Chopping your way to better health

By John Cihomsky | July 1, 2016
Chopping your way to better health

Now we know how Paul Bunyan got his washboard abs: chopping wood burns up to 500 calories an hour. John Cihomsky shares his story.

I recently had the opportunity to get in touch with my inner lumberjack. I didn’t even know I had one until I received an estimate to remove a large tree stump from my backyard. Rather than pay more than I wanted to have the stump pulverized by a professional, I thought I’d try my hand at swinging an ax and doing the job myself. The results were pleasantly unexpected.

Yes, it was hard work that caused me to break out in a sweat just five minutes into each chopping session. And yes, it could have been removed mechanically in a few hours instead of the few weeks it took me, stealing an hour here and there during the week and even more on weekends.

Aside from the joy I felt when I was finally able to pry the wooden monolith from the ground after getting to every last root of the problem, I was pleased to discover what a great exercise in exercise my endeavor had been. In addition to all the sweating, I noticed I had dropped a few pounds and toned up my core in only three weeks and an estimated 16 hours of work. Intrigued, I asked Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified trainer with Sharp Best Health, just what was going on.

The mechanics

“When you split wood, your body uses multiple muscles to perform the swing as well as stabilize your position,” says Hays. “Chopping wood engages virtually the entire core, including lower and upper back, shoulders, arms, abs, chest, legs and butt (glutes).”

There was my explanation.

Hays continues that wood chopping, when performed regularly, can help improve hip and shoulder stability and strength, and can give you washboard abs.

“When you swing an ax,” says Hays, “you use all of your abdominal muscles by extending down at an angle from the ribs to the hip bone, using your stomach muscles all the way.”

In addition to giving you some serious muscle burn, when you chop wood steadily for long stretches at a time, you are also performing a cardio exercise. Consistent swinging, bringing the weight (the ax) up and down, with good form, will raise your heart rate and result in decent calorie burn.

Another great benefit is that an average person can expect to burn between 350 and 500 calories when chopping wood for an hour, according to Hays.

Don’t have a tree that needs chopping? Hays recommends hitting the gym as an alternative to swinging the ax. An exercise called woodchoppers (what else?) mimics the rotational swing of chopping wood using weighted resistance in the form of a medicine ball, a dumbbell or a cable machine.

“Woodchoppers are a great way to give your entire core a workout, especially when you're short on time,” says Hays. “Just like real wood chopping, this exercise works your back, shoulders, butt, abs and chest all at the same time.”

Safety tips

When chopping wood, it’s important to take precautions. Experts recommend wearing goggles to guard your eyes against flying wood chips. It’s also important to wear proper shoes, such as heavy boots, for a firm stance and added protection for your feet, and gloves are important to prevent blisters and help keep a firm grip on the ax handle.

While I won’t give up my day job for the lumberjack life, it’s good to know that my frugality is good for both my core and my bank account.

John Cihomsky is the vice president of public relations and communications for Sharp HealthCare.

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John Cihomsky


John Cihomsky is the vice president of public relations and communications for Sharp HealthCare.

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