Although I personally favour doing exercises that develop deep core muscles over building a six-pack, I won’t deny I like to work both. One area I love focusing on in particular is my obliques. Why? Because not only do these contribute towards a toned looking torso (and often get forgotten about) but they also support the rotation of the spine. Plus, I’ve always struggled to develop my ‘ab muscles’ and always found my obliques an easier target. And, recently, I’ve been doing an exercise that not only leaves them feeling and looking stronger, but aching like never before — and if you haven't already, then you need to try it.
Don’t worry, the exercise I speak of isn’t a bicycle crunch or a plank, but in fact a wood chop. “The wood chop engages your obliques in a way that sit-ups and planks cannot do as you're twisting your torso during the movement,” says Steve Chambers, Personal Trainer and Gym Manager at Ultimate Performance. “But it also hits a number of different muscles too, including your entire set of abdominal muscles, back, delts and your serratus anterior muscles. It’s one of the best exercises you can add to your abs-building arsenal, particularly if you want your obliques to really pop.”
Essentially, all the wood chop is, is looping a long resistance band around something sturdy, holding onto the end of it and then using your core and obliques to help rotate it away from you – like you’re chopping into the side of an imaginary tree. It may sound ‘easy’ and, arguably, the movement is, but whether you’re performing it correctly or not is often a different story. When you are, you’ll feel your core completely tighten to really move the band from point A to B, but when you’re not there'll be no core engagement and you’ll just end up moving the band with your arms and bodyweight.
It's definitely more fun than laying on the floor doing a ton of rotational crunches that's for sure. I've been doing two sets of 15 reps on each side at the end of my workouts as a finisher and I honestly start to struggle once I get to 10 reps. The key is also not to let the band just fling back to the starting position, you want to do this slowly and work against the resistance of the band. Trust me, you'll get far better results if you do.
How to do the band wood chop
- Loop a long pull up resistance band around something sturdy so that it's in line with your mid-torso (if you're in the gym a squat rack will do, if you're at home the stairs banister)
- Grab the end of the band with both hands and take a few steps out to the side
- Hold the band with both hands in front of you with your arms extended
- Keeping your feet planted on the floor, brace your core and turn your upper body and pull the band across your body to the opposite side
- Pause for a second, then slowly bring the band back to starting position
- Complete your reps on one side, then repeat on the other
If you don't have a resistance band, you could always perform the exact same movement with a dumbbell (check out our best dumbbells if you don't own one), or if you're in a gym you can use the cable machines. Keen for more core workouts? I definitely recommend checking out this exercise that transformed my core and back that uses a pair of kettlebells.