Wood Chopping For Exercise: Why It’s An Excellent Overall Workout

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One thing that is interesting is examining the relationship between exercise trends and everyday life. In terms of strength training, “functional fitness“ or “functional strength training“ has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Functional fitness is essentially the notion that you are doing workouts or exercises that replicate or prepare your body for everyday physical activities such as squatting, carrying groceries, getting up and off the floor, etc. 

The wood chop exercise, also called wood chops or wood choppers, is a strength training exercise that mimics the physically demanding lumberjack task of chopping wood.

While you can certainly perform the wood chop exercise in the gym, chopping wood for exercise in real-life scenarios is actually a fantastic workout.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of wood chopping for exercise, the muscles worked by wood chopping, calories burned, and how to perform the wood chop or weighted chops in the gym to capitalize on the fitness benefits of chopping wood.

We will cover: 

  • Is Chopping Wood Good Exercise?
  • What Are the Benefits Of Wood Chopping For Exercise?
  • How to Do the Woodchops Exercise

Let’s dive in! 

A person chopping wood.

Is Chopping Wood Good Exercise?

Even if you spend a lot of time strength training in the gym, if you’ve had to wield an ax to split logs or chop wood, you are likely familiar with the fact that chopping wood is physically demanding and can be a challenging workout.

As we mentioned, functional training for everyday activities is currently very popular. However, wood chopping for exercise is almost the reverse of functional fitness.

Instead of designing exercises to help condition or train the body for everyday functional activities, the wood chop strength training exercise has been fashioned after wood chopping since chopping wood can be such a great workout.

Although many people don’t necessarily chop wood for exercise—but instead have to use the ax to split logs as a means to an end for heating the home or working on a job site—you can absolutely get a great workout chopping wood for exercise.

In fact, wood chopping for exercise is so effective that some of the strongman competitions or lumberjack fitness competitions replicate the strengthening benefits of chopping wood and the cardiovascular demands of wood chopping for exercise by including ax-wielding or wood chopping as an event.

Related: Calories Burned Per Activity Calculator (800+ Activities)

A person chopping wood.

Plus, as mentioned, there’s even a strength training exercise called the wood chop exercise or cable chops or medicine ball chops that replicate the wood chopping movement pattern.

Even if you are not a lumberjack and have zero intentions of ever needing to split logs or chop actual wood, many people incorporate wood chops strength training exercises into their routines.

This is simply because of the effectiveness of wood chopping for strengthening the core and upper-body muscles, increasing heart rate, burning calories, and building rotational trunk and spine strength and mobility through numerous planes of motion.

What Are the Benefits Of Wood Chopping For Exercise?

Let’s look at some of the benefits of wood chopping for exercise:

#1: Wood Chopping Works Many Major Muscle Groups

When you are doing actual wood chopping with an ax, the weight of the ax itself may not be that heavy, but most people are swinging the ax powerfully and exclusively, which helps activate the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the muscles worked by wood chops.

Plus, if you are doing a wood chopping workout or actually trying to chop wood for exercise with a longer session, you will build muscular endurance in the muscles worked chopping wood.

A person chopping wood.

The primary muscles strengthened with wood chops or when performing the wood choppers in the gym include the following:

  • All of the core muscles, such as the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, deep transversus abdominis, spinal stabilizers like the erector spinae group and multifidus
  • Lats, traps, and rhomboids in the mid-back and upper back 
  • Deltoids and rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders, the serratus anterior
  • Glutes and hip stabilizer muscles, such as the iliopsoas, gluteus medius, and piriformis
  • Pectoralis major in minor of the chest
  • Biceps and triceps in the upper arms
  • Brachioradialis and all of the grip strength muscles (depending on if you are wood chopping with an ax or performing wood chops with dumbbells or kettlebells)
  • The pelvic floor muscles

When performing wood chops with dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, or a cable machine in the gym, you can load up the resistance to really build muscle and increase strength in the wood chopping muscle groups.

Plus, you can change the angle, arc of motion, or wood chopping movement path that your arms take to target different fibers of the shoulders, abs/core, and upper-back muscles worked by wood chopping strength workouts.

An axe in a tree trunk.

#2: Wood Chopping Burns Calories

In addition to being a good strengthening exercise, another benefit of chopping wood for exercise is that it increases your heart rate, so it can be considered a cardio workout that strengthens your heart and lungs and burns calories.

This is particularly true when you are doing real-life wood chopping for exercise (or functional needs) for longer periods of time without stopping, rather than isolated sets of wood chop strength training in the gym.

The longer you do any physical activity, the more vigorously you perform the exercise, and the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn.

So, how many calories does chopping wood burn?

You can determine or at least approximate the calories burned wood chopping for exercise by wearing a fitness watch with a heart rate monitor that estimates caloric expenditure.

However, if you don’t have a fitness watch that can give you a decent estimation of wood chopping calories, we can also use the METs, or metabolic equivalents, to calculate the calories burned wood chopping for exercise.

A person chopping wood.

According to the Compendium of Physical Activities, chopping wood or splitting logs at a moderate effort is equivalent to 4.5 METs while wood chopping or splitting logs at a vigorous effort is 6.3 METs.

We can then use the equation used to calculate energy expenditure from METs to calculate how many calories wood chopping burns.

Calories burned per minute = METS x 3.5 x body weight in kg / 200

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds, which is 75 kg, the “vigorous chopping wood calories burned per minute” is 6.3 x 3.5 x 75 / 200 = 8.3 calories per minute.

Then, to determine how many calories a wood chopping workout burns, you would multiply this calculated value for the number of calories burned chopping wood per minute by the number of minutes you did the wood chop exercise or actually chopped real wood with an ax.

A person holding a medicine ball.

#3: Wood Chopping Is a Functional Exercise

For as much as we discussed that the dumbbell wood chop exercise or cable chop exercise has been designed to replicate real-life wood chopping, another benefit of wood chopping for exercise is that it actually also translates to other exercises and functional activities in its own right.

For example, the trunk rotation for chopping wood can translate to a better golf swing, kayaking strength, or stand-up paddleboarding endurance, while gripping an ax for wood chopping can improve grip strength. 

Increasing your grip strength can also help you improve your performance in the deadlift, bench press, and other maximum-effort weightlifting exercises.

How to Do the Woodchops Exercise

The key to success with chops as a core exercise is to keep your abs and glutes as tight as possible so that you really engage your obliques. 

Make sure to keep your arms straight throughout the movement. Rotate from the hips, spine, and shoulders.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with good posture with your arms straight out in front of your chest, holding the ends of a dumbbell in each hand or on either side of the horn of a kettlebell with the weight parallel to the ground.
  2. Keeping your arms straight and glutes and abs engaged, chop the weight down to the lower left and then straight up to the upper right away from your body, as if vigorously chopping a straight line across your body.
  3. Complete 12 chops and then switch directions to chop from the lower right to the upper left.

You can also do cable machine woodchips:

  1. Attach the single handle and set the pulley at chest height.
  2. Position yourself so that your body is angled 90 degrees from the cable, so it should be to the right or left side of your body. Stand with good posture, knees slightly bent, chest up, shoulders back, and feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Take a few steps backward so that the cable is being pulled straight out in front of the machine when your arms are straight out in front of your body.
  4. Engage your core to twist your torso towards the cable, reaching both hands to grab the handle with your arms extended.
  5. Begin to chop by pulling the cable straight across towards the opposite wall, twisting your torso through the full range of motion.
  6. When you have twisted all the way to the outside, away from the weight stack, pause and squeeze your obliques, shoulders, and upper back muscles.
  7. Rather than allowing the weight stack to pull you back to the starting position, actively resist as you slowly return back before beginning the next rep.
  8. Complete all of your desired reps and then face the other way.

For more core workout ideas, check out our guide here.

A person in workout clothes showing their abdomen.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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