17 Reasons Why I Train With Hammers, Heavy Clubs and Maces
So here’s another installment into our series of articles explaining to you why we have chosen these specific tools to use to train for conditioning.
First lets define exactly what we are talking about with these specific tools. When I say “hammers,” I’m referring to sledgehammers. Swung in both exercise motions, leverage motions, and actual striking motions. I also tend to put in here a series of exercises with a makeshift shovel apparatus a la, “Steve Justa.” Heavy clubs refers to short single-handed clubs generally in the 15 to 40 pound range and to slightly larger double handed clubs in the 40 to 80 pound range. (Although either club variation can be used for single hand or double handed movements as well as exercise, leveraging, and striking motions.) Maces refers to long handled clubs swung one and two handed from 20 to 80 or so pounds. Again, used for exercise, leverage, and striking movements.
The club as an exercise tool (and from hence we will refer to all of these tools as a club for the scope of this article), literally began from war and hunting clubs that were some of the first weapons of mankind. Like most of the martial tools and exercise tools that we know today it is simply a continued refinement from a basic function of life (lifting stuff), or tool or weapon. People simply began to notice that, “Hey, those guys working hard with those heavy tools or practicing with those heavy weapons for war are getting in pretty killer shape. Let’s see what else we can do with this.”
Thus began training with heavier and heavier implements and extended training to develop the body as well as a warrior’s effectiveness. Here began the tradition of training with heavy weapons exhibited in the Japanese sword styles, Chinese bow styles, Hindu club exercises, etc. This has been preserved by hard core athletes, mostly fighters, throughout time and in many cultures across the world. Scott Sonnon another excellent trainer who is seriously reintroducing club swinging has done extensive study about clubs used for training across the world. Russian, Iranian, Indian (both American and Asian), just to name a few.
Add to that, that people have noticed that those who have worked and trained with heavy implements have had outstanding strength endurance and physiques. Hence the stories of blacksmiths that populate much of strength literature and other hammer swingers such as the famous John Henry. Fast forwarding to modern and semi-modern times, there have been some outstanding athletes who have trained with these implements. The Great Gamma, the undefeated Hindu wrestler trained with clubs along with bodyweight and stone implements. Many of the great boxers of the bare knuckles and early era of professional boxing came out of this type of physical training and swinging sledgehammers was a favorite of their strength and conditioning. Including the greats Jack Dempsey and Jim Jeffries.
Slim Farman also known as, “The Hammer Man,” is one of the last living old school professional strongmen and has a level of strength absolutely untouched in his specific feats. He has frightening levels of wrist and hand strength built by years of swinging hammers in a rock quarry, building an absolutely phenomenal combination of strength and endurance. He can literally strictly lever 30+lb hammers. That puts him so far above everyone else in the world that its almost like he’s from another planet.
Many of the old time and current strongmen are finding levering to be an integral part of their arm and grip training. In the immediately modern sense, Scott Sonnon, whom we’ve already mentioned is a huge proponent of strength training with clubs and is also a world Sambo champion. John Brookfield also trains with clubs. Jamie Hale also has multiple programs based around sledgehammers. These all add up to extremely high world class recommendations from cutting edge and serious trainers. Add that to the fact that if you ever actually pick one of these up and swing it around for a while you’ll understand why these guys are so big on this type of training. Especially while your muscles burn and you’re catching your breath from the effort. Here are some more specific reasons to train with these implements.
1. As we mentioned above this is a physical challenge and style of training that is consistent with the greats of the pre-steroid era. They knew what they were doing and they built some freaky strength doing it. It’s a chance to truly absorb the reasoning of the training of those great men and build some of their strength.
2. It’s real world. It’s not sit down, locked on a padded machine, everything done for you training. It” hard work, but it also builds hard muscle. It simulates the real muscle movements of workmen and athletes in an empirically trainable way.
3. It’s consistent with our alternative conditioning requirements. These movements allow you to train muscular and aerobic endurance and strength at the same time. They lend themselves to building muscle that’s useable, functional and enduring and not cutting into your maximum strength, but building it up at the same time.
4. These exercises are “gripcentric,” which means they help to eliminate one of the major weak links in most people and almost all modern training. Every movement within these training types depends on gripping the implement. They work the hands, wrists and forearms in a unique strength building way. Instead of exercises driven by the big muscles where the grip is the last link these are the reverse with the grip being the driving engine for working the big muslces. While this may make the exercises harder at first it helps to even out the strength and endurance output ratio to the big muscles. It strengthens the lengths in your chain so you can squeeze out the absolute most strength output from your whole body.
5. They’re an extremely flexible implement allowing for a wide variety of uses within a strength and conditioning idea. You can use them to work the whole body or specific muscles or long term or spring endurance and strength by using the same tool, but simply altering your program.
6. There are literally hundreds of exercises that you can do with these implements. Strengthening muscles you didn’t know you had from angles you never thought of.
7. They help to build fluid athletic strength and movement. Most of the movements are relatively simple, but they still require you to move in a coordinated manner. They’re light enough generally to allow the propreoceptive feel of bodyweight exercises yet they teach you to project force across a long range of motion.
8. They allow you to train speed, explosive movement and momentum without having to maintain the absolute tight groove of a heavy Olympic lift. You can still training the athletic components of these exercises even if your execution isn’t exactly perfect. Still building strength without a high risk of injury.
9. They lend themselves to easily being mixed with other styles of conditioning or strength for a greater overall training response.
10. Even with the grip concentration of many of the exercises most of them are still very “general” in nature. This means that if you are doing the whole body exercises (as opposed to something for a specific body part), the training stress is spread out over the entire body fairly evenly. This means a greater aerobic response with less localized muscular stress. This means you get in phenomenal breathing shape, but you don’t take away from your max muscular strength and you still get decent strength endurance to boot.
11. They have a fast learning curve. You can teach almost anyone the basic movements relatively quickly. Meaning you can start realizing the benefits very quickly as well.
12. They lend themselves to helping build flexibility especially within the upper body. This helps to alleviate muscle bound type movement. It’s also an active flexibility that transfers over to athletic performance.
13. You can use them to build muscle especially in the arms, forearms and shoulders, but through the entire body as well, because of the anabolic response the intense training creates. But it is a strong-as-you-look type of muscle that’s more go than show.
14. They’re excellent for training the shoulders specifically because they train them in a fluid angular style giving you an unprecedented and untrained with any other implement range of motion. That’s strength applied across 360 of movement (with and without momentum added), that’s almost impossible to train with anything else.
15. For all of the above listed reasons as well as the full body and abdominal coordinated recruitment of these movements that are excellent for fighters. That’s why the old time fighters were so big on hammers and the grapplers were so big on training with clubs. They knew that the twisting and striking motions built strength and endurance for their abdomen which transferred directly to their throws and punches. That is strengthens the muscles in the same way that they are used in combat but it allows you to use a weight to do it. The wrist strengthening also applies directly to strikers as well as the full body coordination, and speed, which flat out makes you a harder puncher.
16. The whole body applications train the intrinsic muscles especially the joint and abdominal muscles strengthening them in proportion to the big muscles and allowing you to apply strength along many lines and ranges of motion instead of narrow grooves that most exercises give you.
17. The wide variety of exercises that are available with them allows you to continuously build endurance without getting bored and with less susceptibility to overuse injuries.
For the most part the implements that you train with can be easily improvised, made or procured. A few companies are now producing clubs of styles and sizes. I have for the most part, had my own made at local welding shops. Sledgehammers and weights of different weights and sizes are available basically anywhere and are relatively inexpensive and portable. A word of caution if you do swing maces or do certain shovel lifts, by using an improvised barbell plates on one side of a bar set up be very careful around your face and make absolutely sure that they are secure. We are not responsible for anyone who fails to do this.
Also if you’re looking for a place to procure clubs, as well as some great books and videos about club training, check out Clubbells here.