Exercises You Should Be Doing: Low Cable Lift

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People love their core exercises (and for some reason Honey Boo Boo, but I’ll save that train wreck for another time). No matter who you are or how long you’ve been an avid gym junkie, most will inevitably reach a point where they’ll seek out the latest and greatest exercise that targets the mid-section.

There’s certainly no shortage of people trying to fill the gap. If you don’t believe me, just stay up past midnight and watch all those cheesy infomercials on television. People are crunching, twisting, turning, and contorting their bodies into all sorts of positions in an effort to reach Adonis status and to be able to walk down the beach proudly. Or maybe it’s just to be able squeeze into their “skinny” jeans.

Either way, it can be done all for only three monthly payments of $19.99!

Obviously my tone is a bit tongue-in-cheek as I feel most (actually, all) of those silly gadgets are a waste of money.  Then again, this is coming from a guy who’s bought every special edition of Star Wars from VHS to Blu-Ray and has easily contributed a small fortune to George Lucas’s mortgage payment.

So take that for what it’s worth.

That notwithstanding, even I wasn’t impervious to getting suckered and buying into the hype at one point in my life.  Back in the day, I did buy a Jason Sehorn (Remember that guy? Of New York Giants fame?) Dynamic Workout System…..SWISS ball and all.

Don’t judge me!  I was an impressionable 20 something year old kid, and well, just look at him…….

Sehorn was (and probably still is) one “abby” son-of-a-bitch! And he managed to marry Angie Harmon, soooooo, he’s pretty much a baller.

Okay, so what’s all of this have to do with today’s exercise you should be doing?

Well for starters, 99.99% of those thingamabobbers you see on tv don’t necessarily train the “core” in a way its actually designed to be trained.

If you’re a geek and you read the likes of Dr. Stuart McGill, Dr. Craig Liebenson, or several other people who are way smarter than all of us combined (even Skynet!), you’ll know that repetitive flexion (and rotation) can be problematic for a lot people out there who don’t move well and aren’t physically prepared for it.

I don’t want to get into a “is flexion bad/all of our spines are going to spontaneously explode” debate here. I like to think I’m a middle of the road kind of guy and don’t like to pigeon hole myself into one corner with any modality or train of thought.

But, when it comes to core training, I lean much more towards the camp that prefers to train people in a anti-flexion/extension/rotation as well as rotary stability fashion.

I think it was Mike Robertson who I first heard this from and it’s always sticked with me:  if our abs were just meant for flexion (which is how most people tend to train them performing countless repetitions of sit-ups and crunches), we’d call them hamstrings.

If you look at the actual anatomy of our midsection, you’ll invariably notice that it looks much more like an inter-connected “webbing,” with varying muscle fiber orientation, designed to prevent (unwanted) motion.

While I understand that this is an overly simplistic explanation, and that flexion (especially un-loaded) IS okay and won’t cause the world to end, my own personal opinion is that most people don’t need to go out of their way to add MORE flexion into their daily movement diet.

To that end, here’s today’s exercise you should be doing.

Low Cable Lift

Who Did I Steal It From: Eric Cressey discussed a similar movement using a TRX Rip Trainer not too long ago, so in a way I snaked it from him.

What Does It Do:   I LOVE the Rip Trainer version, but since many people may not have access to that particular piece of equipment, I figured out a way to easily incorporate this exercise in a commercial gym setting.

As alluded to above, this is an exercise that focuses more on PREVENTING unwanted motion, and really forcing people to lock their ribcage in and stay as stable as possible.

Again, just to be clear:  this doesn’t mean that I am adamantly opposed to using exercises that promote extension, flexion, or rotation. Want to know what I AM adamantly opposed to?  Justin Bieber!

I just feel that many trainees aren’t able to get into those positions in a safe manner and are better served sticking with exercises like the one described here which forces them to learn how to stabilize.

Specifically, what we’re trying to accomplish with this exercise is anti-extension, as well as anti-rotation.

Key Coaching Cues:  Setting up with a low cable systme, grab a rope (like the one people use to perform tricep pressdowns) and make sure that you maintain tension in it the entire time (don’t let it go slack).  Step to the side a step or two so that the cable isn’t rubbing up against your arm.

Assuming an “athletic” position and while bracing your abs, slowly lift the cable up above your head in a controlled fashion making sure not to allow your rib cage to flair out and your lower back to hyperextend.  As you lift above your head, the goal is to stay as upright and still as possible – preventing the weight from extending you back and rotating you to one side.

Trust me, it’s harder than it looks.

Perform 6-8 reps with the cable on one side, and then switch and perform the same number on the other.

In addition, for those who need more upper trap work, you have the option of including a shrug at the top of the movement (which I demonstrate in the latter portion of the video).

And that’s it! Try it out today and let me know what you think!

NOTE: Yes, for those wondering, that is country music playing in the background.  And yes, I appropriately set my face on fire once I was done filming the video.


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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