As a personal trainer to tennis players and an amateur tennis player myself, I highly value the wood chop exercise and have extensive experience with its benefits.

However, it has certain shortcomings. For example, explaining to a newbie how to activate the core while doing wood chop instead of just pushing with their arms can be as challenging as describing quantum physics from "Oppenheimer" to an ordinary person.

My list of best wood chop alternatives will help you mix and match different exercises, ultimately perfecting your wood chop (and your tennis swing!)

Here are the nine best cable wood chop exercise alternatives and variations that target many of the same muscles.

You don't need to do each and every one of these alternatives since they offer similar benefits. Still, it's great to replace an exercise or two every once in a while to prevent your muscles from getting used to certain movements (workout plateau) and avoid getting bored.

1. Mountain Climbers – Best At-Home Exercise

Woman Doing Mountain Climbers Outside

Mountain climbers are a big part of many training programs. All you need is a bit of floor space, making mountain climbers one of the prime at-home exercises.

This bodyweight exercise resembles the motion of climbing a mountain. It elevates heart rate, which is why I often use it as part of a warm-up session, either before a gym workout or sports activities. Another good warm-up wood chop alternative is standing mountain climbers.

Also, mountain climbers strengthen the core and enhance overall muscle coordination.

If you want to make it even more difficult, you can use a mini band.

Benefits

  • Core strengthening
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • No equipment needed

How To Do It

  1. Start in a high plank position.
  2. Your hands should be placed directly under your shoulders.
  3. Engage your core to form a straight line from head to heels.
  4. Alternately drive your knees towards your chest, as if you're running in place.
  5. Keep your hips down and back straight through the entire movement.
  6. Maintain a swift pace.
  7. Breathe rhythmically, inhaling and exhaling as you switch legs.
  8. Keep doing it as long as fatigue does not start to affect form.

Tips From A Trainer!

Faster doesn't always mean better. I'm not saying that you should do this exercise in slow-mo, but if you do it too fast, you won't be able to fully complete the movement (and thus reap all the benefits). 

2. Side Crunches

Man Doing Bodyweight Side Crunches

I heard my colleagues talking about side crunches causing injuries, pain, and bad posture.

I have to disagree with that. The spine is so resilient - a controlled movement that includes side flexion certainly should not cause injury.

Although some trainers and exercisers will try to convince you that anything but the neural spine position is bad for you, please don't believe it. Just think of the Jefferson curl. However, I'm not the biggest fan of side crunches either - there are more effective core exercises.

So why did I include it on the list? Because it is an exercise that can help you isolate obliques even better and contribute to a well-defined waistline when you are chasing a perfect physique.

If you feel uncomfortable doing side crunches, try cable side crunches. It's much more comfortable to do lateral trunk flexion that way.

Benefits

  • Perfect oblique training
  • No equipment needed

How To Do It

  1. Lie on your flank, legs extended, one on top of the other.
  2. Place your bottom arm under your head.
  3. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
  4. Engage your obliques to lift your upper leg and shoulder off the ground simultaneously.
  5. Exhale as you contract your obliques, bringing your elbow and knee closer together.
  6. Inhale as you lower your leg and shoulder back down, returning to the starting position.
  7. Switch sides after the desired number of repetitions.

Tips From A Trainer!

Doing side crunches on the Pilates ball will further challenge your core because it must maintain stability constantly. Yet, if you don't have a strong enough core, start on the floor; otherwise, you will sacrifice proper form. 

Related Article - Best Isometric Ab Exercises

3. Side Plank

Woman Doing A Side Plank Hold

We can all agree that the regular plank and all its variations are fantastic exercises for strengthening the core and the whole body.

The side plank position is an ideal wood chop exercise alternative because it primarily targets the same muscles, but you don't need equipment.

The side plank is more complex than the front plank, but I wouldn't classify side planks as an advanced exercise - many novices can do it too. However, if you can't perform it, you can try side plank alternatives.

I especially like the side plank because it engages the quadratus lumborum, the lower back muscle, which is the Achilles heel of many people, including me. Any exercise targeting the QL muscle is a must in my workout regimen.[1]

Benefits

  • Improved core strength
  • Building endurance
  • QL muscle engaged

How To Do It

  1. Begin by lying on your side.
  2. Keep your legs straight (or bend your knees to make it easier), and stack your feet on each other.
  3. Position your elbow directly under your shoulder, supporting your upper body.
  4. Engage your core and lift your hips off the ground, keeping your entire body straight.
  5. Keep your neck aligned with your spine, and hold the position for the desired duration.
  6. Focus on breathing rhythmically.
  7. Change sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

For an added challenge, lift your top leg, creating instability that intensifies the workout. Don't rush to try that; considerable strength is required. 

Related Article - Best V Up Substitute 

4. Landmine Oblique Twist

Man Doing Landmine Oblique Twist

Landmine oblique twist, or landmine 180, is a dynamic exercise that targets the often-neglected oblique muscles. And not just obliques but the entire core musculature. Once you start doing it, you will feel it is a similar oblique isolation exercise like wood chops.

When I struggled with lower back pain, the landmine oblique twist helped me significantly. Even though the lower back muscles are not part of the core, they, along with the obliques, transversus abdominis, and other muscles in that region, are of utmost importance to your posture.

This exercise is an indispensable part of the training routine of many athletes, especially those engaged in sports that require a lot of trunk rotation - tennis and baseball, for example.

The combination of the Pallof press, Russian twist, and landmine oblique twist is a surefire way to make your forehand and backhand faster.

Benefits

  • Contributes to spinal health
  • Functional movement
  • Enhanced athletic performance

How To Do It

  1. Place one end of the barbell into a landmine attachment or anchor it in a corner.
  2. Load the barbell with weight plates (if needed).
  3. Stand with feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Lift the barbell and hold it with both hands at chest level, arms straight.
  5. Brace your core.
  6. Initiate the movement by rotating your torso and hips to one side, allowing the barbell to move all the way across your body.
  7. Inhale as you rotate and exhale as you return to the starting position.
  8. Alternate right and life sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

This exercise seems easy because the technique is straightforward. However, you can injure yourself if you suddenly make a twisting motion with a weight that does not match your strength level.

So, start with a light weight to master the technique and understand proper range of motion before gradually increasing the load. 

5. Side Plank With Rotation

Woman Doing Side Plank With Rotation

One thing is certain - no matter how fit you are, side plank with rotation will set your obliques on fire.

The side plank with rotation is an advanced variation of the regular side plank. It activates all the core and lower back muscles, but because of that additional movement compared to the basic side plank, the muscle fibers will be exposed to more stress, which is key for strengthening and muscle growth.

Rotational movement enhances core stability and functional strength. By introducing rotation, you're adding a new dimension to your routine while keeping it a bit safer compared to Russian twists.

Benefits

  • Advanced variation
  • Improved core stability

How To Do It

  1. Get in a standard side plank position on your forearm.
  2. Lift your hips off the ground.
  3. Extend your top arm towards the ceiling, creating a straight line from your bottom hand to your top hand.
  4. Twist your torso and put your top arm under your body as if you are going to hug yourself.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. After doing enough reps on one side, switch to the other.

Tips From A Trainer!

Side plank with rotation is not a breakdance move, so don't try to do the exercise fast - only correct form matters. 

6. Hanging Side Knee Raise

Woman Doing Hanging Side Knee Raise

The hanging side knee raise is a powerful exercise that takes advantage of the resistance of your body weight while suspended, offering a challenging and effective way to target your oblique muscles and enhance core strength.

You're not only engaging your obliques but also activating stabilizing muscles throughout your upper body.

It belongs to the advanced exercises, both because it is demanding for the core/obliques and because you cannot do it successfully without a strong grip.

Some people do it with extended legs, but I think it puts the spine under an unnecessary strain, so my preferred technique is with knees bent.

Benefits

  • Full-body activation
  • Different variations
  • Oblique challenge

How To Do It

  1. Hang on a bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  2. Engage your core muscles and squeeze the bar to prevent swinging.
  3. Bend your knees.
  4. Raise your knees (using Abs and obliques) towards one side of your body, aiming to bring them as close to your chest as possible.
  5. Hold the position briefly.
  6. Lower your knees back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  7. After 10+ reps, switch to the other side, or you can do alternately.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you are struggling to do any variation of hanging knee raises due to a weak grip, use Captain's Chair (also known as power tower and Roman chair) for knee raises while simultaneously strengthening the forearms and hands with other exercises. 

Related Article - Best Roman Chair Workouts

7. Cross Knee Plank

Woman Doing Cross Knee Plank

The cross knee plank is a dynamic variation of the traditional plank exercise.

It is designed to boost core engagement while challenging your stability and coordination. By introducing knee movement, this exercise takes your core workout to the next level, targeting the oblique muscle groups and fostering better overall functional strength.

You can do it diagonally (left knee-right elbow) or on the same side. I prefer diagonally.

And no, don't expect cross knee planks to make love handles disappear. Only a caloric deficit can do that. Still, it is crucial to strengthen the core, even if you have a certain percentage of fat over the muscles.

Benefits

  • Good for different fitness levels
  • No equipment needed
  • Whole core engagement

How To Do It

  1. Begin in a high plank position, with your hands under your shoulders.
  2. Engage your core and glutes to provide stability throughout your body.
  3. Lift your right knee towards your left (or right) elbow, bringing them as close together as possible while keeping your hips steady.
  4. Return your leg to the starting position and repeat the movement on the opposite side.
  5. Continue alternating knee-to-elbow movements while maintaining proper plank form.
  6. Breathe as you switch sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

As you progress, challenge yourself by increasing the speed and intensity of the knee-to-elbow movement, but only if it does not affect the form. 

8. Woodchopper With Resistance Band

Woman Doing Woodchopper With Resistance Band Exercise

Of all the best alternatives, the wood chopper with resistance band is the most similar to regular wood chop exercises.

I prefer it maybe even more than wood chops because it is very practical. You can take the resistance band with you and attach it anywhere.

Also, you can do the woodchopper with resistance band in many different ways - high to low, low to high, kneeling, etc. Cable machines do not limit your position when you perform a resistance band alternative.

Now I'll explain the classic standing variation of woodchopper with a resistance band (similar to standing cable wood chop).

Benefits

  • Perfect warm-up for athletes
  • Developing strong core and obliques
  • Suitable for at-home training program

How To Do It

  1. Secure the resistance band to a sturdy anchor point at chest level.
  2. Stand a few feet away from the anchor point, holding the band with both hands and arms extended.
  3. Begin with your hands at one side of your body, resembling the starting position of a wood chop.
  4. Engage your core muscles and initiate the movement by pulling the band diagonally across your body, ending with your hands above the opposite shoulder.
  5. Keep your feet grounded and pivot on your back foot as you pull the band across your body.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position, controlling the band's resistance.

Tips From A Trainer!

Visualize your oblique muscles contracting as you pull the band across your body. That way, you will improve the mind-muscle connection. 

9. Single Arm Farmers Carry

Man Doing Single Arm Farmers Carry

It's almost unbelievable how simple yet effective and difficult the farmers carry is. Although you wouldn't say it is a cable wood chop alternative at first glance, it could be the best alternative for overall strength.

Whether you do a single-arm farmer carry (walk) or carry a load in both hands, you will challenge your core, grip strength, and overall stability to the maximum.

Since we are talking about cable woodchopper alternatives, the single-arm version is better.

Originating from the world of strongman training programs, this exercise involves carrying a weight in one hand while maintaining an upright posture and walking (making rather small steps.)

The single arm farmers carry not only builds brute strength but also enhances your ability to stabilize and control weight unilaterally.

Benefits

  • Full-body strength
  • Functional exercise
  • Great exercise for solving imbalances

How To Do It

  1. Choose a suitable weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) and hold it in one hand.
  2. Stand with your shoulders down and back (it is especially important to keep your shoulder retracted on the side of the weight), engaging your core.
  3. Keep your posture upright as you begin walking, maintaining a brisk but controlled pace.
  4. Focus on keeping your body stable and eliminating any swaying or tilting.
  5. Walk for a set distance or time, then switch to the other hand and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

It's fine to increase the weight as your strength improves, but longer distances bring even more intensity. So, once you progress, don't just use more weight, but walk longer - it will benefit both your grip and core/obliques. 

Benefits Of Doing Wood Chops And Substitute Exercises

The wood chop exercise has been a go-to option for building strong and resilient core muscles.

Its effectiveness lies in engaging multiple muscle groups and enhancing functional strength - something many weightlifting exercises can't offer.

Let's briefly dive into the main benefits this exercise brings to the table.

  • Core Engagement
    It is a phenomenal movement for targeting the obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis. The diagonal chopping and similar motions activate these muscle groups in a coordinated effort, resulting in a stronger and more defined midsection.
  • Functional Strength
    Mimicking the motion of chopping wood in real life improves functional strength. It enhances your ability to carry out day-to-day activities that involve twisting and lifting, promoting better overall physical functionality.
  • Postural Stability
    Those exercises challenge the core to stabilize your spine and pelvis, contributing to better posture and reducing the risk of injury.
  • Caloric Expenditure
    The dynamic nature of the wood chop and alternatives lead to an increased heart rate and caloric burn.

Muscles Worked During Cable Wood Chop

I singled out five muscles predominantly involved during cable wood chop. Abs and obliques are primary muscles, while the remaining three are secondary.

Calves, serratus anterior, erector spinae, and many other muscles are also involved, but to a less extent.

Abdominal Muscles (Abs)

The rectus abdominis, often called the "six-pack" muscles, are essential. This muscle runs vertically along the front of your abdomen and is responsible for flexing your spine. As you execute the movement, the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis contract to stabilize your core and initiate the move.

Obliques

These muscles are subdivided into external obliques and internal obliques. The external obliques are located on the sides of your abdomen, assisting in bending and twisting motions.

Simultaneously, the internal obliques, which lie beneath the superficial layer, facilitate rotation and lateral flexion of the spine. These oblique muscles synergize with the rectus abdominis to create a controlled and effective cable wood chop.

Glutes

The gluteal muscles - the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus- are an integral component of the cable wood chop. All these muscles have primary function is to extend the hip joint, but these muscles also contribute to stabilizing the pelvis.[2] As you rotate, your glutes work to maintain stability and balance.

Quads

The quadriceps, located at the front of your thigh, contribute their strength to the exercise. Although not the primary focus, these muscles assist in maintaining a stable lower body as you generate force.

Their engagement ensures a solid foundation, allowing the core and upper body to perform the movement effectively.

Deltoids

While the deltoids, commonly known as the shoulder muscles, aren't directly targeted by the cable wood chop, they play a supportive role. As you pull the cable across your body, the anterior deltoids engage to stabilize the shoulder joint, aiding in the controlled movement of the exercise.

Man Showing His Muscles

Common Questions About Wood Chop Alternatives

Can the Wood Chop exercise be performed without a cable?

Yes, you can perform the wood chop exercise without a cable. While the classic version involves a cable machine, you can easily replicate the movement using a dumbbell, medicine ball, or resistance band.

Is kneeling better than standing wood chops?

The choice between kneeling and standing wood chops largely depends on your fitness goals and preferences. Kneeling wood chops offer increased stability and focus on the core, making them ideal for beginners or those aiming for a more controlled movement. On the other hand, standing wood chops challenge your balance and incorporate more muscles, adding extra intensity to your workout program.

What exercise is wood chop an example of?

The wood chop is a prime example of a functional exercise. It replicates the motion of chopping wood, which engages multiple muscle groups, including transverse abdominis, and enhances coordination.

Stop Chopping With These Alternatives!

Why adhere to repetitive routines when you have the opportunity to try many innovative and diverse exercises?

I'm not saying you should totally exclude wood chops from your workouts; on the contrary!

In order to further improve the strength and flexibility of your core musculature and, thus, the whole body, you have to do at least a few of the highly practical exercises I discussed.

Stop (or reduce) chopping and start these alternatives - let me know whether you notice progress after a few weeks of doing at least one alternative to wood chop exercise!

References: 

  1. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Quadratus_Lumborum
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7039033/
Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.