Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gitchy Gitchy Gada Ya-Ya!

When it comes to training, I like old stuff, oftentimes the older the better. The reason why? I can trust exercises, movements and systems which have stood the test of time. My training ideas have always been based upon performance. It's not about the look, but what you can do with it. When good health and functionality are combined, the aesthetics will be there. I don't trust modern training because you often find it's not the training technique, or the implements, which have produced the reported results but performance-enhancing drugs. I've said this many times before: The information prior to the 1960s is the best resource out there because it pre-dates the entire drug issue. Most of my performance-based training has always been geared towards the martial arts, grappling in particular. There were plenty mighty men of old capable of feats even modern, drug-using athletes are unable to perform--and all this in the early 20th century-- for example: Arthur Saxon and his 370+lb. Bent Press; Herman Gorner's One-Handed Deadlift of 734.5 lbs. and the Hindu Wrestler, the "Great" Gama, who walked through all the great European wrestling champions of his day unscored upon, remaining undefeated throughout his 50-year career.

The training methods used by these old-school, old-world, athletes worked then and they work today. One exercise device which has always caught my imagination was used by Middle-Asian wrestlers. It's called a mace and in northern India, where wrestlers go at the sport with a religious fervor, it's called a gada. The gada has its origins in weapons training for young warriors but because of the physical attributes it provides, the exercise was continued in times of peace to train athletes and has survived, in one form or another, to this day--because it works! Mace swinging was an integral part of the "Great" Gama's routine, as you can see here, he is pictured with his mace. The mace, or gada, is a long stick with a stone ball attached to one end. There are several exercises it can be used for but the main one is a big circular swinging motion behind the back and head. Although the gada isn't heavy, the leverage force created by the long handle tremendously increases the resistance so that a relatively light weight is producing high levels of force. The gada is pushed upwards, then, as it pendulums behind the body, you must suddenly pull it to the front starting (or order) position. The elbows must remain tight to the body and a significant amount of work is supplied to the fingers; hands; wrists; forearms; elbows; shoulders; lats, and core stabilizers. It very much simulates the stresses applied to those body parts during combat. But even if you're not a combat athlete, grappler, wrestler, or jiujitsu practitioner, very favorable results can be obtained from the ancient art of mace swinging. Hey, if mace swinging can provide the strength and stamina necessary for warriors of old, it can certainly provide all the fitness benefits needed by todays' office warrior!

You can buy a mace bell for approximately $170 + shipping or you can do what I did and make your own out of a peewee basketball, Quikrete, and a shovel handle. With a sharp knife, I cut a hole in the top of the basketball big enough to spoon in the Quikrete into the form of the ball. I mixed the Quikrete right in its own little bucket with a jug of water into a nice pudding-like consistency and ladled it right in there, taking care to shake it around so it filled all the parts of the ball. The shovel handle I'd bought had some holes pre-drilled into it for bolting on a shovel head, so I stuck a couple nails through the holes before inserting that end into the wet Quikrete, in order to give the Quikrete something to grab and hold. Next, I carefully set up the gada so the bottom of the ball would flatten out a bit, so I could set the gada upon the ground with the handle upright. Then I left it to sit overnight.

The next morning I had my delightful gada to include in my toybox! I put it through its paces and I'm satisfied with it as a highly functional training tool. All this for under $30 at Home Depot and Toys-R-Us. I actually found the basketball, partially deflated in a dumpster. Be careful in your selection of ball size! This is the third gada I've made, the first time, in San Francisco, I chose a full-size basketball and it was shockingly difficult to swing. I repeated my mistake in New Hampshire, in Joe Egan's backyard. The peewee/kid-sized ball I used this time is just about perfect. It comes in a little under 15#, which is a nice starting weight for most people. I never weighed the full-size basketball version, but I assure you, it was a handful. For strength-endurance, the lighter implement swung many times is the superior methodology.

A secondary benefit to mace swinging is the profound cardio effect. The cardio system and breathing are pronounced as you pick up the speed and hit higher reps. It's interesting how these whole-body movements used by the ancients thoroughly work a body from head to toe, including the cardio-respiratory system. Unlike the modern isolation techniques used by so many of today's athletes, these types of training modalities preclude a separate cardio program since you're getting it all.

My interest was to perform a high-intensity, strength-endurance, interval cardio workout using whole-body movements with an emphasis on upper body strength-endurance. I chose four exercises:

1) Lifeline USA Heavy Speed Rope
2) Hindu Push-Ups on the Push-Up Board
3) Mace Swinging
4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge

The Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope is an amazing device that totally engages the upper body while performing the rope skipping. the rope weighs about 1kg (2.2 lbs) which is light enough to turn quickly but heavy enough to work the heck out of the wrists, forearms and shoulders. It's a major butt-kicking rope.

The Hindu Push-Up Board is a 2000 year old exercise device allowing a much deeper spinal stretch and shoulder opening than traditional push-ups done on the floor. The connecting of the two hands together via the wood implement permit better shoulder/elbow alignment and while providing more work, is less stresfull on the joints.

The workout went like this:

A1) 100 jumps on the Heavy Speed Rope
as fast as possible
A2) Hindu Push-Ups x 10
A3) Mace Swings
10 R/10 L
A4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge
5 L/5 R

A1-A3 are a circuit. Repeat 10 rounds. No rest--the Cossack Lunges are your rest!

This is a phenomenal workout and my hands, grip and upper body were feeling it. I felt like I'd just gotten off the mat with a live opponent.

Your old Coach is currently outside of Cleveland OH in a most picturesque little town near Chagrin Falls. I taught a wonderful group of people for a four hour kettlebell seminar last weekend, assisted by my crazy strong friend, Jane Easly. (Enjoy the slide show to the right.) I also presented two Gracie jiujitsu workshops at the local Fight Gym where I gave four blue belt promotions to the well-deserving students. If you're in the area, come train with Jason, Scott and Jane, it's a fantastic facility.

The next formal seminar is Portland OR Sunday 9 November. This is a MaxBells Kettlebell Teacher Training Certification. The event is near capacity, there are only twelve spaces total, so if you'd like to be there, definitely contact Nathan Jeffers
by email: natetina@mac.com
or phone: 503-243-5644

The MaxBell Teacher Training is quickly being recognized as the very best of its type. Many of the participants come in with an RKC and/or AKC certification and assure us our training is worth every penny. We cover topics not covered by the other certifying bodies. These topics are unique to those wishing to teach kettlebells in group classes or personal training.

I'm proud to announce a new DVD from the Gladiator Seminar last summer with Zach Even-Esh. This was a fantastic seminar in which Zach and I pulled out all the stops--as you can see from the highlight video below--while sharing our conditioning secrets with the participants. It was all documented by Shawn Rubin, a film student, and will soon be available for sale to everyone who wishes they could have been there. This DVD is like having Coaches Steve and Zach in your own living room! Lots of cool ideas to intensify your workouts, unusual exercises and their variations, and some great workouts. I know you'll find this DVD well worth the time and money and I can't wait to release it for sale. It's at the duplicating house now.

So that's the latest news! Let me know how your DIY gadas come out.

In Strength & Health,



Deanmc said...

Wow, thats cool. I just made some "Home Depot" clubs, this looks like a good next project! Keep the great post's coming

Anonymous said...

Interesting project. Great blogs you put out. Keep up the good work.

Chris said...

Could you just use a sledgehammer?

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks, deanmc & charles! Chris, I tried using both the 16# & 20# sledgehammers for this exercise but I found the length of the handle all wrong. The handle should be long enough that the ball drops down below the knees. Also, the sledgehammer shape is not conducive to swinging in this manner and there's a very real possibility of hitting yourself. The sledgehammer handle is flattened, to facilitate gripping, you want the handle to be round or else the handle starts to tear up the hands. The round ball is much more forgiving when you do hit yourself(and you WILL) while the sledgehammer is acutely painful and could spell potential disaster with its sharper angles. It's not so much the heavy weight as the length of the handle which increases the centrifugal force of the gada. - Steve

Chris said...

Thanks Steve - that is helpful

Anonymous said...

If your in great shape about how long should it take to complete this killer mace bell workout?

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve, Kit from Australia here (but in Vancouver running a workshop). Love the Gada idea.

I just wanted to add a comment on the sledgehammers: we have four in my gym (6, 8, 10, and 12 lbs) with metre-long handles (so, 39"), and we do use them for the exercise you demonstrate. And the Great Gama's mace looks like it has a similar length handle.

But (and this is a big but) your inexpensive device with its longer handle (and consequent leverage) will work MUCH better for the endurance worksout you propose.

we use the sledges more for wrist and rotator cuff/shoulder strength work, where the handles (slightly oval and with a textured finish) work just fine. I will send you a YouTube link once I get back and shoot the exercises we use.

I will build one of yours, and add it to the collection: thank you. Cheers, KL

Cfnobrasil said...

Really freat blog Steve!

I from brazil and I ask a favor!

As my native language is not English, I would ask to use a few slang! Heheh

I add it to my blog ok?

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, glad to see you swinging a Macebell (even if it is home made lol)!

Be sure not to use your shoulder as a leverage point on the up swing. The only dangerous thing with homemade versions is the centrifugal force is amazing and the concrete bell may come off or the handle may break too.

The Macebells that Torque manufactured for me have a nice crinkle coat grip that holds chalk well and the bell has a polyurethane safety coating that has come in handy a number of times.

That being said, there are a ton of exercises that you can do with the Macebell that the homemade variety cannot withstand, such as Scottish hammerthrows and sledgehammer work. I think you'll like the Macebell Basics DVD coming out this month!

Also I invite anyone interested to check out Macebell.com, its a free resource for fans of Karl Gotch's methods of exercise.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Kit,
Thanks for writing in and your comments. I, too, have a pair of sledgehammers (16#, 20#) in the back of the van, but I felt like I was taking my life in my hands every time I did the gada exercise with them. The hammer shape, while ideal for pounding things, isn't very forgiving when it comes to the back of the calves and legs.

I found that even if I missed a bit with the spherical gada, it was more apt to glance off without damage.

I also carry a 35# clubbell and use it for similar two-hand mace-type movements for shorter-range, lower rep strength work.

The mace that the Great gama hold in the phot is a ceremonial mace that is given as a prize to top wrestlers, like a belt or medal today, and they were highly revered, but not used so much for exercise and workouts.
The mace was a symbol of Hannuman, the monkey god and patron of wrestlers. The standard workout gadas are pretty crude, basically a granite ball fixed to a bamboo pole, which can see in this clip from a classic Indian movie a client of mine sent in:

This is a beautiful clip (thanks John) Notice the boy dong his baticks (push-ups) over the water's edge.
Now Gama was a Muslim, but the mace would still have been a tremendous honor. The wrestling akhara was one place where Muslims & Hindus mixed freely without angst, following only the religion of hard work, exercise and a dedication to the physical body. - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

central fitness, obragado!

Steve Maxwell said...

Hey Jake! Thanks so much for writing in. I appreciate your educated comments as the Macebell expert. I was looking longingly at your website and wanted to spring for a macebell, since I don't like to cheap out on equipment and always go for the best available. After seeing a video clip of Hindu wrestlers using the low-tech version, I became intrigued with wood and stone vs. steel.

Hey, I'd love to have one of your Macebells and I propose you ship me one and I'll write up a blog making an honest assessment of the benefits of the MaceBell over the homemade version. Better send the baby one since I'm a tyro at mace swingin'. The mace is much different than the two-hand clubbell I have. Feels and handles much different. - Steve

Anonymous said...

Been watching your blog for a while now, good stuff! Im going to have to make a mace, that looks like fun...in a glutton-for-punishment kind of way.

zevenesh said...

steve, that was awesome dude, love the homemade macebell!

and yea, the old vids of indian wrestlers also use wood - cement, great post bruddah.

andystolarik said...

hey steve, andy here from the southeast (georgia). great idea on the homemade maceball. it inspired me to make one myself but instead of using wood for the shaft i'm going to use a steel shaft with fittings at the end to secure the balls safety. you have inspired me to look at fitness and conditoning in a different light. thanks again for your posts.

on another note i was reading several posts back about the bodyweight cert. workshop that you conducted with some great sucess. are you expecting to conduct more workshops in 2009?

Jake Shannon said...

Steve, send me an email and we'll hammer out the details!

~Jake Shannon

Anonymous said...

I don't really have a profound comment to make except 40s or not, they're hot!

You (and they) are doing something right.

Boris T said...

Great post, I'll have to try this myself one time. I am big fan of Indian Clubs and have never tried a mace before.

Is there a big difference between the two?

Rear Admir0l said...

Mr. M -- made 3 different gadas out of hanger dowels & plastic flower pots filled w. quikrete, each of various lengths and weights.
WOW -- I have completely blown my arms & shoulders up today and I LOVE IT!!!
Thanks for the idea -- my buddies & I will be playing around with them all weekend, I'm sure.

Lesson learned -- flip your grip when you switch direction LOL.
I wondered WHY it was so hard going L -> R.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting way of exploring a new fitness routine.

Steve Maxwell said...

Boris, There is a big difference between a gada and double club work. There is more similarity in working with the bigger, two-hand club. - Steve

Dave said...

I just used a barrel from a .50 cal machine gun as an improvised macebell for the first time yesterday. Holy crap - I didn't know I had so many muscles in my torso! The balance may not be optimal but it sure was intense...