What is a sledgehammer workout?
They say the old ones are the best and sledgehammer workouts are arguably the quintessential old school training method for conditioning and power training.
In fact, along with tyre flipping and running on wet beaches, swinging sledgehammers is the first rustic workout that many people think of when boxers, fighters and strength- related sports personalities are videoed in slo-mo as part of a training montage. That’s because, while it may seem a simple exercise, it puts a heck of a lot of muscle groups to work while developing explosive power, endurance and also a more natural, functional strength and range of movement to your usual fixed motion gym equipment.
Sledgehammers are heavy old things, too, for anyone unconvinced of how this will lead to those precious muscle gains – they range anywhere from four pounds to more than thirty pounds, and often involve a large rubber tyre for slamming against.
Benefits of a sledgehammer workout
As mentioned, the primary benefit of a sledgehammer workout is how effectively it develops your strength and power, doing so in a more functional way. There are many arguments to be had about the most effective form of strength training. Sledgehammer exercises require multiple muscle groups and joint movements, too, so while your aim may be agility and explosive power, your range of movement and several muscle groups are also going to be working at peak effort, along with your coordination.
They are also a formidable exercise for improving both your flexibility and balance. While thirty pounds may not be the heaviest weight when pressed on a barbell, when moved with force in an arching motion it could easily swing you off your feet. Because of that, engaging your core and the muscles required to keep you balanced on your feet will provide you with excellent stability training, which in turn is good for your posture.
As a martial arts workout, it is also a go-to exercise for building your forearms strength – in particular your grip for grappling.
It is difficult to cut corners and cheat with a sledgehammer workout. For the lazy, that doesn’t sound appealing, but for anyone out there looking for results, sledgehammer exercises are difficult to do half-hearted.
First of all, for them to be most effective you must complete full ranges and reps and it will be obvious even from afar if you are not working as fast as you can or with full arching motions to your swings.
Furthermore, the design of the sledgehammer means that you can use it for exercising without a tyre to hit or the room to swing it. But more on that shortly…
Sledgehammer workout technique
The secret is in the technique. Let’s face it, given the weight of a sledgehammer you could use it as a barbell to curl for an effective bicep workout. But when it comes to converting its swinging, hammering intended use into fitness gains, it’s a matter of looking at your grip, your stance, and the action you are using it for.
For right handed people grip the handle with your right hand nearest the hammer, with your left beneath it. For your stance, think boxing. Are you standing in a way that you will easily fall when a sudden force leads you sideways? Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your knees shouldn’t lock out, nor should your hips. Stand loosely and prepared to be pulled off kilter.
At first it is a matter of getting used to the weight. For that reason it is best to start lighter and work your way up. Practice on sand or grass so that the sledgehammer doesn’t bounce when you strike it.
Then, when you’ve gotten a handle on its weight and warmed up correctly to avoid injury, you may want to try one of the following exercises.
Sledgehammer workout to increase power
You can use the standard overhead swing to tone your whole body. Taking the hammer in both hands bring it around your back and down straight over your head. The action is similar to that of chopping wood with an axe, including the twisting motion to bring the hammer around your back, but most important is completing the full arching movement. In terms of reps, use a timer and work for a minute, or begin with 10- 20 reps.
Diagonal swing (or tree chop)
Diagonal swings are similar to overhead swings, but come diagonally from over one shoulder (while using both hands) across your body. This means that one side will bear the force more than the other so you should either alternate swinging sides or do 10 on one side and then the same on the other.
You can use the sledgehammer akin to a barbell and squat with it across your shoulders or, alternatively, you can perform a partial overhead swing in reverse. Starting in the squatting position with the hammer in front of you, drive with your legs as if standing from a squat and raise the hammer, bringing it down again with a chopping action. Excellent for your core and legs as well as your rotator cuffs, arms and back.
Build your conditioning and hammer your legs using the sledgehammer for walking lunges. This involves less of chopping action and more of a controlled, slow movement as you bring the sledgehammer across and down as you would with a paddle when rowing.
Side chops come around from your side as opposed to over from behind, and therefore puts your abs – especially your obliques – to work, not to mention your hips.
One arm swing
The standard swing involves a two- armed grip, but by taking the sledgehammer in one hand, bring it down either straight from overhead or across in a diagonal slash.
You can use a sledgehammer to improve your balance in several ways. First up you may work standing on one leg at a time, performing slow side-to-side swings that more resemble slow paddles that the abrupt movements of the overhead chops. Further to this you can alter your two-legged stance. By bringing your feet together you will need to engage your core and hips more to keep on your feet as you swing.
Take home message
Sledgehammer workouts are not just about the many benefits to your strength, including agility, balance, explosive power and endurance. No, one of the main advantages of a sledgehammer workout is the variety that they afford. And variety is, after all, the spice of life and workouts. Gone are the fixed positions and repetitious nature of weight lifting. It’s an excellent stress reliever and provides you with an exhilarating workout session that is as good for your mental health and adding diversity to your training as it is for your muscles.