How to Do the Cable Woodchop

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

cable woodchop exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals, obliques

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Intermediate

The cable woodchop uses a cable rack and a single cable to simulate a woodchopping action. It builds strength and power in the core and obliques. This imitates activity that occurs in many sports—swinging a bat or throwing while twisting the torso. The cable woodchop is a compound pulling motion and a functional exercise. While it primarily targets the abdominals and obliques, it also employs the shoulders, back, and glutes. You can do woodchops with a medicine ball or dumbbell, but the cable will give a constant tension that is preferable. It can be part of a core strengthening workout or a total body workout.

Benefits

The cable woodchop targets the transverse abdominis muscle and the oblique muscles. These are the muscles that allow you to twist at the waist and to swing a bat or racket using the weight of your body and not just your arms. The woodchop also engages the muscles of your back, shoulders, and legs. In addition to sports that use a stick or racket (baseball, golf, tennis, hockey, cricket, etc.), twisting the abdominals under load is a prominent movement in sports including football and basketball. Of course, this approximate movement is slightly different in any number of sports. This exercise is also one that is safe during pregnancy and may help keep the pelvis in neutral position.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Attach a suitable hand grip to a cable at one end of a cable machine frame. Position the cable anchor near the top of the frame using the adjustable mechanism. Load the machine with sufficient weight to provide moderate resistance. If you struggle to move the handle or if you can only move it slowly, the weight is too heavy.

  1. Position your body so that the cable movement will be downward and across the body—like a tree-chopping action. Position the feet comfortably apart and grasp the cable handle with both hands above one shoulder.
  2. Swing the clasped handle downward and across the body until it passes the opposite thigh. Your hips and knees can rotate slightly.
  3. At the end position, allow the cable weight to retract the handle to the starting position.
  4. Do 8 to 10 repetitions then reverse your stance by facing the other way and repeat the exercise to the other side of the body.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this exercise, avoid these errors.

Locking Lower Body

Don't lock the knees and hips. Allow the hips and knees to rotate slightly.

Bending Arms

Do not bend your arms while performing this exercise or your shoulders and arms will do the work rather than your abdominals. Be sure that you are rotating your torso and your arms are staying in front of your body rather than it being the arms that are producing the motion.

Modifications and Variations

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

Need a Modification?

Ideally, you will have progressed through a beginner's program in order to build sufficient strength with which to benefit from this exercise. If not, start with a light weight and progress slowly.

Up for a Challenge?

This exercise is best used for power development. Do the movement at high velocity, rest for 10-15 seconds, then repeat.

There are variations you do for further challenges:

  • Reverse cable woodchop/standing cable lift: Set up to pull the cable up from low to high. 
  • Woodchop lunges: Step forward into a lunge as you bring the cable down across your body.
  • Woodchops with weights: You can perform the woodchop using a dumbbell rather than a cable machine.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any problems with your back, hips, or knees, discuss this exercise with your doctor or physical therapist. Do not continue the exercise if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

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

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