By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT ProSource
Last in the series of strategies for building aesthetics and athletics
If you've been taking our advice to heart the last two weeks, you're at least partially committed to making yourself a better athlete. Two weeks of deadlifts and split lunges have also introduced you to a whole new level of sore in the glutes. This week, the focus shifts slightly north to an area that factors into everything else you do in the gym or on the field: the core.
But when it comes to sport performance, a few sets of crunches simply won't suffice. You need to build dynamic, rotational strength throughout your entire core musculature to protect you against injury and to make you a menace in any activity that involves swinging, punching or throwing. Enter woodchops.
"Sports are rarely linear, unless curling is your forte," says Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, co-director of Taylored Fitness in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. "So chopping motions are very important. Making sure your body can twist under tension and, even more importantly, can decelerate weight in a rotation is vital to performance and injury prevention."
Simon advocates two types of chops. "Full chops are from the top down and reverse chops are from the bottom up."
Execution. Connect a D-handle to the top position at a pulley station. Standing with your side to the apparatus, grab the handle with one hand and step away from the tower. You should be approximately arm's length away from the pulley, with the tension of the weight on the cable. With your feet positioned shoulder width apart, reach upward with your other hand and grab the handle with both hands. Your arms should still be fully extended. In one motion, pull the handle down and across your body to your front knee while rotating your torso. Keep your back and arms straight and core tight while you pivot your back foot and bend your knees to get a full range of motion. Return to the neutral position in a slow and controlled manner. (For a reverse wood chop, you'd attach the D-handle to the low-pulley and pull up and across your body to the opposite-side shoulder.)
Tips. "When you rotate, the hips will twist at the end of the movement and one leg should end up rotated and on the ball of your foot," says Simon. "Reverse chops can be done with cables as well but I love doing them with plates. Start with a 10- or 25-pound plate to get a feel for the motion and the deceleration aspect before increasing the load. This version is the opposite of the full chop and starts rotated around with the plate behind your glute and then whipping around to shoulder height and behind the plane of your body. As the weight comes around high behind the shoulder your core muscles, abs, and obliques, and to a lesser extent the opposite glute, will kick in to slow the weight -- which is a vital reason why we use this for sports performance."
Prescription. "Keep the reps a little higher here, around 15 per side, and use a weight that makes that challenging," says Simon. "Three or four sets 3 or 4 sets of this with 60 second breaks in between is ideal."
Bonus. By targeting the obliques with regularity, you work to "frame" the rectus abdominis, or "six-pack" muscles, even better. The addition of resistance helps you to add additional detail in these long, smooth muscles.