Mace/Hammer Swings, Chops, and Twists

i-BmmrRFX-X3Strength training enthusiasts have long been attracted to heavy hammers, axes, and clubs. There is simply something primal about swinging a weapon overhead, a martial art of ages past that has being always seems to come back to the basics. Recently, the resurgence of hammer training can be traced largely to the popularity of a mid-twentieth-century wrestler who went by the ring name of Karl Gotch. Well into his later years, Gotch could swing a heavy mace overhead for what seemed like forever. Maces and hammers continue to be a popular way for modern martial artists to gain the type of whole body strength that conventional gym training seems to miss.

After fooling around with light hammers for a while, I began working with a relatively heavy hammer. The challenge of hammer training, however, depends not only on the weight but also the length of the handle (or lever arm), hand placement, weight distribution, and overall exercise technique.

My first heavy hammer was made out of the gears of an old printing press and has the look of a medieval weapon. It is 44 inches long and weighs 35 pounds, though I have seen hammers as heavy 60 pounds. Regardless how heavy you begin it is a good idea to read up on basic mace and hammer swinging technique.

When most people think of training with hammers, they picture themselves hitting a tractor tire sledge-hammer style. While this certainly can be a valuable exercise, you have many more options with this great training implement and you are only limited by your imagination. I frequently perform overhead, mace-style swings either as part of a warm up or as part of a mini core/abdominal workout. Other great hammer movements include standing twists, diagonal swings, one-handed overhead swings with lighter hammers, various levering exercises… the list goes on.

Since you may not have access to a set of heavy hammers that increase in small weight increments, it is necessary to be creative to build progression into your training program. There are several straight-forward ways of making hammer lifting more challenging. You can alter the position of your hands relative to each other or relative to the length of the lever, you can change the distance between the handle and your body, and you can simply change the exercise.

I have found professional trainer and unconventional strength guru Rik Brown to be a wealth of knowledge. Rik has made a name for himself in strength and conditioning by developing expertise in mace and hammer training in addition to kettlebells. Sadly for me, he makes the hammers I swing look like swizzle sticks in an umbrella drink. A big man at six feet, seven inches, and 260 pounds, Rik has developed tremendous torque and power and a brutally strong grip by swinging maces of various sizes.

Rik encourages mace practitioners to swing for time instead of repetitions. A timer can be a great way to manipulate work/rest ratios rather than just adding weight or repetitions. Rik also suggests stopping your set when your technique begins to break down. This is especially important for older strength enthusiasts. (For more information on Rik Brown, see


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Kettlebell Training for Strength and Power book release July, 2014!

Now available!

Kettlebell training for Strength and Conditioning is a detailed guide for all kettlebell enthusiasts, strength athletes, and coaches that focuses specifically on the use of kettlebells as the primary training implements for developing whole-body strength and power. It contains a wealth of information in form of detailed exercise descriptions, dozens of photos depicting exercise technique, and entertaining strength training antidotes. Whether you are kettlebell veteran or a beginner looking for a place to start, Kettlebell Training for Strength and Power is a must-have book!

FrontCover copy

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Rethink your “cardio”!

This post will be short, but a conversation I recently had with a client struck a chord with me. After we had finished a good workout we began discussing what else he was doing on his off days. He mentioned hiking and swimming which I thought were excellent activities then he said he was concerned he wasn’t getting enough cardio. “Cardio” or “cardiovascular training” aren’t terms I use much any more because they are simply incompatible with most of today’s hybrid, high intensity interval training practices. People usually associate the term cardio with walking, running, biking, or some other rhythmical, low intensity work. Isn’t a workout with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, hammers, stones, etc..not a cardio-respiratory workout if the rest intervals are short and the heart rate stays at a level high enough to elicit a positive training effect? Absolutely! So the next time you feel the need to jack your heart rate, put down your running shoes and grab a kettlebell.

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Kettlebell and barbell/dumbbell hybrid workout

I was recently discussing how to incorporate kettlebells into a powerlifting style workout. Having come from a powerlifting background myself, I cannot seem to give up heavy training. Below, I have outlined a sample 4-day split that is similar to one that I often go back to that has produced great strength gains for me in the past. Try it and see what you think.


4 Day Sample Routine

Day 1
Kettlebell Overhead Push Press with light band 6×3 each side with 10RM
Close-Grip (shoulder-width) Bench Press with bands 6×3 with 10RM
Low-incline dumbbell bench press 3×6 with 6-8RM
Lying barbell triceps extensions, 3×10 with 10-12RM
Prone-grip weighted chin-ups (performed with bottom pause and explosive upward movement) 3×6 with 6-8RM
Weighted supine-grip chin-ups, 3×6 with 6-8RM

Day 2
Kettlebell Snatch, 6×2 each side with 10RM
Kettlebell Outside Single Clean 6×2 with 10RM
Box squats with bands, 6×2 with10RM
Kettlebell One-Handed High Pull 3×6 with 6-8RM

Day 3
Standing barbell push press. Pause bottom position. Begin with triples, work up to best single.
Barbell floor press, relax and pause at bottom of every rep. Begin with triples, work up to best single.
Weighted dips, 3×6 with 6-8RM
Weighted chin-ups to face, 3×6 with 6-8RM
Kettlebell Bent-over Single Row, 3×6 with 6-8RM

Day 4
Barbell high pull. Begin by performing triples and work up to best single.
Kettlebell Swings. Begin with 1 hand and perform triples and work up to best single. Switch to 2 hands and perform triples and, once again, work up to best single. Use dumbbells or odd implements as necessary to increase weight.
Thick-Bar deadlifts with overhand grip with bands. Begin with triples and work up to best single. Then, switch to a staggered grip and perform triples and, once again, working up to best single.
Stiff leg barbell deadlifts 2×15

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Bring Back Bodyweight Training

Bring Back Bodyweight Training

by Dave Bellomo

Body weight exercises such as push ups, sit ups, and lunges have been around for many decades. In fact, most of us can still recall our high school phys ed. teacher yelling at us to do 10 more jumping jacks in class. With the emergence of technology, however, bodyweight movements took a backseat to machines. Push-ups turned into dumbbells and barbells, then Nautilus. Instead of running outside, we now have treadmills, instead of climbing stairs, we have stair-climbing machines. Is it possible that the future will include machines that will exercise in our stead? As one who thoroughly enjoys exercising, I hope not.

Fortunately for serious strength and conditioning enthusiasts, things have come full circle. In recent years, with the revival of kettlebell training, MMA, and other related conditioning programs and disciplines, bodyweight training has come back in a big way. Fitness enthusiasts of all levels are reacquainting themselves with old school methods to become stronger and better conditioned. In addition, the goals of functional movement capacity and muscular endurance have become top priorities along with size and strength. Simply put, the people that are now training, want it all.

Crossfitters and mixed martial artists have been inspiring people to expand their training to include things such as high repetition burpees and box jumps. Obstacle races such as the Tough Mudder are motivating thousands to get out and “play” like the way we did as kids. Running, jumping, climbing and getting dirty are now socially acceptable adult activities.

For those individuals that are interested in building muscle, losing fat, and improving your overall conditioning, bodyweight exercises may be the answer. In addition, variety or lack of equipment should never be an issue. There are literally hundreds of variations of push ups, chin ups, lunges, and ab exercises.

To begin a bodyweight strength and conditioning program or to incorporate bodyweight movements into your current training program, start with the basics. Simple push ups, chin ups, and lunges have worked very well since the beginning of organized strength training. Focus on the perfection of technique and don’t let your ego dictate form. Just because you could perform 100 push ups without breaking a sweat when you were eighteen doesn’t mean that is the right place to start. Build volume by performing many low-repetition sets with perfect form. Over time, increase volume by adding more repetitions per set, more sets, or more training sessions. In addition, try adding at least one new exercise to your program each weak. It might be a push up variation, the addition of trail running, or even climbing on a jungle gym at your local park.

As you add new exercises, don’t be afraid to temporarily drop old ones if you feel that your training volume is surpassing your ability to recover from your workouts. Listen to your body. A few simple ways to check if you may be overtraining are to pay attention to your joints. Do your elbows, knees, and/or shoulders hurt deep in the joint. Also, be aware of near continual muscle soreness. While some inflammation comes with a good workout, constant soreness may indicate a need for longer recovery periods or a reduction in volume and/or intensity. Last, check your heart rate. Before beginning a new program take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning for three consecutive days to establish a base reading. Periodically check it again. If you find that your heart rate is more than a beat or two above normal, it may be an indication that your body is fighting inflammation in the form of overtraining or possibly a virus.

Regardless of your training goals, bodyweight exercises can be a great addition to any workout. Whether you prefer training in a gym, outdoors, or in your garage, exercises that require little or no equipment are easy to incorporate into a session. If your training program is getting old or if you are feeling less than motivated try incorporating some fun, effective movements into your program. No matter where you are or what you are doing, bodyweight exercises just might be the  way to spice up your workouts.

Have questions? Give us a shout! Contact us here.

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