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Plyometrics best workout for pro wood chopper

Written by: Cary Castagna, QMI Agency
Apr. 13, 2014

Kat Spencer, the 29-year-old Smoky Lake resident, is a petite five-foot-four and 112 pounds, and a lumberjill. (Handout Photo)


Kat Spencer is no Paul Bunyan.

Not in stature, anyway. Not even close.

The 29-year-old Smoky Lake resident is a petite five-foot-four and 112 pounds.

But Spencer can swing an axe much like the larger-than-life folk hero.

She can do more than that, too, including log rolling, sawing, chopping and pole climbing.

Spencer’s a professional lumberjill — the female equivalent of a lumberjack — competing in various events in the timber sports circuit throughout North America and as far as Australia.

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“You don’t have to be big,” she says in a recent interview with Keeping Fit. “It’s all about accuracy and technique.”

But you certainly have to be fit.

And that she is.

Spencer retrofitted an eight-by-10-foot room in her modest 1950s house — complete with a wall-mounted TV, free weights, a chin-up bar and interlocking foam puzzle tiles lining the floor — turning it into a basic workout room fit for a professional wood chopper.

She’s in there five times a week for 90 sweaty minutes each session.

Her regimen involves mostly plyometrics.

“I do a lot of plyometrics because wood chopping is a sprint sport,” she explains. “You’re going 30 seconds as hard as you can, as fast as you can. It’s very explosive and powerful, so I’m finding that plyometrics has been the best offseason training for me.”

The actual competition, of course, is a gruelling workout in itself.

“The beauty of wood chopping is because we do so many different events, you are working every muscle group, whether it’s simple muscles just in your hands and forearms running a chainsaw doing stock saw, to your larger muscle groups. Like we really use our quads when we’re doing the single buck saw, where that’s a single person with a six-foot-long saw. You’re engaging your lats and your quads all at once for a fluid whiplike motion of the body.”

When it comes to engaging the core, Spencer notes, there’s no better event than axe throwing.

“When you bring the axe up over your head, it’s essentially a core flex that brings the axe forward,” says the daughter of thoroughbred racehorse jockeys. “And you aim straight towards the bullseye when you let go of that axe.”

Spencer’s forte, however, seems to be pole climbing.

As the only female professional speed climber around, the native of Shelburne, Ont., is forced to compete against the men in this event — and she has been known to beat many of them.

“It’s quite the coup to be the only girl doing it right now because I finished second in the Canadian novice championships this year, obviously against all men,” she says. “I usually bet all the guys. I go up there with my little pink climbing bag with all my gear in it and I’m like, ‘OK, any boy I beat owes me a beer!’”

As Spencer explains, pole climbing requires plenty of brute force.

“I go 80 feet high, up and down,” she adds. “And that is a lot of leg on the way up. And on the way down, it’s actually a lot of lat and back strength because it’s the friction of your rope against the pole that slows down your velocity when you’re falling, so a lot of girls don’t typically have that kind of upper-body strength.”

Spencer, who has her sights set on qualifying for the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wisc., within the next three years, started competing a decade ago while studying at the University of New Brunswick, where it’s offered as a club sport.

“Practice was mornings,” she recalls. “I’m a morning person and when’s the best time to exercise? In the mornings.”

Spencer has since become an advocate for the non-traditional sport, constantly trying to recruit more women to enter the male-dominated athletic realm.

“With wood chopping, there’s always an event that you’re going to be strong enough or good enough for. If you’re heavier set, maybe single buck’s your event. If you’re a lighter frame, perhaps it’s axe throwing or log rolling,” she says. “We could be on the Dove commercial because we’re all different body types and all different ages.”

Spencer is currently organizing the STIHL Timbersports Canada Western Qualifier, set for June 14 in Fort Saskatchewan. It’s the first professional event of its kind in Alberta in five years, she says.

In the meantime, Spencer will be balancing her extra duties with her rather appropriate day job as a tree physiologist and mountain pine beetle program supervisor with the provincial government.

“I live a carbon-neutral life. I do genetic conservation and I grow trees as my day job,” she says. “And then on the weekend, I chop wood.”

 

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