Wood Chops for Building Trunk Strength

Our torsos are usually doing one of two things when we train. The first is we brace and hold, while moving the limbs around it. This is typical with all the heavier lifts such as squats, deadlifts and even pull ups. Locking out our trunk is necessary to both perform the move properly and protect ourselves against injury.

The other is we lock out everything else and move our trunks, usually by bending forwards and backwards. Almost every version of a sit-up or crunch will achieve this.

Both of these scenarios are great and are needed for a healthy torso, but they’re missing one crucial ingredient – rotation. In our daily activities there’s usually some degree of trunk rotation. Everything from walking and running, to reaching for something on a high shelf, or extending a hand for a handshake. This becomes more evident with sports: every racquet swing, golf swing, and kick or punch thrown requires rotation through the upper body.

Being able to rotate well through our trunk simply means we can shift weight from one side to the other in a smooth, efficient manner. Without which we’d be less like people, and more like Lego…

Without getting too technical, our upper back is designed to rotate. The ribs tend to get in the way of bending in any direction so that’s usually the work of our lower back. But since our bodies don’t work in isolation, we shouldn’t train it in isolation either.

The Wood Chop

This is a great way to introduce rotation through the entire upper body, and suited to anyone from novice to pro athletes. You will need either a cable machine, or a resistance band with an anchor point. If you’re using a band at home and don’t have a secured vertical post of some sort, tying a knot at the end of your band and closing the door will do the trick. But depending on your band and your door it may start to chew away at the elastic. Just something to keep an eye out for.

The movement

  • There’s three heights that you’ll be using, basically hip-to-shoulder, straight shoulder, and shoulder-to-hip.
  • Start with straight shoulder as this is the basic movement.
  • Set your cable / band to the right height, make sure at your starting position your trunk is rotated to face your anchor
  • Your hand hold should mimic a two handed axe hold. If you’re on a cable machine then this might differ depending on the attachment you’re using. Explore which works best for you.
  • Fully extend your arms without locking out
  • From there stabilize your footing to give yourself a base.
  • Then just rotate away from the anchor point. Ideally you’ll reach a 180° turn, then turn back and repeat.

Variations and progression

In the video we’ve shown you some diagonal variations to add complexity. The move is exactly the same, except you’re starting at hip height going up to the opposite shoulder, or starting at shoulder height and going down to the opposite hip.

To progress simply add weight to the cable or resistance to the band. Playing with speed to produce more explosive power or sustained holds to build endurance can also work to produce different and importantly more task specific results.

For more information, ideas and exercises check out our Health Tips blog.