a chair and lifting a book off of the table, you are probably in a low threshold state, meaning you are using predominantly slow twitch, stabilizer muscles contractions that are for low-load tasks and reflexive postural control.
To be able to produce movement- you can't be all the way on one side of the spectrum and using a high threshold strategy- you'll end up not being able to produce smooth, fluid movements as you are probably too tense to really move well. However, being all the way on the other side of the spectrum means you will likely not produce the desired movement as well but more likely due to the fact that you can't stabilize yourself and are wiggling or falling all over. Finding that sweet spot is key on chops and lifts- and to think about producing a fluid, stable movement will likely assist you in getting to that sweet spot.
Progressions and regressions depend on where the client or athlete is movement wise and also program wise. If early on in a program or coming off an injury or season, working more stability based regressions is probably a great place to start. If nearing the end of a program and getting ready for preseason, obviously the more dynamic progressions would work better.
1. Tall Kneeling (TK)
Assume a kneeling posture with both knees under you. Try to stay as tall as you can (meaning no slouching and no overextending). Regardless of the position, eyes always follow your hands to assist with TSpine rotation. TK is great because it limits the compensations that the foot, ankle, and knee joints may provide, and forces the hips and abs to create the stability.
2. Half Kneeling (HK)
A good rule of thumb when setting up is to think "wherever the handle is higher (either at the start or finish), that is the same side leg that is up". So when performing chops, the inside leg is up relative to the outside, and vice versa for the lifts. (If still confused check out the videos below). HK is great for working single side discrepancies.
3. Lunge Position (LP)
From the HK- elevate about 2-3 inches off of the floor. This creates a great demand on the core to create stability. This is the first position in the progression-regression flow that mimics more sport specific movement. To make the movement easier- simply widen your base. To make it more difficult- simply make your base more narrow ("walking a tight rope").
4. Base Position (BP)
This is your first time in a standing position and depending on how you choose to perform these it can change the stability demand. If you are performing slow and controlled, you are still attempting to create static stability (not moving). These I typically lean more towards because I find when trying to be more dynamic the foot position is a little unnatural. If you perform a little more explosively, you are now demanding more dynamic stability from your core (movement on top of a stable base).
With either variation, you must control and be aware of any compensations occurring at the lower limb joints (foot, ankle, knee) as now they play a bigger role in the stability equation.
Now we are definitely shifting from a stability exercise to a more dynamic and explosive movement. When performing- think about what is going on at the hips. Your inside hip (relative to the machine) should feel as if someone is pulling it forward, while the outside hip should feel as if someone is pushing it backward. This torque motion generates a lot of speed- but again must be preceded with stability. If the client or athlete can't stabilize through their hips and low back- this will result in an energy leak, meaning the motion will lose power because of the energy cannot be efficiently transferred from the feet up through the hands.
Check out the videos below and plug in one of the appropriate variations into your next workout. Use as an anti-rotation, and see how it affects your more dynamic movements (you can test/retest with different medball throw variations).
Remember- Chops will always be heavier then lifts. PROGRAM INTENSITY ACCORDINGLY!