How to Program Chops and Lifts

Why are you doing chops and lifts?

Chops and lifts; a staple of “functional” training, but do you ever ask yourself why you program them?

Do you program these moves because:

  • They help with rotation?
  • They help with anti-rotation?
  • Cuz PNF?
  • Cuz Gray Cook said so?

I say this to not poo-poo these moves. I actually think that chops and lifts are AWESOME.

But critically thinking through why we’d program these moves can help so much with knowing when to program what.

I’ve found these moves to be useful for many reasons:

  • Promoting thorax expansion
  • Increasing hip range of motion
  • Making infrasternal angles dynamic
  • And so much more!

Want the when, how, and why to take your chops and lift game up a notch?

Check out Movement Debrief Episode 151 below to find out!

Watch the video below for your viewing pleasure.

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Show notes

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Kinesiology of the hip: a focus on muscular actions – This article outlines the different hip and muscular actions that we see at various ranges of motion. 

Bill Hartman – Daddy-O Pops. My mentor. Thought leader on propulsion arc concept and more!

Using Chops to Increase Range of Motion 

Question: How can you use chops to bias expansion and compression to restore shoulder range of motion?

Answer: I’ll do you one better. Let’s dive into how chops and lifts can be used to improve BOTH hip AND shoulder range of motion!

Generally, chops and lifts are driving rotation about the ventral cavity. So if I chop to the right, the effects of expansion within the ventral cavity will be shown left anterior and right posterior:

Blue areas are where expansion occurs to create the turn.

But now how does this change when we go into each respective area?

Lower body component of chops and lifts

Generally, there are two ways to use these movements:

  • Increase rotation into a given area (chops)
  • Maintain position into a given area (lifts)

Let’s take a half-kneeling cable chop for an example.

Just call me a worldwide chopper!

Both legs are in a relatively internally rotated bias, with slight sacral rotation towards the left

There is an IR bias at each respective femur

If I chop towards the down leg, I’m going to rotate the sacrum towards down leg, from a leftward facing position. This will increase external rotation occurring on the left side, and further internal rotation on the right.

Conversely, if I chop towards the up leg, I will drive further sacral rotation towards the front leg, increasing front leg internal rotation and reducing the amount on the right. 

More IR on the left, less IR on the right

This is generally how I incorporate chops. 

Chops help increase rotation towards a given area.

The way I utilize lifts is slightly different. Because I am reaching more overhead, there is more extension occurring throughout the axial skeleton, which limits rotation. Therefore, a lift can be useful to focus on maintaining lower extremity position.

Lifts help maintain position in a given area

If I perform a half-kneeling lift towards the front leg, I would be challenging my ability to maintain the position. There won’t be as much rotational increase. 

I keep the rough amount of IR I started with in the beginning.

Upper body components of chops and lifts

You can bias airflow even further depending on what type of diagonal movement you perform. 

Let’s again, assume I am performing a rotational action to the right. In this case, I will be driving left anterior expansion and right posterior expansion. 

Blue areas are where expansion occurs to create the turn.

From there, you can manipulate airflow with various reaching directions. We can utilize the flexion arc model made popular by Daddy-O Pops Bill Hartman to illustrate this concept:

  • Chop (60°): Posterior expansion (T6-8 level)
  • Horizontal chop (90°): Anterior expansion 
  • Lift (120°): Anterior expansion

Again, you have to look at the above ventral cavity orientation to appreciate that this is the starting point that we go from. We then superimpose the reach performed to alter airflow gradients.

Since rotation is still occurring, you will have the above differential in airflow, but you’ll notice different airflow biases occurring in each.

With a chop, there will be more posterior expansion occurring on the left, but it’ll be less so than on the right. I still need that gradient to drive the rotation.

Dotted lines indicate less relative airflow compared to straight lines. so you can see, there will still be rightward rotation, even with the posterior expansion bias.

Conversely, a lift is going to drive a BOATLOAD of anterior expansion, with more occurring on the left to drive the rotation. 

Dotted lines indicate less relative airflow compared to straight lines. so you can see, there will still be rightward rotation even with the anterior expansion bias.

Horizontal chops simply magnify the original rotation. 

Head motion during chops and lifts

Question:   With chops/lifts in particular, what is the ideal motion of the head? Are there circumstances where you might coach it differently? For example, instead of turning the head with the rest of the axial skeleton towards the direction of the chop/lift, is there a circumstance you might coach it where the shoulders are moving around a non-moving head? Would this be incorrect? If not, how would you explain the difference between the two in terms of axial skeleton mechanics and expansion/compression? And what would be the implications for when to coach it one way or the other?

Answer: The ideal head position depends on what you are trying to drive.

If the eyes follow the rope, you will be orienting the entire spine in the direction you are rotating. Again, if we use right rotation as an example, turning the head can magnify the rotation.

But what if you are an ABSOLUTE REBEL and want to keep the head fixed forward as you chop or lift…

I’m

Glad

You

Asked!

Remember from our cervical rotation debrief, turning the head will create movement all the way down to T5-6. So if you keep your head pointing forward, you would bias expansion in the uppermost segments of the thorax.

Let’s take our classic half-kneeling cable chop to the right. Only this time, let’s fix the head forward.

As we recall, the thorax will be rotating right, creating left anterior and right posterior expansion.

Dotted lines indicate relative rotation from a given starting position. In this case, the upper thoracic segments would be rotating left from a rightward orientation

If we look forward, the spine will rotate in the opposite direction from T5 on up. Crazy right?!?!?

I might make this an NFT

To be clear, that doesn’t mean you are getting this crazy torque of the spine going from one extreme range to another. T2-5 would be turning left from a relative rightward state. The spine could still have a rightward orientation in this example, but you’d have better uppermost expansion in the places you desired.

In the above example, someone with shoulder restrictions such as decreased left horizontal abduction and flexion and right horizontal adduction and extension, this chop variation could be money in the bank!

Sum up

  • Chops are useful to bias posterior expansion and increase lower body rotation.
  • Lifts are useful to bias anterior expansion and hold lower body positioning.
  • Fixing the head forward will help drive contralateral rotation in the opposing direction. 

2 comments

  1. Hey Zac another truly great debrief, thank you so much. My question is at the beginning of lower body component of chops you state both legs are in relative IR. I under stand the left in IR according to the model since its is at 90 degrees but the right leg is straight down. As in the squat examples ER, IR at 90 ish degrees, ER once past sticking point. Is it because you are reaching up to the left which puts right in IR?

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