T Nation

Sledgehammer Conditioning


I read a page the other day about using a sledgehammer for intervals or steady state cardio.
It sounds brutal, even with a light one.

Anyways i hate running, but am looking to lose fat and increse my overall endurance and athleticism.
would this be a good way to go about achiving this goal?

Has anyone else tried this because i think ill start it in the next couple days after upper body days.


No, it is not a "good" way if you are able to do weight bearing cardio like running or elliptical. Those are simply the most efficient methods of cardio from a time spent / calories burned perspective.

I do it, and I like it. I would never rely on it as a [primary] tool for slimming down or increasing endurance energy mechanisms.



I find swinging a sledge for any length of time to be boring. But I do it from time to time in conjunction with tire flips. Flip the tire x5, then whack the tire x20, repeat for 6-8 rounds. Fun stuff then.


No experience with the sledgehammer, but but hill sprints are ball busters. Add pushups at the top of the hill for a real thrill. There are tons of articles on the fat loss and conditioning benefits. Just don't go crazy at first. Take it slow and ease into it. Popping a calf muscle will screw up your lifting for a while. i learned it the hard way


1000 sledgehammer hits for time. Could almost be called steady state? Took me a while


Do you have data to support this? Sledgehammer swinging is also weight bearing since it's not like you're sitting down. I haven't done any sledgehammer conditioning, per say, but I've worked with a sledgehammer and it's always seemed to get my heart rate up and work every muscle in my body if I keep any sort of good pace.

It's true that it's not exactly exciting, but I wouldn't say that riding an elliptical is the thrill of your life.


I used to do this kinda and I liked it. I was always worried that if I would hit something it would bounce back and smash my face. So I would go into the back yard and swing straight down into the dirt, making sure to release before it struck. I think it was one of the first things I did to develop upper body power. Also it wasnt a hammer, it was an aluminum baseball bat with a 25lb weight plate wedged on the end.


Running and elliptical have been proven. Here is a collection of various exercise methods and calories burned: nutristrategy.com/caloriesburned.htm

To really substantiate it, try 60s of all out running vs 60s of all out sledgehammer and note your exhasution, or better yet measure your body temp. It's all about how much muscle mass is involved, and no upper body conditioning method will ever match a lower body or full body method.


Interesting link. It doesn't actually mention using a sledgehammer, though.

Using a sledgehammer is a full body method in my experience. Whenever you are swinging something properly, the power comes from your legs and hips, transfers through your core and back, and is delivered through your arms.

As far as 60 seconds all out, it's kind of difficult to determine when you've hit your maximum (and you don't usually see people hitting the elliptical for 60s all out anyways). Moreover, it's not really the most important thing. The paradigm of defining exercise efficiency based on calorie usage is shortsighted. If burning calories is all you care about, you should just consider not eating them in the first place. Sledgehammering will probably have a more positive effect on muscle growth than an elliptical. That will contribute to fat loss.


I reckon it could be used effectively. I think they would go better in circuits with other conditioning exercises as suggested earlier like tyre flips. Ever thought about getting a prowler?


I agree, Silyak, that choosing a modality based on calorie usage is not optimal. Compliance is probably first and foremost. If the client gets bored and quits the elliptical routine whereas they would have enjoyed and stuck with a sledgehammer routine, than it is obvious which one is ideal.

However the anobolic effects (from any HIIT session, sledgehammer or what have you) are far from statistically significant. The increased BMR from increased muscle mass is way over-hyped. Five lbs of lean muscle might account for 50 calories a day.



Thanks. That was a good read. I wouldn't say 50 calories a day is nothing, but you're right it's less than most people probably think. My point is just that I think exercise should have a goal besides burning calories. Maybe it is more muscle, better performance of some kind, improved energy systems, or just better mental health and mood. But if all you want to do is burn calories, you should just eat less. It's easier.


This has been my experience with an axe/maul, which I expect is similar to a sledge. I actually don't find it to be particularly taxing on the arms at all as they are just the delivery system. If you tried to swing a maul for any length of time using primarily your arms and upper body you wouldn't get a hell of a lot done.

To get the maul/sledge overhead each time you effectively perform a movement resembling a hang clean and/or a kettlebell swing, engaging your legs/hips/core to generate momentum and accelerate the weight upward to overhead. Driving the head down you perform something akin to a med ball slam, again driven by legs/core. Your arms stay relatively slack (with the exception of the grip) to allow for fluid acceleration and power transfer.

If you are not thoroughly gassed after 60s of legitimately full out swinging, you're not doing it right. That said, I still find a 60s 400m sprint to be more exhausting. However running may not have all of the same benefits in terms of "athleticism" as mentioned in the OP. Athleticism, to me, involves power transfer, accuracy, hand eye co-ordination and other attributes that may be better developed through hitting stuff than through running alone.

So, as usual, you're better off to do both, IMO.


Agreed, 50 calories/day is NOT negligible, but to think a trained person will put on that 5 lbs of muscle from only sledgehammer training is unrealistic. Yes, exercise should be about more than burning calories, but remember the context of what we're talking. The OP asked if this is a good way to burn fat, and while it may be a good supplement, it is not by itself.

I don't agree that not eating the calories in the first place is easier. I like to train and I like to eat. There are certainly plenty of others like this.

I don't think it's accurate to say one actively uses their legs or hips for swings. Saying sledge swings is a full body workout is akin to saying bench press is full body. Granted, some do use "leg drive," but to think one is giving their legs a workout is blasphemy. Sure you use your core muscles (abs and obliques for overhead and side swings respectively), the hips and legs do little more than stabilize. I'd love to be proven wrong on this, but I really don't see or feel it.


OK, before reading the wall of text I'm about to post about a seemingly simple topic, understand that I am kind of a nut about axe/maul work. This is not necessarily because I'm generally a nut, but rather because my work has given me occasion to spend extended periods of time splitting wood and chopping roots. As a result I've devoted an above average amount of thought and study to how generate the maximum amount of power and efficiency in this movement. I've done so out of the general intellectual curiosity which I try to apply to everything but also out of the more immediate and practical desire to accomplish the greatest amount of work with the smallest amount of pain.

When I swing an axe/maul I initiate the movement by laying the handle across both my thighs parallel to the ground and dropping my hips/flexing my knees into about a quarter depth squat, body weight over my heels. I then forcibly extend my hips, glutes, knees bouncing the handle off my thighs to rapidly accelerating my mass upward and the maul overhead. As the hips drive up and the glutes pop, the spine lengthens allowing the rib cage to move away from the pelvis, and my weight comes forward and up onto the balls of my feet permitting a nice, long, fluid upswing finishing in a very tall, fully extended overhead position.

Like I said, I find the basic movement pattern to be pretty similar to a kettlebell swing, a hang clean (or maybe a hang or whip snatch), a vertical leap or a football hit for that matter. It is a hip-dominant, multi-joint, full body movement. This is also, I believe, what Dan John is describing when he talks about explosive "hip hinge" as it pertains to O-lifts, K-bell swings and athletics in general.


It's "hip snap/glute pop" that is the engine for the whole movement. Your arms and shoulders are essentially along for the ride while providing direction and stability. Your grip stays light until the top of the movement when you need to tighten up to stop the swing.

The load is light (6-8lbs for a maul) but the acceleration is very rapid so you need to generate a fair amount of force. At the top of the swing you need to forcibly tighten your lats, brace your abs and shorten you hip flexors to first arrest the upward momentum at the top of the up swing and then reverse it to drive your body weight down into your down swing. As your hands approach your waist/groin level you sit back onto your heels and break at the hips and stick your ass out a little again to accommodate the swing (so you don't axe handle yourself in the junk) and so you can engage your glutes to brake the swing (if necessary) and reset for the next one.

Again, your grip stays light and your arms relaxed until the instant of impact when everything tightens up to brace for impact and maximum power transfer. This all happens very quickly (again very rapid braking and subsequent acceleration) and thus requires you to generate a fair amount of force, especially if you need to swing really hard.

It may not be a "leg work out" per se, however given the likely number of reps performed and the speeds generated, I would say it's more on par with k-bell or light and fast med ball work or even erging on a rowing machine (although rowing is more quad-dominant) than it is with bench press as a full body exercise. I've split large quantities of hard wood before and I can tell you from my experience that afterwards, I had some pretty bad DOMS in my hips, glutes, core and lats and some lingering fatigue in my quads. My hands were beaten, bruised and bloody from the repeated impacts but my arms and shoulders were fresh as a daisy.

I didn't take any metabolic measurements, but I was a hungry, tired dude for days after and when I did that type of thing more frequently and ate less (but still shitloads of) food I got seriously, alarmingly lean. I am confident that I could hurt some pretty young, fit guys pretty badly if I took them out to do this for an afternoon at a moderate (but stiff) pace or a much shorter "workout" at higher intensity. Anecdotal, I know, but that's my experience FWIW.



I've done a lot of wood chopping as well, and my technique I developed does not have any hip hinge or KB swing type movement. Here is an example of what I've found most efficient: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY-Gv9nMijs#t=10s

I'm not in the minority either, I've not found anyone else that initiates with a hip hinge. Even so, I can't imagine a 12 lb (the heaviest sledges I've found at hardware stores) KB swing any more challenging than jogging.


i think there is a significant point to make here: the difference between overall metabolic conditioning/calorie burning and specific conditioning around a particular joint/type of movement.

sledge work might not burn the same number of calories as running but it will provide you with a unique stimulus to the muscles around the shoulder joint. theres a plethora of different types conditioning that revolve around the lower body, not so many that hit the upper body, especially without an expensive piece of kit like an aerodyne or an ergo.

id also dispute the suggestion that sledge work is not a total body workout. it doesnt hit the lower body as hard as running, but it does hit the lower body, whereas running doesnt tax the upper body one bit (unless you count rhythmically bopping back and forth).

id echo batman (im a builder and woodsman and therefore have also had opportunity to use a variety of sledgehammers, picks, mattocks, mauls, etc.) that the more you hinge at the hips the greater force you are able to produce. as has been mentioned, the arms should basically just attach your shoulders to the handle (thereby extending the lever arm, the same way a sledgehammer produces a lot more force than a club hammer).

i dont think it is debatable whether the musculature of the shoulder or hip girdle is stronger (hips, obviously) so if you can engage the hips you are both recruiting larger muscles (the goal, especially when concerned with conditioning not necessarily efficiency) and once again you are extending the lever arm. if you hinge at the hips you can add the length of your torso to the combined length of arm and handle to form one very long lever.

to be clear, im not advocating 20 minutes of straight sledgehammering to work on your conditioning (although i challenge anyone to keep the intensity up for that length of time) but as a tool in your box of tricks i think the sledge is awesome

p.s. ive got a 20lber that i dont even use for conditioning, its too heavy to swing nearly as quick as my 14lber, so i save that solely for working on force production


The immortal Bob Feller, used to go out to the woods on his farm and swing an ax 30 to 40 times a side. Swinging a sledge into a tire (Tractor or Rig) will get your blood pumping. In fact, from an impact point it is a lot safer than running and more effective than the ellip. Think of tossing the sledge, like jumping rope. Everyone tells you then can do it for 20 minutes, but few achieve it. You, want a low impact aerobic exercise that will get your ass sweating? Beat the living shit out of a tire with a sledgehammer! Or, start to jump rope. Either/or, you'll like the results.


in the last few months, whenever ive wanted to drop a few pounds or just increase my volume of conditioning i add to the end of every workout 60s jumprope, 60s sledge swings, repeat until you pass out or puke