Gray Cook: Chop and Lift Basics

From PNF patterns to sport-specific exercise, Gray Cook covers the chop and lift basics to get your clients and patients working two arms against one core.

If I combine my two upper-body PNF patterns together—the feeding pattern and the protection pattern—it’s reciprocal action.

One’s a chop and one’s a lift. Chopping is the extension pattern. Lifting is the flexion pattern.

You’re going to be weaker in a lift than a chop simply because of gravity and small muscle groups doing the lifting. You have to account for that.

Let’s quickly go over a few housekeeping things. Earlier I said once you get a little change in mobility, once you loosen up somebody’s shoulders or hips, you should do static stability before dynamic stability.

Chopping and lifting: Is that static or dynamic for the upper body?

It’s dynamic.

Deadlifting: Is that static or dynamic for the upper body?

My shoulder doesn’t have much to do. Just don’t dislocate. Don’t pop out of the socket. If we’re training shoulders after we get them loosened up, would it be more appropriate to rush right into chopping and lifting, or do some deadlifting first? Did you ever think about that? Our focus on the deadlift is so much on the hip and low back, we forget it’s a traction maneuver on the shoulder.

How do babies learn to fire their stabilizers so well? It’s traction and compression of joints. When I pull or compress your joint, it has reflex stabilization.

Zena is a little over nine months old. If she can get her hands on something, she’s pulling up on it—distraction. When she has to move across the floor, she’s commando or crawling—compression.

That’s where we get the idea of side planks and the quadruped diagonals. But people get on all fours and think they’re exercising the serratus. That’s not what Zena’s doing. She’s trying to get across the floor so she can get that fur ball in her mouth before I beat her to it. She’s purposely using it for locomotion. She’s not blindly rehearsing a concentric contraction for three sets of 10 repetitions in the hope her serratus gets stronger.

Today we’re going to demonstrate chopping, lifting and deadlifting. As you see the chopping and lifting, you’re going to see some hip positions. What are our hip positions?

Half-kneeling is one knee down. Tall-kneeling is both knees down. We’re going to show you some options.

We’ve already established chopping is dynamic for the upper body, but what is it for the lower body? It’s static. Keep your pelvis level. People with tight hip flexors who want to engage will bend at the hips. The minute you see them go there, it’s no longer a static hip drill. It’s only a static hip drill if you do all the work with your arms, pull down and across your body and finish it. If you can maintain the integrity of your hip position during that maneuver, you have static stability.

The question you should be asking is, “What does the chop look like in both directions?”

You’ll be surprised. Find somebody who can’t do a pushup. Put the person in the tall kneeling position—the hip position is much like a pushup—they’ll chop fine. Spot on in one direction, but not in the other.

It’s the same two arms. Why did the person struggle so hard down and to the left and look so crisp and efficient down and to the right? The two same arms were engaged.

What’s the difference? The person just felt awkward to one side. It didn’t feel natural to that side.

If you had the person side plank on one side and the other side, you would have seen about a 40-percent difference. But chopping has more carryover than side planking. We’re learning to engage.

There are different platforms for chopping and lifting. We can do it on one knee or both knees, but here’s the thing people don’t understand: The first time you use it, it’s to magnify a left-right difference or to expose the fact that the person can’t hold static posture. Too many people miss that opportunity to get the client to have an aha moment, wondering why he’s so good on this knee and so wobbly going the other way.

The minute the client states that back to you, you have all the street cred in the world for finding a crack in the armor. You’re going to have plenty of compliance, because when most people find a deficiency or a dysfunction, they want medicine for it.

This is the medicine for it. Chopping and lifting, first and foremost, is a way to magnify core asymmetries.

We’ve divided the core into four pattern quadrants. Here are the quadrants: quadrant one, quadrant two, quadrant three and quadrant four—upward and downward, to both the left and right sides.

Which muscles are responsible for quadrant one—the internal or external obliques, the TA or the pelvic floor? They all are! All of the muscles are engaged all the time. The timing sequence and coordination with which you use them determines the efficiency.

I’m not trying to find the anatomical problem. I’m trying to discover why I can’t get into this quadrant. It could be I don’t stabilize my hip. It could be I don’t close down my core.

Stay in position and it will work itself out. Between sets, breathe. If you want to do some shoulder presses, guess what? Right back over here, half-kneeling chops to the left after you finish pressing. That’s how we do it. That’s how we introduce the corrective strategy. You can now go back and explain to your coworkers and clients how kneeling, chopping and lifting is an entry-level hip exercise and a moderate-to-advanced level upper-body exercise.

With the same confidence, you can explain that a deadlift is a fundamental shoulder exercise and a moderate-to-advanced hip exercise because of what segment is dynamic and what segment is static.

If you believe in all the planking and quadruped work, then why aren’t you doing traction to these shoulders, getting those elbows on the ground? That’s the other part of the diet they’re missing.

Traction and compression help that joint, especially the upper body.

I’m not saying there aren’t benefits of traction in the lower body. We’ve seen inversion work for example, but traction benefits are significantly greater in the shoulder because the shoulder experiences both traction and compression. The hips pretty much work under a compressive load most of the time—or unloaded, but never in traction. If they’re going to get traction, it’s through movement in different muscles.

The hip that’s up is the closed side. Chop to the open side and lift to the closed side. That’s the way we do it.

The other question that comes up is why we use a cable bar. We don’t want the weakest link of a chop and lift to be the arms or shoulders. Many times, especially working with somebody who hasn’t done a lot of upper-body training, we find a false positive. The deficiency is just because of arm and shoulder strength—not because of the core quadrant we’re looking at.

By putting both hands on the bar and executing the four quadrants with chopping and lifting, we’re disadvantaging the core. Whether you’re holding onto a boat paddle, raking leaves or shoveling, you’re going to have back pain the next day if you haven’t done it in a while. That’s when your core is the disadvantage, so we like to start chopping and lifting with the bar.

If you don’t have any quadrant weakness and you have an entry level degree of strength—especially if you’re a golfer, a tennis player, a baseball player or you’re in a field and court sport—we might begin with the rope handle and let you start spirally and diagonally involving the upper body. But first and foremost, we have to make sure you can handle the patterns—two arms against one core. We let the arms and wrists go independently.


Gray Cook Key Functional Exercises You Should Know Video

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Get results for your clients in less time and with less work by focusing on the key functional exercises Gray Cook reveals in this video. You'll also learn when to use them and how to modify them according to the needs of each person.

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Gray Cook Movement Book

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Screening, assessing and improving movement can reduce injury risk and help people unlock their performance potential. In Movement, Gray Cook outlines his systematic approach for evaluating and improving movement quality so you can create better exercise and rehabilitation programs.

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