Wood Chop Exercise: How To, Benefits,…

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You can simulate daily activities that offer a good workout by doing something like the wood chop exercise. Find out why you could do this.

Wood chops are an exercise where you hold some type of resistance and simulate the same movement of chopping a tree.

This means you twist your body from one side to the other with your hands starting high and going low.

Wood chops will mainly be good for working your oblique and to some extent your shoulder and ab muscles. If you use enough resistance and do enough repetitions, you could grow and strengthen these muscles.

That being said, while the wood chop offers benefits it is also fair to say that there are many more effective weighted oblique exercises too.

Wood chops don’t work these muscles in a controlled motion which makes it harder to find a resistance that aligns with your workout goals.

Additionally, many people will find wood chops uncomfortable on their spines. Especially if they twist too far.

How to do a wood chop exercise

To be able to do a wood chop at a reasonable challenge level you will likely need a form of resistance.

Something like a dumbbell or other free weights like a kettlebell, workout sandbag, medicine ball, etc. are great but you can definitely also use resistance bands at home or a cable machine in the (home) gym.

As an example, take the following steps to do the wood chop exercise with a dumbbell:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold one dumbbell in your hands and let your arms hang down for now.
  2. Move the dumbbell up and to one side until your lightly-less-than-stretched arms are horizontal and pointing to the side. You could move your hips too if needed.
  3. Swing the dumbbell down and to the other side. Make sure you can still control the weight at the bottom of the movement. You can again move your hips if needed.
How to do a wood chop exercise

You want to make sure you don’t twist your spine too far for your capacities. If needed, you can start with small and light wood chops to play it safe.

Wood chop exercise muscles worked

The main muscles worked with the wood chop exercise are your obliques.

Your deltoids (shoulders) and abs will have to work to some extent too.

If you want to actually grow and strengthen these muscles and not just improve endurance, you will have to do the wood chop exercise with enough resistance and repetitions.

One downside of the wood chop exercise in this area is that it is hard to make each swing exactly the same.

In turn, it is hard to find good resistance and repetition ranges for the goals above. This makes your wood chop workouts suboptimal or potentially even not that effective.

Wood chop exercise benefits

The downsides above still apply but it is still fair to say that doing the wood chop exercise can offer benefits too. A few examples include:

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding wood chops to your routine can offer you some helpful benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Wood chops work a few muscles in nice amounts. If you use enough weight and do enough repetitions, they can help you build muscle.
  2. May prevent back pain: By challenging your core to safe extents in advance with wood chops, you can reduce your risk of back pain (1, 2). You do want to be careful with wood chops since they can also be uncomfortable in this area.
  3. Balance and coordination: You will need at least some balance and coordination to do the wood chop exercise successfully. This can help you get better in these areas.

The wood chop exercise is not necessarily the number one movement for these benefits but it can help. This could make you consider this exercise anyway.

Wood chop exercise alternatives

There are also more effective ways to work the muscles involved in the wood chop exercise. A few of these alternatives include:

  • Side bends
  • Pallof presses
  • Cable Russian twists
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Side plank variations
  • Sideways knee raises on the captain’s chair
  • Ab wheel V-rolls

What parts of your obliques and other core muscles you want to work and what equipment you have will influence your choice between these wood chop alternatives.

Is the wood chop a good exercise?

The wood chop is a decent exercise for working your obliques and to some extent your shoulders and abs.

At the same time, you need to know that there are many more effective ways to work these muscles too.

Wood chops are not great in the sense that it is hard to keep your movements the same and in turn, hard to use optimal amounts of resistance and repetitions for your training goals.

Some people will also find the twisting of the wood chop exercise too uncomfortable on their spines.

That being said, it is worth mentioning that doing wood chops can still offer benefits. If you really like doing this exercise, it could still be a decent addition to your workout routine.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.