How to Do a Wood Chop Exercise for Abs

By Kim Nunley

Wood chops are an exercise that mimics the torso-twisting movement of chopping wood and strengthens a number of muscles in your core, including your obliques, glutes and hip flexors. The exercise also involves extension of your hips and legs, so it works your gluteus maximus, quadriceps and gastrocnemius. The exercise can be done with various types of weights. A medicine ball is often used for wood chops, but you can also do them with a kettlebell, dumbbell, cable pulley or resistance band.

Wood Chop Technique

To perform wood chops with a medicine ball, stand with your feet set to hip-width apart and grip the sides of the ball with both hands. Twist your torso to one side and lift the medicine ball up over your shoulder with your elbows slightly bent. Engage your abdominals and obliques to swing the ball down and diagonally across your body as if chopping wood. Finish with your hips and knees flexed and the ball positioned outside your hip. Extend your hips and knees to rise up as you twist your torso and swing the ball up and diagonally across your body so that the ball finishes over your opposite shoulder. Continue chopping to one side until you finish one set and then perform the exercise while twisting and chopping in the other direction so that you work both sides. If you like, you can substitute the medicine ball with a single dumbbell or kettlebell.

Using Different Weighted Implements

A cable pulley or resistance band can also be used for wood chops. If using a cable pulley, set the pulley to high. Grasp the stirrup of the cable and turn your body so that your body is perpendicular to the pulley unit. Set your feet slightly wider than your hips. Twist your torso away from the pulley, keeping your arms straight throughout the entire movement. Drive your hands downward and bend your knees to bring the stirrup of the pulley across your body and down to the side of your hips. Slowly twist back, keeping your arms straight as your hands move up and across your body and return to the starting position. If using a resistance band, attach one end to either a high stable object, such as the top of a door frame. Grip the free end of the resistance band with both hands and use the same wood chop technique as when using the cable pulley.

Variation of the Wood Chop

When using a cable pulley or resistance band, the wood chop can also involve twisting in a down-to-up movement. Instead of driving your hands downward so that the stirrup travels from over your shoulder down to your waist as you twist, begin low and drive your arms upward. When using a cable pulley, set the pulley unit to a low position. Grip the stirrup of the cable and position your body so that you're perpendicular to the pulley unit, with your feet set just wider than your hips and your knees and hips slightly flexed. Extend your hips and knees as you twist your torso away from the pulley while keeping your arms straight, driving your hands upward and across your body so that you finish with your hands over your shoulder. Slowly twist back, flexing your hips and knees and keeping your arms straight as your hands move down and across your body and return to the starting position. If using a resistance band, attach one end to a low stable object, such as the foot of a heavy table. Grip the free end of the resistance band with both hands and use the same technique as when using the cable pulley.

Wood Chops in Your Workout

Add wood chops to your weight-training workouts two to three days per week. Because core fatigue could limit your performance in other exercises, wood chops should be added in toward the end of your weight-training sessions. Perform two to three sets of wood chops, with each set consisting of 10 to 15 reps in each direction. Adjust the weight so that completing each set is challenging. If you can do 15 reps easily, bump up the weight next time. Always warm up before your weight-training workouts by walking or jogging and performing dynamic stretches. To prep your body specifically for wood chops, add in 20 reps of standing torso twists -- a dynamic stretch -- to your warm-up.

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