Few would dispute that the advent of indoor ovens and central heating has made human lives easier, but if there is one downside to ditching real fires it’s the consequent lack of a need to regularly chop wood. Sadly those days are long gone, but you can still recapture some of the magic with the dumbbell woodchop.
The woodchop is a fantastic functional core exercise. Your abs and obliques are working overtime as you twist and lift, and the overall movement of the exercise means the core strength benefits created will translate to everyday activities and sports.
If you’re a golfer, the woodchop should definitely be part of your regular training routine. The rotational movement of the exercise enlists the same core muscles as are required to send a ball flying down the fairway, so if you are looking to add 30 or 40 metres to your drive, hit the gym and start chopping wood toot-sweet.
How To Do The Dumbbell Woodchop
Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly. Crouch until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your back straight. Hold your dumbbell with both hands next to the outside of your right thigh. Twist your torso to the side and lift the weight up and across your body with straight arms. As you lift, stand up and turn your torso so you end up facing the dumbbell, which is above your left shoulder. Rise onto your toes as you twist and lift. You should be using your core muscles to control the movement. Return to the starting position, reversing the twist and bringing the weight down as if chopping wood. Don’t rush; it’s all about control. Aim for three sets of 10-15 reps a side.
Set a cable pulley at the lowest rung and stand side-on with the right side of your body parallel to the machine. Keeping your core engaged and back straight, bend your knees slightly. Fully extend your arms across your body to grasp the pulley handle. Pull the handle up and across your body diagonally, keeping your arms outstretched. Lower to the start point and repeat for your target rep range. Then change sides.
High pulley woodchop
This variation works the same muscles as the cable woodchop above, just through a different range of motion. Set a cable pulley at the highest rung and bring it downwards across your body diagonally. Otherwise, follow the form guide above.
Resistance band woodchop
This is the best form of the exercise to do when you’re travelling, since a resistance band is a lot easier to pack in a suitcase than a dumbbell. You’ll need a sturdy fixture above your head or by the floor to attach your band to. Depending on where the fixture is, you can do a high-to-low woodchop or a low-to-high woodchop. If it’s in between you’re bang out of luck woodchop-wise, though you can still do an anti-rotation exercise like the Pallof press to strengthen your core.
Once your band is secure, hold it in both hands near to where it’s attached. Pull it down or up as appropriate and across your body, then take it back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Moving slowly in the second phase of the exercise means you’re still resisting the pull of the band, so you’ll cash in on some core benefits there as well.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands above one shoulder. Engage your core, keeping your back straight, and step forwards into a lunge – leading with the leg on the same side as you're holding the dumbbell. Bring the dumbbell down and across your body diagonally in the same movement as your lunge, keeping your knees and toes pointed forward. Reverse to the start. Complete all your reps on one side, then switch.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.