Your core is the center of your body. Included are all the muscles in your trunk, from your hips to your shoulders. A strong core is essential for daily activities such as sitting up, bending and lifting (9). The wood chop exercise is a great way to work your core muscles. This movement also challenges your balance and coordination. Wood chops come in various forms. You can use a dumbbell, barbell, medicine ball, or kettlebell. You can also do this movement with just your body weight. Let’s go through the basics of the wood chop including the benefits, muscles worked, and some variations.
What Is The Wood Chop Exercise?
Picture a log lying on the ground. You are going to pretend that the log is in front of you and you are going to chop it in half with an ax. The wood chop exercise simulates this motion.
This movement involves both a rotation of the torso and a lifting of the arms overhead. Depending on the variation, you can use different types of equipment. For example, you could hold a medicine ball, dumbbell, or kettlebell.
How To Do The Wood Chop Exercise
There are two major stages of the wood chop exercise- the lift and the chop.
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. If you are using a weight, hold it close to your chest with both hands.
- Engage your core muscles and lift the weight overhead. As you do this, twist your torso to the right.
- From the overhead position, lower the weight diagonally across your body to the outside of your left hip.
- As you do this, in one motion twist your torso left and bend your knees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Keep your movement fluid and controlled throughout the exercise.
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Wood Chop Proper Form And Breathing
Consider these aspects of the wood chop exercise. Getting these right ensures that you’re hitting the right muscles and getting the most out of your exercise.
While the wood chop exercise challenges your core, it’s also important to keep your other muscles engaged. Be sure to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs throughout the move. This will help you maintain good form and avoid injury.
Feet And Knees Positioning
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent throughout the movement. This will help you maintain balance and stability. Both your feet and knees should be pointed in the same direction throughout the exercise.
As with any type of lifting, it’s important to exhale during the effort stage of the wood chop. In this case, that would be when you are chopping the weight.
What Muscles Does Wood Chop Exercise Work?
The wood chop exercise targets a variety of muscles including:
Your core muscles include (6):
- Obliques – These are the muscles on the sides of your waist.
- Rectus abdominis – This is the “six-pack” muscle.
- Erector spinae – These are the muscles that run along your spine.
- Latissimus dorsi – These are the large muscles in your back.
- Transverse abdominis – This is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle.
Wood chops work all of these muscles simultaneously. They particularly target the obliques and transverse abdominis that are involved in twisting and rotating movements.
Your hip muscles are essential for stabilizing your pelvis and keeping your legs in alignment. The wood chop exercise works the following muscles:
- Gluteus maximus – This is the largest muscle in your body. It’s responsible for hip extension (2).
- Gluteus minimus – This muscle is located under the gluteus medius and is responsible for abducting the hip (moving it out to the side) (3).
Wood chops work all of these muscles as they stabilize your pelvis and keep your legs in alignment during the twisting and lifting motions.
Shoulders And Arms
The wood chop exercise also works the muscles in your shoulders and arms. Specifically, it targets the scapular stabilizers that work to keep your shoulder blades in place. It also works the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles that stabilize your shoulder joint (4).
Thigh And Calf Muscles
The wood chop exercise works the muscles in your thighs and calves as they stabilize your legs during the move. This includes the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius (calf) muscle (8) (1).
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Benefits Of Wood Chop Exercise
Several benefits come with doing the wood chop exercise regularly. These include:
Improved Core Strength
The wood chop exercise is an excellent way to build core strength. A strong core is essential for stabilizing your spine and trunk, and it can help to prevent back pain (9).
Improved Overall Strength
The wood chop exercise challenges several different muscle groups all at once. As a result, it can help to improve your overall strength and power (5).
The wood chop exercise requires coordination and balance. As you get better at the exercise, you’ll find that you can move more fluidly and with greater control. This improved coordination should carry over into other aspects of your life.
Improved Athletic Performance
The wood chop exercise is a great way to improve your athletic performance. The explosive nature of the exercise can help to improve your speed, power, and agility. All of these are important for success in many sports.
The wood chop exercise can help to improve your posture by strengthening the muscles that support your spine. This can help to prevent pain and injuries associated with poor posture.
The wood chop exercise is a great way to burn calories and fat. The more muscle groups you can target with an exercise, the more calories you’ll burn (7). This makes the wood chop exercise an ideal choice for those looking to lose weight or body fat.
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There are a few common mistakes that people make when doing the wood chop exercise. These include:
Not Keeping Your Core Engaged
One of the most important things to remember when doing wood chops is to keep your core engaged. This will help to stabilize your spine and prevent injury.
Not Maintaining Good Form
Many people tend to flex or bend their spine forward when doing wood chops. This puts unnecessary strain on the lower back and can lead to pain or injury. Be sure to keep your spine neutral and in alignment with your hips throughout the exercise.
Swinging The Weight Too Much
Another common mistake is swinging the weight too much. This can cause you to lose balance and control of the weight. Be sure to keep your movements controlled and deliberate.
Variations Of The Wood Chop Exercise
There are a few different ways that you can vary the wood chop exercise to challenge yourself further. These include:
Using A Resistance Band
If you want to make the wood chop exercise more challenging, you can use a resistance band. This will provide resistance as you move the weight up and down, making the exercise more difficult.
Using A Dumbbell
Another way to make the wood chop exercise more challenging is to use a dumbbell instead of a weight plate. This will require you to balance the weight, which will work your stabilizer muscles even more.
Using A Medicine Ball
A medicine ball is another great option for the wood chop exercise. The weight of the ball will make the exercise more challenging, and you can also use it to target different muscle groups.
Doing Single-Arm Chops
You can also do single-arm chops to target each side of your body individually. This is a great way to correct any imbalances you may have.
Doing Lateral Chops
Lateral chops are a variation of the wood chop exercise that challenges your muscles differently. Instead of moving the weight up and down, you move it from side to side. This is a great way to work your oblique muscles.
Using A Cable Machine
Another variation of the wood chop exercise is to use a cable machine. This allows you to provide resistance in any direction, which can make the exercise more challenging.
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Changing Your Stance
You can perform wood chops in a half-kneeling lunge position, a split stance position, or any other stance that you feel comfortable with. Each stance will target your muscles in a slightly different way.
For example, the split stance position will work your quads and glutes more than the other two positions. The half-kneeling lunge position will target your core muscles more than the other two positions.
Controlling Your Tempo
You can also control the tempo of your wood chops to make the exercise more challenging. For example, you can do slow and controlled chops to put more emphasis on your muscles. Or, you can do explosive chops to challenge your cardiovascular system.
The Bottom Line
The wood chop exercise is a great way to build strength, improve coordination, and burn fat. Be sure to avoid common mistakes, and vary the exercise to challenge yourself further. With regular practice, you’ll see significant improvements in your overall fitness level.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gastrocnemius Muscle (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Maximus Muscle (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Minimus Muscle (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Shoulder Muscles (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A Novel Method for Assessing Muscle Power During the Standing Cable Wood Chop Exercise (2017, journals.lww.com)
- Core Muscles (n.d., physio-pedia.com)
- Exercise beyond menopause: Dos and Don’ts (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscles of the Lower Extremity (n.d., cancer.gov)
- The real-world benefits of strengthening your core – Harvard Health (2012, health.harvard.edu)