The Core doesn’t get any respect. Even with a decade-long deluge of “functional training” strategies, most gym goers finished their physical education in the days of the crunch, completing endless reps with a focus on the rectus abdominus and obliques. Otherwise known as: The ABZ!
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: Abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. If you’re adding 1,000 crunches to the end of every workout, you’re likely wasting your time. Assuming that appropriate nutrition is dialed it, there’s another reason that you’ve seen fewer recommendations for crunches. We sort of know that repeated spinal flexion is bad. Thanks to the work of Dr. Stuart McGill and others, we’re learning that doing crunches can make your spine, or specifically your intervertebral discs, go crunch. That’s not hot.
I included a half-kneeling Cook Bar chop in one of my training sessions last week, and an intrigued Gym Bro asked me about the exercise. When I realized that something quite normal for me looked bizarre among the Brethren of the Biceps, I shared my thoughts on the exercise with him. At the time (which you could read about here) I thought, “It addresses pelvis and thoracic cage position, develops eccentric anti rotation, anti lateral flexion, and anti extension strength, engages the deep core muscles through the integration of breath, decreases spinal extensor tone…I could go on…”
Woah there, Strider, he’s a Hobbit, not an Orc. Let’s look at the reasons why this exercise can help you.
Turning off the nerd speak, I realized that integrated core training is still completely “new” in most commercial gyms, and that it’s an incredibly effective way to develop physical capacity while contributing to long-term health. That is, it can make us stronger and able to go longer, but it promotes stability through our spine, rather than grinding away at it.
In the real world that requires full-body movement, the half-kneeling cable chop engages everything from your fingers to your toes. The more reductionist we become, it’s a great exercise to promote stability between the hips and shoulders, essentially hitting all of your abs together. Well, the pretty abs, at least.
Consider that you have two cores that come in layers. The outer core includes the muscles that you like to look at, while the inner core includes the muscles that keep you going for longer, in old age, on the field, and in bed. The motion of the chop diagonally across your body activates the outer core muscles, while appropriate position and the integration of a complete breath integrate your inner core muscles. What’s the bottom line? It will probably make you better.
The Set Up.
Attach a straight bar to a cable attachment that’s over your head while kneeling. We won’t be further than an arm’s length away, or 2-4 feet depending on how you’ve set up your bar. Before the chop begins, make sure that the weight stack is starting down, and you haven’t lifted anything yet. This creates artificial stability, robbing you of some of the effects.
Settle on to one knee, and be sure that you’re outside knee is down. Chopping across the open hip ensures you have space to complete the movement. On one knee, tilt your hips backwards, as if your belly button is coming towards the ceiling. Meet your hips halfway by tilting your ribs down towards your hips. You’ll likely feel your butt and abs automatically engage here, and keep your back in the most desirable position. You’re ready to roll…er, Chop.
Once your set up is dialed in, imagine stretching the bar apart with your hands, then reaching your top hand across your bottom hip. As you complete the movement, focus on a full exhalation. Not a partial breath, or not a lazy sigh. Push out all of the air you’re holding in your lungs, and feel those abs fire up like a Z06 Corvette. Once you’ve completed the exhalation, slowly return to the starting position, inhaling as you go, and let the weights rest again at the top. That was one rep, and if you’re integrating your breathing, it should take several seconds. Here’s an example:
Since the breath can become a slow-motion switch, it may behoove you to take 3-5 reps per side at a time. This isn’t necessarily an upper body or lower body exercise, but a middle-of-the-body exercise, so placing it in your workout is largely about personal preference.
The Half-Kneeling Cable Chop can fit almost anywhere in your training. Want to use it as a core exercise after your dynamic warm-up? Go ahead. Want to pair it with a Big Rock exercise such as a squat or bench press and call it a filler? Rock out. My personal favorite is to pair this with split squats or reverse lunges so you can get a whole lot done at once, while supporting the other exercise. There’s no hard line approach to doing this exercise, so experimentation allows you to find out what feels the best. In the end, that’s what it’s all about, right?
I honestly believe that the young man I taught to do cable chops enjoyed them. If he does them again, I have no way of knowing. If I see him, I’ll ask. More importantly, let’s see how YOU can take this simple, integrative exercise and see the intended benefits. Nail your set up, move slow, and focus on that full exhale. Blow is go. Let’s see how far this one takes you.