How to Do Cable Wood Chops: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Cable chop, cable woodchopper, cable up-down twist

Targets: Abdominals and obliques

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Intermediate

The cable wood chop exercise uses a cable machine to simulate a wood-chopping action, building strength and power in the core and obliques. To make it more effective, perform it slowly and with control. This exercise is a good addition to a core strengthening or total body workout.

How to Do the Cable Wood Chop Exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Attach a hand grip to the cable machine, positioning the cable anchor near the top of the frame using the adjustable mechanism.
  2. Load the machine with sufficient weight to provide moderate resistance.
  3. Position your body so that the cable movement will be downward and across the body—like a tree-chopping action.
  4. Extend the arms and grasp the cable handle with both hands above one shoulder, keeping the feet shoulder-width apart, a neutral spine, and knees slightly bent.
  5. Pull the handle downward and diagonally across the body slowly, until it passes the opposite thigh. Rotate the entire torso during the pull and keep the arms fully extended throughout the movement.
  6. Hold for a count of one or two.
  7. Perform the movement in reverse, returning the cable handle to the starting position.

You can also do the wood chop exercise with a medicine ball or dumbbell

Benefits of the Cable Wood Chop

The cable wood chop targets the transverse abdominis and oblique muscles. These are the muscles that allow you to twist at the waist. It also engages the muscles of your back, shoulders, and legs. That makes it a compound exercise.

The wood chop is also a functional exercise because we use the same type of motion in everyday life when grabbing something from a shelf and placing it on the floor. For athletes, the movement mimics movements used in many sports, such as swinging a bat or golf club.

Research indicates that strong rotational power is correlated with better sports performance. Performing exercises such as the cable wood chop is one way that athletes can work toward their peak potential.

Other Variations of the Cable Wood Chop

This exercise can be done in different ways depending on your fitness level and goals.

Seated Cable Wood Chop

If you find it difficult to stand without losing balance, try the seated version instead. You can do this by placing a weight bench next to the cable machine, straddling the bench, and following the same basic steps. Set the pulley so it is about level with your shoulders to make it easier on this joint.

Reverse Cable Wood Chop

Also known as a standing cable lift, this exercise involves setting the adjustable mechanism of the cable machine at the bottom and pulling from low to high. It works the same general muscles, though in a slightly different way.

To perform the reverse cable wood chop, grab the handle with both hands and pull it up and across the body, stopping once it is a little higher than your head. Use control to return the handle to the starting position. You can also do this variation with a resistance band.

woman doing reverse woodchop with resistance band

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Wood Chop Lunge

Another option is to step forward into a lunge as you bring the cable down across your body, stepping back as the handle retracts toward the cable machine. Adding the lunge helps you build muscles in your lower body while also strengthening your torso.

High-Speed Wood Chops

If your goal is to boost your power, you can do cable wood chops at a faster speed. Do the movement at high velocity, rest for 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat. Because this option is more advanced, master slower wood chops first.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from the cable wood chop exercise and reduce your risk of injury, avoid these common errors.

Locking the Lower Body

Don't lock the knees and hips when performing cable wood chops. Instead, allow these joints to rotate slightly. (Not too much, though, as most of the rotation should occur in the torso.)

Bending the Arms

Don't bend your arms while performing this exercise, or your shoulders and arms will do the work rather than your abdominals. The arms should stay extended during the entire movement, from start to finish.

Excessive Weight

If you struggle to move the handle or you can only move it slowly, the weight is too heavy. You should also be able to keep your balance as you rotate the weight. If you stumble or waver, reduce the amount of weight on the machine.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any issues with or injuries to your back, hips, or knees, discuss this exercise with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure it is safe for you. Do not continue with cable wood chops if you feel pain during any part of the movement.

Start by doing 8 to 10 repetitions, then reverse your stance by facing the other way and repeat the exercise on the other side of the body. As you get stronger, aim to complete two to three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions each.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lee J, Kim T, Kim D, Shim J, Lim J. Effects of selective exercise for the deep abdominal muscles and lumbar stabilization exercise on the thickness of the transversus abdominis and postural maintenance. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(2):367-370. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.367.

  2. Zemkova E. Science and practice of core stability and strength testing. Physical Activity Rev. 2018;6:181-93. doi:10.16926/par.2018.06.23

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.