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

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The cable woodchop is an exercise that uses a cable machine to simulate a woodchopping 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.

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

Targets: Abdominals and obliques

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Cable Woodchop

cable woodchop exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Attach a hand grip to the cable machine, positioning the cable anchor near the top of the frame using the adjustable mechanism. Load the machine with sufficient weight to provide moderate resistance.

Position your body so that the cable movement will be downward and across the body—like a tree-chopping action. With the feet shoulder-width apart, a neutral spine, and knees slightly bent, extend the arms and grasp the cable handle with both hands above one shoulder.

  1. 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.
  2. Hold for a count of one or two.
  3. Perform the movement in reverse, returning the cable handle to the starting position.

You can also do woodchops with a medicine ball or dumbbell

Benefits of the Cable Woodchop

The cable woodchop 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 woodchop 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 activity that occurs 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 woodchop is one way that athletes can work toward their peak potential.

Other Variations of the Cable Woodchop

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

Seated Cable Woodchop

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 Woodchop

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 woodchop, 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

Woodchop 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 Woodchops

If your goal is to boost your power, you can do cable woodchops 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 woodchops first.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this 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 woodchops. 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 woodchops 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:

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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.
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  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