Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I enjoy celebrating holidays and the milestones of my life, such as birthdays and New Year's, with special workout challenges. I like arduous challenges, not only are they uplifting but I use them as bio-markers, to see where I'm at in this great biological adventure known as the aging process.
One of the most grueling and gut checking exercises I can think of is the 6-Count Burpee, known in the military as the 6-Count Body Builder. It's a tremendous, results-producing, fat-burning exercise which exploits every muscle from head to toe and drives the cardio system like few things else. Like other whole-body exercises of its kind, it instigates a considerable HGH surge, similar to sprint protocols. Something singular to the Burpee is the athleticism and coordination involved: there's a level change and a strong core component, mixed with upper body pushing then followed by an explosive leap from the low squat position. Regularly working Burpees into your routine develops athletic attributes, such as agility and coordination, not typically covered in fitness programs.
I've corresponded with prison inmates of various and sundry US penitentiaries and many prisons have removed virtually all exercise equipment, save perhaps pull-up and dip bars, and in some cases, the guys haven't even any access to these. Those among these men who have a keen interest in remaining fit while doing their time are ingenious at using their body weight to perform all sorts of movements and one of their staples, or so I've been told, is the 6-Count Burpee. It's not unusual for some guys to do up to 1500 reps during their outdoor yard time. The jailhouse physiques some of these men display are amazing and all this on the most crappy, institutionalized diet imaginable. It shows you how efficient--and results producing--body weight exercise can be.
The Hindu wrestlers (whom I frequently mention, I know!) had their own version of the 6-Count Burpee, wherein instead of the flat-foot squat and plank-style push-up, they combined a Hindu Squat, done on the toes, with a Hindu Push-Up. This makes a nice variation. Any way you do it, it's hard work!
The element missing from the otherwise complete 6-Count Burpee is an upper body pulling movement. I've found that by integrating Pull-Ups with the 6-Count Burpee, you have a complete, full-body exercise. I originated a sequence I refer to as The Maxercist, which is essentially a Squat Thrust, followed by a jump up to a high pull-up bar, followed by a Pull-Up. I have more than ten variations of this movement, several of which are shown in my body weight training certifications and workshops. The difficulty with this approach is you must have proximity to a high pull-up bar to make it happen. People residing in northern climates who prefer to work out in their home gyms may be forced to use a doorway pull-up system, which isn't conducive to the Squat-Thrust-Pull-Up combinations.
Then, there are our weaker and more rotund brethren, who may be pull-up challenged. For them, this sequence can be discouraging at best! So, I've come up with a plan of super-sets of ten 6-Count Burpees chased with 5 Pull-Ups. To make things a little more interesting (and to break out the proverbial lash--the better to whip the body into a fat-burning frenzy enough to equal or better the feeding frenzy you may have fallen prey to!) I've added a pronounced cardio element par excellence! (If you're picking up on the SM tendencies, you may recall my initials, which I always tell myself stand for Super Man but reminds others of the Marquis de Sade!)
One thing about your Old Coach, he doesn't expect his charges to undertake anything he hasn't himself done or is unwilling to do. Thus, on a cold and windswept night, beneath a crescent of silver moon overhanging Oyster Bay, your coach stood before a rusted pull-up bar, his trusted Lifeline Weighted Speed Rope in hand and his Nike Free trainers laced tight!
There, witnessed only by the heavenly bodies above, he field tested this tasty pain delight. Reminiscent of the wrestling workouts my own old coach put us through back in the sixties. I remember doing reps until us kids were puke-faced, lying spent in our own pooled body fluids... and here I am, at 56, now my own coach, still keeping on, keeping on, to the beat of that distant drummer. Knowing that if I can just survive one more set, I'll be a better man for it.
The workout goes like this:
A1) Rope Skip x 100 jumps
Lifeline Heavy Seed Rope (green)
*this is a SPRINT, so do your rope skipping as hard and fast as possible
*if you don't have a Lifeline rope, use a regular rope but do 200 jumps, which is about equal
*if you can't jump rope, or haven't got a jump rope, perform 50 Jumping Jacks aka Side-Straddle Hops
A2) 6-Count Burpee x 10
this is NOT one of those cheap, bend-over-at-the-waist-barely-bend-your-knee
Here are the directions for a properly conducted 6-count Burpee:
from the standing position:
1) Perform a full, ass-to-the-floor SQUAT w/ arms between the knees, palms and heels flat
2) JUMP back to an upper Push-Up positon, arms straight, abs and core engaged
3) LOWER down smoothly until the sternum grazes the floor between the hands
4) PUSH back up into the plank position, with arms locked, abs and core tight, elbows tucked into the ribs
5) JUMP back to a full Squat, butt to the floor, knees completely bent w/ knee caps tracked over toes, arms between knees and heels flat
6) from the low Squat, explode and LEAP high into the air, landing softly upon the feet
Immediately go into the next rep.
When performed like this, the 6-Count Burpee will increase mobility in the hips and work the abs and hip flexors extremely hard.
After completing the tenth rep, walk to your pull-up bar and perform...
A3) Pull-Up x 5
from a perfect dead hang, pull the throat over the bar
*if pull-ups are too hard for you, substitute Chin-Ups, which are about 20% easier
*if you haven't a pull-up bar at home and you'd still like to participate in this New Year's workout challenge, you can do door Pull-Ups:
a) open a door, and wedge some type of shim beneath the door so as not to strain the hinges. Use a door stop to prevent the door from swaying and closing on your fingers
b) place a towel across the top of the door
c) grab the top of the door and ull yourself up, dragging the belly and thighs along the surface of the door
You can also step up on a chair and get into the top position, then slowly lower yourself down to perform the negative protion of the exercise
*another option is to use Jungle Gym body weight Rows as the pulling element. in this case, double the reps to ten, since the Rows are a good deal easier than Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups.
Your goal is to get 12 rounds (one for every month of the year!) of this circuit in as long as it takes to perform all the exercises.
If you can get 12 rounds in 30 min or less, consider yourself in top physical condition, but DON'T sacrifice the form and start cheating for the sake of improving time--HELL no!
For those of you who like to wear heart rate monitors, you'll definitely hit your max heart rate, probably about the fourth or fifth round!
Happy New Year and let me know your results!
Yours in Strength & Health,
Thursday, December 25, 2008
In my line of work I hear the same story over and over again: people dreading their upcoming holidays and vacations and the ensuing derailment of their workout schedule. Of course, some people don't care, those who aren't serious about their fitness but only playing at it. For those who like to stay on track, I offer you the gift of one of my favorite workout systems--and one I return to often--which I call the Hotel Akhara. Basically, it's a program of body weight exercises used for thousands of years by wrestlers to prepare for the stresses of mano a mano combat.
A minimalist by nature, I love that I can get a workout anytime, anyplace or anywhere with my body weight as the primary form of resistance. Don't get me wrong, I like kettlebells, club bells, mace swinging, etc... but if I were forced to choose just one system, it'd be body weight exercise. The two pieces of equipment I like to get a complete full-body workout are my trusted Lifeline Jungle Gym and Heavy-Weighted Speed Rope. Both slip into my backpack, taking minimal space and allowing me to do dozens of extremely productive exercises.
In my travels as a fitness professional, conducting workshops far and wide, I've observed most people neither correctly, safely nor efficiently perform body weight exercises. Time and again I see horrible technique and hear complaints of sore shoulders, knees and elbows. With women, add aching wrists. Yet with a few seemingly minor adjustments of body mechanics, people can learn to perform body weight exercise pain-free and with great results. I've had people who've given up on push-ups come to my workshops and they're amazed at how much better they feel doing simple push-ups while utilizing my techniques. Body Weight Certification attendees are typically themselves fitness professionals yet totally lost when challenged with teaching de-conditioned beginners. Any mediocre-to-poor personal trainer can get a client going on a machine, but it takes a true teacher getting someone performing a chin-up who heretofore never dreamed of such a thing. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in mastering your own body weight.
Have you ever seen a gymnast with a poor upper body? Almost never, and the mainstay of gymnastic programs are various pulls and pushes with body weight as the source of resistance.
Take the basic chin-up or pull-up, for example. You never see fat people doing chin-ups--and people who do chin-ups are never fat. It's a self-regulating movement. Body weight exercise is a de facto body composition machine: you are greatly penalized for a gain of even a few pounds of body fat/and or muscle loss and greatly rewarded for any increase of muscle and loss of body fat. I've seen people go from zero chin-ups to four or five reps with just a 6-10 lb. fat loss. As a matter of fact, I use the pull-up as a measuring stick for my own leanness: I know when my pull-up numbers are down--even a little--the Old Coach has been hitting the feed bag too hard! When my numbers are up, you better believe I'm looking ripped and lean. People get hung up on the amount of weight and the number of repetitions with body weight exercise programs. I don't worry about the actual amount of weight lifted. For those of you who do like to calculate such things, it's simple:
Handstand push-up: 0.98% of your body weight.
BW Row: 0.68% (depending upon the angle of the straps to the pivot point. The closer the shoulders are to the ground, the higher percentage of body weight lifted)
Regular Sit-Ups: 0.54%
BW Squat: 0.64%
Regular, Plank-Style Push-Up: 0.68%
These are fairly accurate approximations. Much depends upon the angle. Obviously, in a regular Plank-Style Push-Up, the higher the feet, the greater the percentage of body weight lifted.
The only thing I keep tabs on are my Pull-Up numbers. For everything else, I like to go for time, instead of reps. I don't even count my reps but set a time and try to survive it, resorting to static holds as a rest, as a I fatigue. This allows me to work the ever-important static strength.
One reason I don't like to use rep counts is because they encourage people to use poor form. I've had guys come to me for private sessions claiming to be able to do 80+ Push-Ups and when I ask them to demonstrate a push-up for me, it's God-awful! Collapsed spine, forward head, partial ROM, half-reps, arms exaggeratedly flared out to the sides, upper arms severely internally rotated, no lock out at the top...basically they're doing fast, crappy push-ups and any benefit they're getting from it is accidental!
When I show them the proper technique, these hundred-rep wonders struggle to get fifteen! There's a world of difference between proper and improper form. Try this experiment right now:
- set a timer for two minutes
- start at the top position, with the elbows tucked in, not flared
- pit of the elbow forward, point of the elbow points back toward the feet
- hands shoulder-width apart
- abs and glutes tight
- slowly lower yourself down until the chest grazes the floor
- (if you don't have the range, lower yourself within one inch of the floor)
- push yourself up back up to the count of two
- lock out the arms in the top position for a count of one
- Slowly lower down to a count of two
This means you are performing one single repetition every five seconds, or twelve per minute.
Go for two minutes--or 24 reps--one for each hour of the day. Most people can't do it though I know there are plenty of studs out there who can!
You will agree there's a world of difference from the jack-off style passing as push-ups in fitness and PE classes and a strict observance of technique. You'll get an amazing pump doing push-ups this way and it feels fantastic. Even better, once you understand the basic principles of protecting the shoulders in the push-up, this translates into safer Dips, Chins, Pull-Ups, Rows and push-up variations, including One-Arm Push-Ups.
Another subject of overwrought concerns is high-repetition body weight squats and the supposed danger to the knees. Anything can be dangerous if you don't know how to do it. Just as I teach shoulder stabilization in my workshops, I teach how to use the hamstrings and hip flexors to stabilize the knee joints. I see overwhelming numbers of quad-dominant people unable to activate their hamstrings in flat-foot body weight squats and pistols. Always emphasized in my workshops is how to fire the hamstrings and glutes. Even squats done on the toes (such as Hindu squats, where the quads are dominant) can be made very safe if you learn to activate the hammies.
A similar problem: people overusing the hip flexors when performing basic sit-ups. Bigger and stronger than the abs, the hip flexors take over and the results are muscular imbalances and low back pain. The basic crunch movement was introduced as an attempt to eliminate hip flexor activity, but it's a step in the wrong direction since people quickly become very efficient at doing the crunch, then cease to get any benefit. Try this simple test to see if you have a hip flexor imbalance:
- Lie down on the floor with the back flat
- with knees bent at approximately 90-degrees
- thigh bones 45-degrees from the torso
- folding the arms across the chest
- each hand holding the opposite elbow
- with feet UN anchored,
- slowly roll up, starting with the head and one vertabra at a time
- until the elbows touch the knees
- Now, reverse the roll-down, beginning with the lumbar and slowly lying down
Don't be surprised if you can't manage a single rep! I've seen many an otherwise strong athlete unable to do more than two! When you anchor the feet, the thighs and hip flexors take over most of the movement but when unanchored, the thighs and hip flexors still function but the abs take on a much greater role...and often they're not up to the task!
If you're interested in learning the real secrets of body weight training and--perhaps more importantly--how to teach them to others, I'm offering three upcoming Body Weight Training Certifications: 7 February at Body Tribe in Sacramento CA, 7 March in Wichita KS and 3 May in Philadelphia.
As you know, I stand behind my work and the proof is below, my own Christmas Day celebration-hotel-jacuzzi-workout. I don't just talk the talk!
The purpose of this workout was strength-endurance, cardio conditioning, detoxification (Coach had an immoderate dinner the night before) mobility and flexibility.
Lifeline Jungle Gym
Lifeline Heavy-Weighted Speed Rope
1) Jump Rope Intervals
40-sec on/20-sec off
Repeat 10 times (ten min total)
Skip as hard and fast as humanly possible for 40-sec!
2) Hindu Squat
10 min straight set of Hindu Squats
No break (if possible)
I did these in my hotel room while watching Bad Santa on the television
3) Hindu Push-Up
5 min straight, continuous set
Do not put the knees down!
4) Jungle Gym Leg Curl
3 min straight set
Smooth and slow
Emphasize pushing the hips UP into a low bridge
Take care to NOT spread the knees
5) Jungle Gym Body Weight Row
3 min set
Smooth and slow, keeping the body in a tight plank
8) Elbow Plank
3 minute hold
Finished with resisted stretching sequence for neck, shoulders, forearms, hip flexors, adductors, glutes and hamstrings.
The reward was being served an ice cold diet soft drink in my en suite jacuzzi by my own scantily clad Santa's helper. This in front of a cheery fireplace overlooking the Pacific ocean. I poured 8 lbs of Epsom salts in the tub. What a phenomenal way to recover those sore muscles and sweat off excess water weight, especially when you wrap up in a thick robe afterwards. Every bit as good as a sauna.
So this is how your coach spent his Christmas, shacked up in a coastal hotel with my aide de camp, enjoying the Pacific panorama. Enjoy the evidence!
In Strength & Health!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A protocol I return to again and again is the Hindu-style conditioning used by Indian wrestlers. This ancient system dates back perhaps thousands of years and it's reasonable to attribute it as a foundation (along with traditional Indian dance) of modern hatha yoga postures.
I first learned about Hindu-style conditioning when I was a kid, reading some of the old-school physical culture magazines, such as Strength & Health, published by York Barbell Co. As a high school wrestler I'd heard of the "Great" Gama, the Lion of Punjab and his many exploits and one exercise which captured my attention in particular was what was called the Hindu Push-Up, also referred to as the "Jap" push-up in those days, and as I learned later, the Japanese judoka prize their own variation of this splendid exercise.
It's interesting to note that throughout Middle East and Middle Asia, this exercise (and its close variations) has for thousands of years been a staple for combat athletes, often performed on a raised board. The board allows for deeper spinal flexion and optimal alignment of elbows, spine and shoulders. The Hindi name for the Hindu push-up is dand and the wrestlers of old are recorded to have done several thousand reps daily, completing every rep in a rhythmic and steady pace. You will notice there are three yogic postures passed through in each single dand:
1) downward facing dog
2) low plank/crocodile
3) upward facing dog
The breathing pattern, synchronized with the movement, is what I call "anatomical match breathing". As the body dives through into upward dog, a nasal breath is inhaled; as the body folds backward to downward facing dog, you exhale through the mouth. Thus performing high repetitions may produce a trance-like mental state.
The ancients believed performing dands transported the wrestler into an altered state which effectively purified him both psychically and spiritually.
The legends of the "Great" Gama report him doing many thousands of repetitions per day. They say that once he rooted his hands and feet into position, they didn't budge until all reps were completed and so single-minded in his focus that his sweat left a perfect image of his body dripped into the dirt.
The dand strengthens the wrist; fingers; palms, neck; chest and back. It also increases flexibility and mobility in the back, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves. The dand was tonic for overall good health and a preventive and cure, increasing virility and potency and remedying faulty digestion. An exercise for all time, dands not strengthened the sinews of the body but had a equal effect upon character, according to Atreya, ancient Hindu scribe:
Doing dands makes a person's character and personality shine. The body takes on a powerful radiance. Not only this, but the person who performs dands has a fuller, more meaningful life: His personality is more attractive; he is liked by everyone. His whole attitude towards life is changed.Dands were a central exercise of the wrestler's regimen. The strenuous muscular work involved molded his confidence and character. This was a path to enlightenment via disciplining the physical body. Imagine, an exercise that reveals the reflection of the divine nature of its practitioner! As a student of ancient exercise systems (as well as anti-aging and health systems) I've noticed how often similar movements from different cultures overlap. Related to the Hindu Push-Up, the Russians use an exercise called the "pump" and the Five Rites of Tibetan Yoga include yet another variation.
There are many ways to incorporate the Hindu Push-Up into your current workout schedule. Frequently, having read the exploits of Hindu wrestlers and their prodigious repetitions, trainees throw themselves into a high-volume routine before adequately preparing the joints and connective tissue. This is a common cause of injury, especially to the shoulders. Another problem to avoid is allowing the elbows to flare out to the sides, which internally rotates the upper arm, creating stress on the front shoulder capsule. After suffering from frequent shoulder irritation, I discovered the secret to performing this movement pain-free and I've taught countless people to master not only Hindu push-ups, but all push-ups, pain-free. Push-Up alignment is only one of many techniques I teach in my Body Weight conditioning workshops and certifications. Even experienced trainees and professional trainers have much to gain.
Many of the stories of Hindu wrestlers were tall tales, perhaps, like our own stories of Davy Crockett and his ilk. I believe the extremely high numbers of repetitions have been exaggerated. Be this as it may, the Hindu Push-Up is a phenomenal movement for the entire body.
Here are some performance tips to help you harness the power of the Hindu Push-Up:
1) Use impeccable form
This means slow, steady, rhythmic repetitions while moving in conjunction with the breath.
2) Maintain the upper arms in external rotation by activating the lats throughout the entire movement
This means the pit of the elbow remains facing forward while the point of the elbow is directed toward the feet. Thus the elbows remain tucked in tight to the ribs while executing the push-up.
3) Start out with moderate numbers and gradually increase the repetitions
One of the biggest causes of injury--not just in the dand but ALL forms of exercise--is a sudden increase in volume.
4) Use the Hindu push-up as part of a circuit, so you don't do all the repetitions consecutively
I like to intersperse sets of Hindu push-ups between upper body pulling exercises, such as rope climbs and pull-ups, and exercises for the lower body, as well. (Obvious: Hindu Squats, but that's another blog!)
5) Perform Hindu Push-Ups on a push-up board
It's much easier on the joints, especially the shoulders. I especially appreciate the greater spinal stretch throughout the spine and shoulders.
6) Utilize the Hindu Push-Up as a tonic exercise
If working up to high numbers of the Hindu Push-Up is counter to your fitness goals, I encourage you to still perform a few of these exercises daily as an anti-aging tonic. Even as few as 20-30 reps will provide great health benefits and act as a terrific warm-up for more strenuous routines. The ol' Coach himself performs 20 per day and up to 100 reps in a workout, typically in sets of 20-30.
Come get personal coaching from yours truly--and not only in Hindu push-ups but dozens of other fantastic body weight conditioning exercises--at my first scheduled seminar of 2009, the Maxbells Body Weight Trainers certification. Hosted by iconoclast Chip Conrad's fantastical gym, Body Tribe, in lovely Sacramento CA, Saturday 7 February 2009 from 9AM to 6PM. If you can't make it west, you can buy time to prepare for my Body Weight Trainers certification 3 May 2009 at Philadelphia's
Maxercise MMA gym.
Steve Maxwell/Maxbells kettlebell and body weight certifications are rapidly being recognized as the finest of their kind. People come from other certifications and tell me I'm the best they've ever had! Participants leave not only with the confidence that they can perform the exercise, but confidence in their ability to guide others. Because ultimately, if you're a coach or trainer, it's not what YOU can do, but your ability to teach others how to do it (without hurting themselves!)
My wish for the New Year is to see you at my upcoming workshops and certifications: to work with you in person and help you achieve your wildest fitness dreams!
There's still time to squeeze in a push-up board as a stocking stuffer for those who've been nice! Or why not go old school and celebrate the gift of push-ups onThree Kings Day 6 January? Best of all, the Push-Up Board comes with a DVD wherein I demonstrate 20 different push-up variations--a one-of-a-kind item if there ever was one!
- Dave Wardman of Australia spent the time to compile my Dragon Door posts and you all can reap the benefits here under "Archived Forum Advice". Thank you, Dave!
- Rick Vittum put together a guide to the Encyclopedia of Joint Mobility, another much appreciated gesture. Check it out here.
- Speaking of altered states of consciousness, firefighter Clark Mason has been using a Maxwell Double Kettlebell circuit with 44# KBs and bonus bunker gear! Check the madness out on his new blog here.
- Look who made #1 on the Gym Junkies list of top 20 Fitness Blogs!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Maxwell's Silver Hammer: the perfect balance to the kettlebell Swing.
Everything in life has its counterpart: Lancelot had Guinevere; Hiawatha had Minehaha; Tristan had Isolde; to has fro; back has forth; up has down and Tweedledee has Tweedledum! You get my point: there's a perfect balance for everything.
The kettlebell Swing is probably one of the finest posterior chain exercises: it works the hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae and core as good or better than any exercise out there and further provides a high-quality level of cardio fitness. It can be argued that, considering all its health and performance benefits, the KB Swing could be the only KB exercise you'd need do at all; however, as in all things, the KB Swing must itself be balanced with an anterior chain movement and I've found the perfect counterpart--the proverbial Beavis to the kettlebell's Butthead--is the Sledgehammer Swing.
I've always loved sledgehammer work. As a kid, I loved the logo on the Arm & Hammer baking soda box. The logo depicts a sinewy, muscular arm--in a rolled up shirtsleeve--holding a large hammer, with the obvious connotations of masculine strength and functional work capacity, not just some all-show-and-no-go arm you might see on a pretty boy magazine, but an arm with genuine sinew and tendon strength.
How I lusted after a pair of arms like that! The hammer itself is a symbol for mighty Thor, the fierce Norse god who wielded the fearsome Mjolnir, a hammer forged by elves and imbued with magical properties, including throwing lightning bolts. When Thor hurled the hammer at his enemies, because of the hammer's mystical connection to him, it always returned.
Even in North American folklore, the sledgehammer is a symbol of a prodigious work capacity and heroism. Take the story of John Henry. As legend has it, John Henry was born into the world as a slave, emerging with a hammer in his hand. He lived at the end of an era where the human workforce was rapidly being replaced by technology. The story continues with John Henry's renown as the greatest steel driver ever, employed in the race to expand the railroads westward. When the railroad owner, in a move to replace his human workers and their jobs, buys a new-fangled steam-powered drill, John Henry attempts to save his comrades jobs and livelihoods by challenging the owner to a race twixt man and machine. Henry dug deep into the very fiber of his being, working like a man possessed, swinging two 20-lb. hammers, and defeated the machine, proving himself superior. But in doing so, he pushed his big heart one step too far and although the victor, he died from his efforts. There was no stopping the industrial age.
Technology has sprung up everywhere, replacing an honest day's labor with the comforts and anxieties of the machines. People of that generation knew how to work for a living. They needed neither restrictive diets nor shiny, mirrored-wall, chrome-and-fern gyms blaring noise and music. I guarantee you didn't see any fat on John Henry--or his work crew--and their sinewed, hammer drivin' bodies epitomize what we today call "functional strength".
I doubt whether the average gym bunny, pretty-boy, bicep-pumper-cum-bench press denizen can perform an honest day's labor. If you want a physique that's functional and strong, get thee down to Lowe's, Home Depot or Ace hardware and pick up a 16# sledge!
The sledgehammer swing is the perfect foil to the kettlebell swing. It works the abs and the entire core with a beautiful rotational movement. The impact of the hammer striking the ground, and the resulting reverberation up the shaft through the arms, builds tremendous tendon and ligament strength and increases bone density.
One of the first things you'll notice when you start swinging your hammer is how quickly the entire cardio-respiratory system is engaged. After just a few swings, your breathing will become pronounced and your heart rate will elevate.
The mechanics of the sledge swing are the exact opposite of the KB Swing: the effort is bringing the sledge down with as much force as possible. If you want an extra good workout, hold at the bottom of the handle, fists touching, and use a large, windmill-like overhead stroke to engage as much musculature as possible. What size hammer? Beginners should opt for a 10-12 pounder, which can be procured at Lowe's or Home Depot for a nominal fee. I've only found bigger hammers on the shelves of Ace Hardware. My GF swings a 16# (my Christmas gift to her last year and she was thrilled.) She loves swinging that sledge and I love watching her swing it! I use a 20# hammer and it's a formidable chunk of steel that will totally kick an ass. In fact, I'm so fired up from telling the story of John Henry that as soon as I finish writing this blog I'm pulling the van over and knocking out a hundred swings!
At the moment, I'm driving across the Great Salt Lake Flats from Utah (where I presented a private Maxbells KB cert at Gym Jones, [slideshow on the right]) to San Francisco. Gym Jones is a fantastic facility catering to world-class athletes, owned by my friends Mark & Lisa Twight. They are amazing trainers with a wealth of knowledge and you can bet they have sledgehammers on site and ready-to-go!
Look what Gym Jones had to say about the MaxBells KB Instructor certification:
On Monday and Tuesday Steve Maxwell presented his Level 1 Kettlebell Instructor course to Lisa, Jamie M, Alberto, and Janette. He has been using KBs and training individuals ranging from amateur to pro athletes, from young to old, from beginner to advanced, from curious to recreational to serious for so long (he was the first to begin using KBs in the US) that he cannot be surprised by any question or condition. He has truly seen and done it. He was present at the first RKC certification in Minneapolis and introduced many of the movements and concepts now a part of the RKC curriculum. Steve was the first Senior instructor and, at the time, the only full-time professional teacher and trainer. Maxercise (his gym) was the first Kettlebell gym in modern times. Steve is a brilliant instructor, and not limited to Kettlebells or fitness: he was the first American to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu [from Relson Gracie] and is an adept instructor. Every one of our guys and girls who had the opportunity to roll with him or take a private lesson were thrilled. Steve has visited us three times this year and the KB seminar was what we hope will be the first of many. Keep an eye on the Seminar page for future events taught by Steve Maxwell.
Old-time fighters liked to strike a tire with a sledge and this is very effective if you're forced to train indoors. I love training outdoors and I strike the hammer right into the ground. There's an added workload bonus to sucking the hammer head back out of the ground which adds up. The downside is this tears up the ground, so choose your location wisely (e.g., your neighbor's yard.) Another option is to find a tree stump; I love the sound of the hammer striking the stump.
While you're pounding that sledge, think of powerhouse Thor slaying the frost-giants. Or imagine indomitable John Henry, his body glistening as he bested that steam drill. Stick with the ol' Coach and you'll be a steel driving man as well.
Let me be extremely clear: there is a hyooge difference between swinging a puny 8-10# sledgehammer and the massive 16-20# versions. A 16# is formidable...a 20# is horrendous! Keep the hands near the bottom end of the handle, preferably touching. Do not attempt to choke up. Choking up is the technique you'd use if working with the sledgehammer--we're using the hammer as an exercise modality, so the idea is to make it as difficult as possible!
As you strike the ground, exhale with a "huhh!"-like sound. This will help to fully engage the abdominals, including the elusive transverse abdominus. With a heavy hammer, do NOT go for speed. Although you don't want to tarry, go for for quality of repetition by STRIKING the hammer with as much power and vigor as you can muster.
I prefer working the weaker side first, then the stronger. Make sure you always do an equal number of strikes on both sides. If your form deteriorates, be smart enough to stop swinging, so as not to injure yourself!
Sledgehammer swings make a very nice pairing with KB Swings and also pair extremely well with Hindu Push-Ups:
Road Warrior's Sledgehammer Workout
A1) Sledgehammer Swing
x 20 (10 L/10 R)
A2) Hindu Push-Ups x 10
A3) Alternating Sprinter Lunge
x 20 (10 l/10 R)
A1-A3 are a circuit. Repeat 10 times.
For an incendiary, fat-burning melt-off, the sledgehammer and KB Swing can be combined with stair climbs or sprints. Here's a workout the ol' Coach performed on a recent drive down the California coastline:
I encountered a very steep set of stairs cut into the side of a hill. I placed a KB at the bottom of the stairs and a sledgehammer at the top. Setting a timer, I performed 20 KB Swings at the bottom of the stairs, sprinted to the top, where perform 20 sledge swings (10 R then 10L). The idea is to do as many rounds as possible in 30 minutes--I promise you, this one's a smoker!
In Strength & Health!