Sports Training & Conditioning Zone!

Introduction to the Chop and Lift
(Part 1)

by Gray Cook

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Chopping and lifting is based on PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) patterns that are spiral and diagonal. 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 movement, it is called a chop or lift. The independent hand exercise is simply called D1 or D2 patterning, the direction of movement is named by flexion (upward) or extension (downward). These are advanced movements based on patterns used in the physical therapy profession. This can all be referenced in any PNF text book.

In my book, Athletic Body in Balance, I introduced these exercises. I did not invent them. However, I have not seen a large amount of publication on proper use of the chopand-lift for strengthening in swinging or rotationbased sports as well as a more realistic way to develop functional core strength. Chopping and lifting can be used as corrective exercise, core conditioning, or generalized strengthening. Many use the chop and lift as a complete upper body program while others use it to complement the big pushing, pulling and pressing lifts and sports performance conditioning. The moves are often hard to classify because they incorporate both pushing, and pulling in one move. However, there is much more going on in the chop or lift than pushing and pulling. For the purposes of this article, I would like to discuss chopping and lifting as a way to both assess and improve core stabilization with respect to functional training and sports conditioning.

Chopping is the downward movement across the body from a high position to a low position and lifting is the upward movement from a low position to a high position. They are essentially mirror images of each other. Each of these movements can be done in various positions. Some favorite choices of the fitness professionals and rehabilitation professionals who perform the chop and lift are kneeling (which includes both half kneeling with only one knee down and tall kneeling with both knees down); seated on a stability ball; and standing. My favorite of all of these positions are the tall and half kneeling positions. When we find squatting or forward bending patterns to be faulty the position of tall kneeling is used as a corrective exercise for trunk stability. Exercise in this posture will promote core static stability when the hips are in the same position. This creates a base for dynamic stability when the hips are allowed to move but the core must remain stable. Stability work with both hips in a symmetrical stance will coordinate the basic spine stability for squatting, dead-lifting, jumping and swinging or any activity on the similar stance base. Tall kneeling is the most favorable position because it takes away all compensations that usually occur at the foot, knee and ankle joints when hip mobility and stability are not optimum. Think of all of the compensations that occur in sports and exercise when individuals do not have correct body mechanics. We see a loss of a stable foot position, excessive out turning of the feet, rolling of the ankles, caving inward of the knees, loss of hip extension and unsafe spine flexion – all to compensate for a lack of range of motion or stability within the hips and core. By utilizing the tall kneeling position, we take away these potential compensations forcing the body to deal with the load and work out the problem. We also take the quad-dominant, hip-flexor dominant individual into a position where they cannot use anything but appropriate core stability for both the chop-and-lift movement.

Half kneeling chopping and lifting,on the other hand, is usually done when a single leg discrepancy is identified. This can be seen when an individual has an appropriate lunge that is both stable and mobile on one side and a deficient lunge on the other side (refer to the Functional Movement Screen lunge test). We have also demonstrated how a single leg discrepancy affects whole movement by showing how the single leg toe-touch can greatly differ between one leg or the other. This example is actually very common; An individual is unable to touch their toes or has severe forward bending tightness, but when the same movement is performed with one leg on a platform, there is a noticeable difference between the sides. Any time that a single leg problem shows a limitation, the half kneeling position or lunge on that side will show you how the core has had to compensate in many of the mobility and stability problems. You should be able to note the compensation if you compare the move to the other side. Adding the chop or lift to the position will magnify the left to right difference in mobility and stability so keep your eyes open and use your video camera.

Setting a video base line on the first day of chopping and lifting is a great way to show progress. You will not necessarily always see that the chop-and-lift has the greatest difficulty when the faulty leg is in the down knee position. You will sometimes, but not as often, see it when the faulty leg is in the up position. So before you get started pick your position. Choose tall kneeling for symmetrical problems (squatting, deadlifting,and forward bending) and problems involving the back and hips equally. Choose half kneeling for asymmetrical problems (half kneeling, lunging and single leg stance) problems involving one hip to a greater extent than the other.