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August 11, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

The chop is perhaps the most functional of the core exercises, since it combines motion in all planes and targets all the prime movers and stabilizers of the core complex. The exercise derives its name from the similar motion performed with an axe.  Chop patterns have been performed by athletes for decades as a method of high intensity conditioning.  The chop pattern can be seen in many activities of daily living, such as lifting a child overhead, grabbing a bag of groceries from the floor, or lifting a pile of heavy dishes onto a high shelf of a cabinet.

You can begin the chop progression with a baseball or tennis swing motion.  Utilizing dumbbells, medicine balls, cables, or resistance bands, rotate the body from left to right for a specified number of reps, and then switch sides.  Because our lumbar spine (low back) only actually has 12 degrees of available rotation there are two ways to perform this type of swinging chop so as not to injure the lower back:

1) Stationary cable rotation with no foot pivot.

When performing this form of the exercise it is important to rotate your body through the middle of your shoulder blades so that your lower back acts more as an anti-rotator and does not get overly stressed with rotation (more than the available 12 degrees). This exercise would resemble the baseball bat or tennis swing without any movement in the feet or hips.

2) Dynamic cable rotation

When performing this exercise, add a foot pivot of the rear foot.  Because the rear foot is pivoting it allows the hips to rotate, and this allows the lower back to follow the hips with rotation but still remain within the 12 degrees of available rotation.

The chop can be modified and progressed a variety of ways utilizing the same resistance apparatus (dumbbells, medicine balls, cables, and resistance bands).

1) Low to high chop

Start from a squat position with the resistance apparatus held outside your right foot.  As you rise from the squat position, begin to pivot your feet and “sweep” your arms from the right ankle diagonally through the center of your body, finishing above your left shoulder.  Do a desired number of reps and repeat on other side.  This exercise is an excellent conditioning exercise for the entire extensor chain, including the muscles surrounding the spine, glutes, hamstrings, and calves in addition to the stabilizers of the shoulder girdle.

2) High to low chop

Reverse the movement of the low to high chop by starting with arms extended above the left shoulder and “sweeping” the resistance apparatus diagonally through the center of your body and ending at the right ankle.  You are basically performing a squat as you “sweep” the arms and rotate the body.  This movement emphasizes the flexor chain, including the abdominals and hip flexors in addition to the stabilizers of the shoulder girdle.


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