The Woodsman Workout

by Brett on September 19, 2012 · 58 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

Last week, my family and I went on a much needed vacation to our adopted home of Montpelier, Vermont. Kate and I have been going there about once a year since we’ve been married, and we even lived there for six months after I graduated law school. Vermont’s natural beauty really renews my man spirit. I try to get out and enjoy the Green Mountains as much as I can during my short visits. One of my favorite places in Montpelier is Hubbard Park — it’s 134 acres of nothing but beautiful Vermont woods and perfect little trails for rambling.

While Montpelier has a small, not-so-great gym, most Vermonters stay in shape like Kate’s uncle, the famous Uncle Buzz, does — by doing household chores and walking their ubiquitous canine companions. While I don’t own a VT homestead that needs tending, I was able to stay in shape using only things I found in the woods of Hubbard Park (and a trusty maul). Exercising outside with simply the equipment found in Mother Nature’s Gym pushes your body, boosts your manly vigor, and, as you can clearly see in the pictures below, aids you in growing a really sweet mustache.

Below I share my Vermont exercise routine. So wolf down your flapjacks, put on your flannel shirt and boots, grab your axe, and head outside. It’s time to do the Woodsman Workout.

Deep Breathing

Begin your Woodsman Workout with some deep breathing exercises to clear the mind and oxygenate your blood for the vigorous activity you’re about to take part in.  A proper breath originates in the diaphragm. Slowly breathe in the fresh forest air through your nose. As you inhale, imagine your lungs filling up from the bottom to the top. Exhale through your mouth. Imagine the air in your lungs emptying from the top to the bottom. You’ll know if you’re breathing correctly if your belly moves in and out and your chest and shoulders stay still.

Take 20 deep breaths. Focus on the sound of your breath and the bubbling brook beside you.


Hiking serves as the foundation of the Woodsman Workout. In between the various exercises, we’re constantly moving because we’re constantly hiking. During my stay in Vermont, I tried to hike about 5K every morning in Hubbard Park. Keep a brisk pace while you hike, but make sure to take some breaks to really soak in the scenery. Perform each of the exercises below whenever nature moves you to do so, and as soon as you finish an exercise, start hiking again immediately.

Front Squat With a Log

As you’re hiking and taking in the view, be on the lookout for logs for hefting and hoisting. I found a fantastic log from a white birch tree on the side of one of the trails in Hubbard Park that was perfect for lifting. It weighed a good 75 pounds. If you can’t find a proper lifting log, earn extra woodsman points by felling a tree and bucking a log.

Squats are a great way to develop the lower body strength needed for powering through long hikes and putting unruly moose in leglocks. While the back squat (with the weight on the back of your shoulders) is the best squat exercise to activate all the muscles in your lower body, I opted for a front squat in my Woodsman Workout because 1) I didn’t have a squat rack and 2) I wanted to focus on my core and quads, which the front squat does.

Hoist your log from the ground and into your arms. The log should be resting as high up on your arms as it can.

Slowly squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Because your hamstrings are less taut during the front squat, you’re actually able to get a deeper squat with less strain, so feel free to “break parallel” if you want. While you’re squatting, focus on keeping your torso straight. Do 3 sets of 8 reps, resting a minute between each set.

Overhead Press With a Log

The shoulder press is one of my favorite exercises; it’s even awesomer when performed with a giant birch tree log. The overhead press works your entire body: shoulders, upper-chest, core, and legs. The log’s girth makes the lift a bit more difficult because you have to activate different muscles to maintain hold of the log during the lift.

Hoist your log to the top of your chest. Grip the log about an inch or two outside shoulder-width. Feet should be about shoulder-width apart. Look straight ahead.

Press the log over your head. As you lift, exhale. When the log passes your forehead, shift your torso forward and continue lifting the log. Lock your elbows when you reach the end of the lift and hold for a second. Slowly lower the log back to the starting position, inhaling as you do so. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 8 reps, resting one minute between each set.

Bear Crawl

I harnessed the power of my animal spirit guide, the noble bear, by performing bear crawls through the woods. There’s nothing much to them. Just get down on all fours and crawl like a bear, making sure your knees don’t touch the ground. Perform the bear crawl in one minute spurts whenever you feel like it during your hike. Shoot for 5 crawls during your hike.

Boulder Tossing

You’ve probably seen people tossing medicine balls in the gym. The equivalent of that in the Woodsman Workout is boulder tossing. Tossing heavy boulders is a full body workout. You work your back, chest, legs, arms, shoulders, and core. Best of all, it’s fun to throw heavy things around in the woods.

Select a good sized boulder. Mine weighed about 50 pounds, give or take. Bend down with your legs to pick up the rock and lift it to your chest.

Hurl the rock up and out by pushing your arms up from your chest as fast as you can. Enjoy watching your boulder hurtle through the air and land on the ground with a big thud. Pick it back up and throw it again. Do 3 sets of 5 throws, resting 1-2 minutes between each set.

Walking Lunges With a Log

We worked our quads with the front squat, so now we need to hit our hammies and glutes. Lunging through the woods with a log hoisted above your head will do the trick.

Begin with log hoisted above head.

Lunge forward with your right leg until your right thigh is perpendicular with the ground. Your left knee should come close to touching the ground. Push up with your left leg and without hesitating lunge forward with your left leg until your left thigh is perpendicular with the ground. Keep alternating like this for about a minute. Rest for a minute, then repeat two more times.

Lumberjack Press

I first learned about the lumberjack press from Canadian AoM fitness contributor Chad Howse. It was only fitting that I include an exercise called the “Lumberjack Press” in the Woodsman Workout. The lumberjack press is a great shoulder exercise. It also activates your core muscles in order to keep the log straight and balanced during the lift.

Begin by hoisting your log lengthwise onto your right shoulder. Grip the log in the center with both hands — the left hand in front, the right behind — so the log is nice and balanced.

Lift the log above your head, making sure it remains straight during the lift. It’s harder than you think it would be.

Lower the log onto your left shoulder. Yes, the expression on my face does indeed make it appear as if I’m strenuously pushing out a beaver-sized B.M. But that, my friends, is the face of a man who successfully completed one rep of a lumberjack press. Just four more to go! Lift the log again and rest it on your right shoulder. Complete 2 sets of 5 reps. When you finish the first set, switch your hands so that your right hand is in front and your left is in the back. That will work your left shoulder more.

Wood Splitting

A Woodsman Workout wouldn’t be complete without a session of wood splitting. Splitting a stack of wood is a tremendous workout. You work your arms, back, and core swinging the maul around. It’s also a great cardio workout.

Place your log on a larger log. Start off with your non-dominant hand near the butt of the maul handle and your dominant hand placed near the maul’s head. Bring the maul head above your head.

Swing down. As you swing, slide your dominant hand down the shaft of the maul for extra power.

Aim for the center of the log. Follow through on your swing until your maul completely splits the wood. Get another log and keep splitting. Be sure to switch up your hand placement during wood splitting sessions to work the different sides of your body.

 Photos by Deborah Johnson-Surwilo

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jordan Crowder September 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

These photos are classic, I almost want to see them as a video. Haha!

2 Okierover September 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Great action shots, good job Kate. If you had only wrassled a bar while you were there, you’d have completed the Woodsman Workout, Advanced Course.

3 Miguel September 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Sweet flannel bro!

4 Swimmerman September 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Brett – its about time you did another hilarious non-serious post. Don’t let fatherhood take all of the lightheartedness out of you. Great post, and priceless look on your face during the lumberjack press!

5 Andrew K September 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Just one question…where did you get that hat?

6 Rick G September 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Great post! I love workouts like this because they improve functional strength and work all the little muscles as well as the major groups. Plus you get to wear flannel and boots!

7 MikeH September 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Fun post, but one quick tip – the poll of your maul is badly mushroomed. I’ll assume from years of being struck by another tool to facilitate wedge-splitting of wood. This is normal, but requires some maintenance.

The edges of the mushroom are prime spots for stress-risers to start, which makes them likely to either chip off (violently) the next time they’re struck, or start cracks that can continue in to the main part of the poll, thus eventually ruining the axe. Normal maintenance here is to file or grind the mushroomed portions of the poll so that the poll is “intact”. Normally this is a light effort, but the amount of deformation on your tool is pretty severe, so it may take a while. It doesn’t need to be rounded off or even really chamfered, but all those overhanging bits should be reduced if possible. The bad news? Unless this is a very cheap axe, that’s hardened tool steel, so it’ll require quite the mess of abrasives to do it.

Also, you should be wearing eye protection while splitting – don’t worry, the hat will make the glasses look cooler.

Good luck, and be safe.

8 Mike Tyetpanar September 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm

So… much… manliness…

9 Steve September 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I feel manly just watching him do it… Awesome article…

10 Aaron September 19, 2012 at 6:15 pm

This is manliest workout I’ve ever seen!

11 Plumber September 19, 2012 at 7:12 pm

“I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok”

Had to be said

12 Alex September 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I think my chest hair grew twice as thick while reading this post!

13 Joel September 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

this is by far one of the best workouts I have read, so going to link this to my blog

14 K September 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Proof that you don’t need a gym to get in a good workout!

Love it, especially the walking lunges with a log—great way to build strength and balance.

Unfortunately, you won’t find too many logs here in San Francisco where I live—which is why I generally substitute a kettlebell or heavy medicine ball instead.

15 Mike September 19, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Great post! @Okierover, I appreciate your proper use of the word ‘bar’…

16 caleb September 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Keep going with the beard. You almost look like a real man! Lol

17 Kyle September 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

You point out a great point that bothers me a lot about “workout plans”. Everyone believes they need to make a commitment to a gym or equipment but none of that is necessary.

Running and doing body workouts just using a playground, public benches, your office chair, and yes even the forest can keep you in great shape. I like to use the things around me when I travel to keep myself in shape. No membership or equipment needed.

18 Kyle September 19, 2012 at 9:17 pm

You need a Best Made Axe. That one your using is weak! :)

19 Paul September 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Love this shit. This is, AOM! 100%

20 freebird September 20, 2012 at 5:59 am

Monster maul!
Superior splitting device,if you can lift it.
Use the lighter maul to get warmed up,then transition to the 20lb solid steel monster maul.

21 Loren September 20, 2012 at 6:32 am

I loved the post. A few years back at our old house we had some acreage and my wife broke down and let me buy a wood stove. I did this work out one fall and couldn’t believe the results. I used a chainsaw to fell the trees and carried the logs out on my shoulder (no more than 1/4 mile.) I called it the comando workout from the begining of the Swartzanegger movie from the 80′s. I also used the maul one handed alternating hands to build up my weak hand. It was a great workout because I could carry the logs farther and do more swings with each hand as I got stronger. I know it was meant to have some humor, but it really is a good workout if you use the mentality that its excercise and not just use the most efficient way of doing everything. Great post-Thanks

22 Bob Blais September 20, 2012 at 6:55 am

Well, as a Montpelier resident, I’m going to be a lot more careful running in Hubbard Park. I understand there are going to be hordes of people out throwing rocks. Incidentally, the Confluence is a CrossFit oriented gym in the area if the logs/rocks are all frozen to the ground on your next visit!


23 Phil September 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

Quite possibly the most manly pictures on the interwebs…

Great, entertaining post!

24 Conor September 20, 2012 at 7:53 am

Great tips, great workouts.

For people that don’t have wood to chop (or want a faster-paced workout without having to set up the logs every time), you can substitute hitting an old tire with a sledgehammer.

25 Eli September 20, 2012 at 8:51 am

Chopping and stacking wood certainly is quite a work out. I will need about 10 cords for this winter, so I’ll be working out quite a bit.

Keep up the great posts!


26 Don September 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

This is great. I perform this type of workout to prepare for obstacle course races. I just run from station to station and I add to the mix; tree limb pull-ups, climbing tress, side chop swinging (like chopping down a tree simulation), and heavy log Zercher squat. Awesome strength and conditioning twice a week.

27 Hartmann September 20, 2012 at 9:41 am

Now do that all again in a sasquatch costume.

28 Aunt Debbie September 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

Brett – Enjoyed reading the article. Great comments from your followers. Not bad photos if I may say so myself. As always we enjoyed our time spent with Kate, Gus & you.

29 Henry September 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

Man, you look like Tom Selleck in a Woody Woodypecker cartoon! (Nice mustache, by the way)

30 Dave D September 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

Great hat and great post! Quite inspiring I will say.

31 Creek Stewart September 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Great post Brett. If you ever want to work out in Indiana, I’ve got plenty of wood to chop :)

32 Dan September 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I love this post for so many reasons — really nice photos from Ms. Johnson-Surwilo, a really great workout, and yes, a really sweet mustache. But best of all, it was shot in my home state of Vermont! Keep up the good work Brett — you should come live here for good!

33 DH September 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm

That hat is excellent!

34 Howard September 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm

A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.

35 Matt H. September 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

These pictures…I can’t even…

36 Andrew September 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Just one little advice, do bear crawl where nobody can see you, because doubts of random walkers about your mental state can be serious.

37 grayson September 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I have been told that the lumber jacks of old would transport their timber by use of the majestic mule or its equivalent. They tied together a pile of freshly felled trees and had the brawny burro pull it to the nearest creek or river which would then provide an easier means for transporting the wares. In memory of the beasts that helped mankind conquer the wild, i suggest a variation to the bear crawl: the donkey dunk. you harness yourself to some logs (or boulders if you are lumber jacking in an area where trees are sparse) and haul ass to the nearest body of water. Upon reaching said body of water, you treat yourself to a relaxing swim. This is also very conducive to the workout if you are jumping into a cold mountain stream as the water will act like an ice bath and rejuvenate your muscles/soul.

38 evilcyber September 21, 2012 at 7:48 am

Monthy Python comes to mind, doesn’t it?

39 Bert Perry September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am

Thanks to the commenter who referred to the Lumberjack Song! :^)

One other cool thing about being a lumberjack in my part of the world (Minnesota) used to be that the timber company provided a sauna. It kept body lice down and lumberjacks nice and limber.

40 Herb September 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

Awesome post, I really like the bear crawl idea… Never really thought of that. I hiked the AT a few years back and spend a lot of time in the woods, so this was right up my alley. I always see people saying, “I stay active by going to the gym.” I guess it’s better than sitting on a couch, but IMO, going to the gym isn’t really being active. It’s an alternative to being active. If you actually get outside and hike, ride bike, walk, run, play sports, etc… That’s being active. But, please, don’t chop down a tree just to have a log to lfit!

41 KambizAmini September 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

Thanks! Very interesting article! There is a great possibility that people for 100 years ago lived a much healthier life than todays population because of all the outdoor hard work. Every male feels great by doing this exercise in the fresh air.

42 Okiebug71 September 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

Ditto on the flannel – awesome shirt. Actually, where’d you get that shirt? And the jeans. And the belt. And the boots. And the maul. Can you just do one of those Esquire things where you identify (and price) each article of clothing shown in the pics?!

43 KentonsGhost September 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I used to split wood for our wood stove growing up and I sure miss it! It was great exercise and fun too!

44 Jared September 21, 2012 at 11:21 pm

This is like a scene from Rocky IV.

45 abe September 22, 2012 at 10:42 pm

lifting logs is enjoyable and good exercise.
although every time i do it it reminds me of sixth grade camp. we were instructed to build sturdy weatherproof shelter and in my group i was appointed the materials collector. i was scouting around and went up this giant hill on the mountain and hit the jackpot for wood. i ran down and called to one of my friends to come get some wood. we ran up and brought down some real good sized logs. when we were almost finished my instructor yelled at me for carrying logs without help.

46 Orac September 24, 2012 at 3:38 am

Looks like a great exercise routine for maybe 3/4 of the year. It’d be a bit…invigorating at -20.

Oh, and Howard? Are you suggesting that someone erect a statue of Brett and write a song about him? ;-)

47 J. Delancy September 24, 2012 at 8:15 am

Feel the testosterone flowing (even with that hat). Nothing says manliness like an axe, blowtorch or chainsaw, great photos as well.

48 Kurtis September 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Agree with everyone above – great post Brett!

49 Brent Pittman September 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Great hat and facial expressions! Makes me want to head to the woods to chop some wood.

50 Plumber September 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Love the Firefly reference. I had forgotten about that episode, Time to break out the DVDs

51 Thomas September 24, 2012 at 11:32 pm

There’s only one place that hat could’ve come from…The Man Store…

52 Eain Tierney September 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I don’t mean to criticize you Brett however, the wood splitting pictures seem to illustrate an incorrect manner to split wood. The video is underhand chop but the physics and form should be exactly the same. Swinging the maul behind the shoulder is wasteful and potentially harmful to the body, as is “windmilling” swing the head of the maul in a circle instead of a straight line down.
I don’t mean any of this in a negative manner purely educational.

53 Swiss September 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Ah the Bear Crawl, bane of football players everywhere

54 Dapper D October 5, 2012 at 10:11 am

PLEASE do make an manstructional video of this!

55 Kevin October 26, 2012 at 6:46 am

You guys need to get your head screwed on straight….the best splitter BY FAR is the Fiskars x27

56 scottso February 24, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Ditto about that Fiskars X27. No better ax for splitting than my Fiskars. Also highly recommend the Silky Saw katanaboy 500 for those who like to cut their logs au natural with no gas or electric chainsaw. Talk about the ultimate wood workout.

57 CW May 9, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I am a woodsman – logger, firewood cutter, tree removal etc . Skip the log presses as you will eventually drop one one your head . They don’t have handles and are not evenly weighted . Lift something else . Splitting wood is a GREAT way to get a workout . If you are doing it right, you should be using your abs for power . Don’t swing down with all your shoulder/arm strengh as you will eventually make a mistake and hit a leg . Use the abs and bend your knees . If you are working on a big pile of rounds, you will find that you naturally use a lot of the lifting moves shown in the pictures . Throwing the finished pieces out of your way is a good chance to use : a two handed “basketball pass” movement, a sideways swing throw and many variations . If you don’t clear away the split wood you will find yourself tripping on it and get hurt . I use a very sharp Swedish maul that I can shave hair with and one mistake will be devastating so be smart and save you shins . I can easily split over a face cord per hour and can keep up with my buddy on his $2500.00 hydraulic splitter – as long as the pieces are pretty straight grained . I do it by hand for the workout as I can use the power splitter for the 80 cords a year we split . And I have a gas well and get free natural gas so the wood is not necessary for heat . But it is manly !

58 Dane November 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

As a former boy scout a log laid in front of your feet when chopping wood is never a bad idea.

I read a study recently that showed chopping wood for an hour produces more testosterone that the same amount of time spent playing sports.

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