Core activation is important for many movements in everyday life. Your core is pivotal in swinging a golf club, paddling a paddleboard, and even lifting a heavy box.

Many exercises work the core, but few work it as intensely as the wood chop. This exercise keeps your trunk activated in a rotational movement pattern, as well as multiple abdominal and back muscles for stability. In addition, your legs and arms provide stability and mobility.

The wood chop exercise has been used in a variety of ways. Most notably, in rehabilitation it’s used to treat and manage lower back pain. It provides a more advanced challenge for core stability (1, 2).

It can be performed in a variety of positions, as well as with different resistance tools, to allow variety and challenge. Furthermore, the different positions and tools allow you to target various muscle groups.

Read on to learn all you need to know about the wood chop exercise.

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The setup

The most popular version of the wood chop involves a dumbbell.

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel to each other. Hold a dumbbell with both hands, either at the ends or clasping your hands at the handle.
  2. Hold the dumbbell at the side of your right hip. Doing so means your body will be rotated to the right. Pivot your feet to the right also to avoid straining your back.

The execution

There are two phases to this movement — the lift and the chopping movement.

During the first phase, with the dumbbell at the outside of one hip, lift and rotate the dumbbell up above the outside of the opposite side of your head. For instance, if you start at your right hip, you will lift it up to the left side of your head.

As you lift, pivot your right foot to aid the rotation and elevation of the weight. In this standing version, there will be minimal movement of the trunk. Most of the motion comes from your arms and pivoting on your foot.

The second phase involves the chopping motion of the movement. The weight will go from above the left side of your head back to your right hip. Pivot on your left foot as you do this. Also, remember to keep your trunk and head tall as you perform this part of the movement.

Keep the movement controlled, and pause between each rep to decrease the momentum used.

Perform 2 sets of 8–15 repetitions on each side.


There are two phases to the wood chop exercise — the lift and the chop. They emphasize different sides and muscles of the trunk. Keep your movements controlled.

There are several benefits to this powerful exercise.

  1. It simultaneously challenges the stability of multiple muscles in your trunk, hips, and shoulders.
  2. It’s a functional movement used in everyday activities like shoveling and lifting a child in and out of a car.
  3. This exercise can be performed using a variety of resistance equipment, such as dumbbells, a resistance band, and a cable machine.
  4. For people who can’t lie on the floor for core work, such as people in the second and third trimester of pregnancy, this is an effective way to work the trunk muscles.

The wood chop movement is a functional exercise that works stabilizer muscles of the trunk and lower extremities. It can be performed with a variety of equipment.

A variety of muscles are working during the wood chop exercise, including:

  • Core muscles. Your trunk or core muscles perform a significant stabilizing job during the entire movement. Your obliques and transverse abdominis are heavily involved in this exercise.
  • Hip muscles. Your hip muscles primarily function as stabilizers during this movement. Your upper gluteal muscles (glute medius and minimus) are the main muscles involved.
  • Thigh and calf muscles. Your thighs primarily stabilize your body while your calf muscles on the opposite side you’re moving toward provide power for this movement.
  • Shoulders. Your scapular stabilizers help keep your shoulder blades stable while your arms are in motion. Your deltoids and rotator cuff muscles provide the strength to move the weight from the high to low position.

The wood chop exercise works muscles of the core, hips, and lower extremities.

  • Keep your trunk stable during this movement. There’s a tendency to flex or bend the spine forward during the chopping motion. This can place undue stress on your spine.
  • Start with a lighter weight than you think you’ll need to perform this exercise. Increase the weight as needed while maintaining good control.
  • If you feel pain upon performing this movement, decrease your range of motion and slow your speed. Also, you can decrease the amount of resistance used. If you’re still experiencing pain, stop and consult a healthcare professional.

Keep your trunk stable as you perform the movement and start with a lighter weight than you think you need. Stop and consult a healthcare professional if you feel pain.

There are multiple ways to add variety and adjust the challenge of the movement.


This exercise can be performed from a half-kneeling (lunge) position. Start with one leg in front and your rear knee bent directly under your hips. Lift the weight from the outside of your rear hip up and over to the outside of your head on the lead-leg side.

This exercise can also be performed in a full kneeling position with your knees parallel to each other. Perform the exercise as described above.

Equipment used

Substitute a medicine ball or kettlebell for the weight. They provide variety with hand position and grip to add challenge.

Use either a cable machine with the pulley set to the highest point or a resistance band anchored to a high point for the chopping motion.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with the handle position to the left side. Grasp the handle and pull down to the opposite hip. This version emphasizes the obliques on the side you’re pulling toward.

To emphasize the lifting motion, change the anchor point to a low position. Repeat the movement, this time performing low to high. Your trunk extensors and shoulder muscles are emphasized in this version.

Increasing or decreasing the degree of challenge

Place your feet or knees closer together to narrow your base of support and make the exercise more challenging.

Doing so will increase lateral instability and force your muscles to work harder to maintain balance while performing the exercise. Conversely, widening your stance decreases the challenge.

In addition, you can change the amount of weight or resistance you’re using. However, if you do go heavier, be sure the weight can be controlled and you’re not creating so much resistance that you have to excessively rotate your spine.

Finally, change the speed at which you’re performing the movement, thinking slower for a greater challenge. If you’re using a cable machine or resistance band, maintain a controlled speed while bringing the weight down and slowly return the weight to the starting position.


There are multiple variations of the wood chop exercise that involve changing your stance, position, and/or the equipment used. Each variation will change the muscular emphasis or degree of challenge.

The wood chop is an excellent core exercise to add to your training program.

It can be performed in a variety of ways with different types of equipment to accommodate your needs and add variety.

Try this functional exercise and reap the benefits in all your daily activities.