Thursday Tip: Chopper
Nemesis Trick: Chopper
Also Known As: Inverted V, Straddle, Helicopter
I’ve hesitated for a while from posting this particular Tip. Because in my experience, the main reason why people can’t get this trick is because they just aren’t strong enough.
There, I said it.
I have seen people take a year to get this. It’s a VERY DIFFICULT TRICK! If you are using muscle strength, and not momentum, to LIFT into it you have to be REALLY strong. I DO NOT believe in jumping, or using any kind of swing to get into it. AT ALL. My benchmarks for this would be: you should be able to do at least 1 pull up, with control, so that you have the upper body and grip strength. And you should be able to do a controlled headstand, because by the time you’re working on the chopper, you’re supposed to fully understand how to work through your core to lift your feet without any kind of a kick or push. And you should definitely be doing one-armed spins with an engaged shoulder NO PROBLEM.
Now let’s say that you have all that. Then we can talk about little tweaks you can do to make your form better, and how to work on biomechanics so that you are doing this safely and with minimum expenditure of energy. Because we don’t like expending more then we need to. Because AFTER you chopper, you still have a whole beautiful combo in mind, right? And you don’t want to be all pooped.
Don’t use ANY momentum, for the love of all that is holy. When you are first learning, you should lift your feet off the ground by pulling your shoulders down and shoulder blades together, and pulling down on the pole with your hands. Count “one Mississippi” and THEN crunch your knees in to your chest. NO MOMENTUM. Then, in a tuck, count “one Mississippi” BEFORE you start to tilt. If that’s too long for you to hold, you have no business working on this!
Hand positioning. A chopper, just like a basic invert, requires you to get your hips OVER your hands. It’s like a seesaw: your head is one end, your legs the other, and in between (your hands) is the tippy point. If you are holding too high when you start, you are making this WAY harder on yourself because you need to somehow get your hips higher than your hands. So I usually tell people shoulder height or lower. Make sure that you are not over gripping– your wrists should be in neutral alignment before you lift your legs off the floor.
When you are working on this move, you should have your hands in baseball grip– just like you would for a regular pole hold. Some people have been doing it with the top hand cupped (palm facing away, thumb down) and while it will make it easier to get into the move (because you can push away with the top hand), it isn’t working the same, super important muscles for inverts– hence, why it’s easier– and it’s not as stable once you get upside down.
Along the same lines, think about your HEAD. If you are staring straight ahead when you are trying to invert, you’re messing with the seesaw: how can your legs come up if your head is staying glued upright? I don’t advise anyone to “throw” their head back—throwing an 8 pound head back wards isn’t going to magically make your hips float up. Instead, be conscious of lengthening your neck; your head should be an extension of your spine. As you tip back, make sure that you are keeping your head aligned with your body and tipping it back as well. When you are fully upside down, relaxing through the neck to let your head tip back fully can make the move look much more finished and effortless.
Play tug of war. To get your hips up to the pole, you need to PULL as hard as you effing can on the pole. Imagine the way that you pull on a rope if you’re sitting on your butt and pulling it towards you as hard as you can, like in tug of war. Now imagine that you were playing tug of war with someone, and they suddenly let go. What would happen? You would fall over backwards, butt over head, and somersault over. Now imagine that same force on the pole. You are exerting by pulling DOWN on the pole with your arms as you straighten them, and if you pull hard enough, and keep your core active and your knees tight to your chest, it will result in you tipping gently backwards and pulling your hips to the pole. Now, either your core and arms are so rock solid that you can just heave those hips up with pure will. Or, you can do a little cheat. Yes, there is a LITTLE cheat. I will show you now (or click here to see direct on YouTube):
The idea is that instead of using brute strength to pull your hips UP and over your hands, you allow your grip to VERY lightly soften at the same time that you are pulling so that your hands slide down AS you are pulling your hips up and pulling your shoulders back. The net result is that you end up lowering your tippy point, making it easier to get your hips up because you are lowering the rest of your body instead. Does that make sense?
Let your milkshake bring all the boys to the yard. Make sure that you don’t stop pulling your hips up until your crotch is literally TO THE POLE. It’s much, much harder to maintain this position:
As opposed to this position:
In the second picture, your hips (and butt) are right on top of your upper body so the weight of your legs is easier to hold up. If you let your hips fall away from the pole, they become way heavier and your core will have to work a lot harder to keep them up. If you’re having trouble getting your hips up the last tiny little bit, think about pulling your chest forward, and shoulder blades even closer together as you continue to pull down on the pole. It will help you to stack your weight over your hands.
And finally, a note of caution: While you are bearing body weight using just your arms, you need to be really careful to engage through your back. Pull your shoulder blades together and shoulders down and away from your ears the ENTIRE TIME. Think of it this way: muscle tissue, when it’s not engaged, isn’t very strong. It’s sort of like wet tissue paper. If you let your back round, like this (umm because the camera was on the floor, my legs are strangely large and my head is strangely small, don’t mind that!):
…then you are depending on the muscle between your shoulder blades (your rhomboids) to keep your shoulder blades together and when you’re in a chopper, you’re hanging ALL your body weight on those arms!! Instead, you want to be in this position (which you should KNOW already because you are doing one-armed spins NO PROBLEM, RIGHT??):
It’s worth repeating this, because it’s something you need to be conscious of the ENTIRE time you are working on this trick and the ENTIRE time you are upside down. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they have a weird, pinchy feeling between their shoulder blades—it’s because they’ve pulled or strained this muscle by hanging weight on it like a wet tissue! Think of pulling your chest forward between your arms and letting those boobs breathe and see some sunshine.
It’s actually a great strengthening move to hold the chopper for as long as possible, pulling your chest through your arms, keeping your hips high and all the way into the pole– making sure, of course, that if you start to get fatigued you come out of it by wrapping your legs around the pole above you and going into a basic invert, or a leg hang. If you’re tired, DON’T come out of it the way you came into it, because you won’t be able to control your speed, stay properly engaged, and are at a higher risk for injury.
If you are working on doing this with straight legs, build up to it by keeping just one leg straight at a time and opening the other leg out when your hips are all the way up. When you are working both legs straight in your chopper, think about opening your legs as wide as possible and pulling your crotch up (rolling through your pelvis) from in between them, instead of lifting your legs up.
If there are other tips that you’ve gotten that have helped you, or that have helped your students, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Tomorrow’s post: My first class…