T Nation

Sledgehammer GPP Articles


#1

With the recent interest in using sledgehammers in training, I have started to post the original articles by Dr. Mike Hartle. Good Stuff.

Thor, the God of Thunder, brought his hammer down with such force that it shook the Earth for miles around. That is as far as I am going to go with my mythological storytelling! What I am really going to talk about is a different type of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) exercise-Sledge hammering!

The Different Forms Of GPP

In recent issues, much has been talked about GPP of different forms, both weighted and non-weighted. We have read about sled work, using the wheelbarrow with weight, flipping tires, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc. What I am advocating is using a sledgehammer as another form of weighted GPP. Think about it: grab a 10 lb sledgehammer and swing it continuously for 2-4 minutes, switching sides every 10-15 strikes.

You will feel it everywhere: abdominals, erectors, deeper lower back muscles like the multifidi and rotares (which help with rotation, extension and lateral flexion of the spine-important movements for any sport), glutes, hip adductors and abductors, upper back and chest regions, forearms and wrists.

Pretty much everywhere. No wonder the old-timers that used to throw the sledgehammer around for 8-10 HOURS per day on the job were in great shape and were very muscular! Athletes participating in sports such as football, baseball, wrestling, basketball, hockey, bowling, lacrosse, track & field, soccer, swimming, etc., would greatly benefit from doing sledgehammer GPP.

Imagine This

Imagine this: a football lineman explodes out of his stance after the ball is hiked. As he approaches his counterpart on the other side of the line, he has to quickly extend, laterally flex and rotate his trunk in order to prepare himself to hit the opposing player properly as the opposing player is trying to get away from him. This will also allow him to execute the play the way it was meant to. This type of scenario happens thousands of times in football, throughout all positions on the field.

All the aforementioned sports have this kind of movement scenario or combination thereof, and occur all the time.

The competitive athlete needs to have these motor recruitment patterns in place in addition to them being strong and functional. If they are not functioning properly, sports performance will suffer and injury will follow soon thereafter.

One of the areas that the sledgehammer greatly improves upon is rotary and angular/diagonal trunk strength. When using the sledgehammer, you can change the degree of angle or even the direction of the sledgehammer while you are swinging it. Most weight programs focus on the big lifts to enhance their athletes' sports performance and decrease incidence of injury: squat, bench press, deadlift, power clean, etc. While these lifts will enhance an athlete's performance on the field, they are all done essentially in a singular plane aspect.

So What Will It Do?

They will allow an athlete to jump higher, run faster, hit harder, etc., but ALL sports will require the athlete during practice/competition to utilize their body in one, two or all three planes of motion at the same time. This means the athlete needs to have the motor units of the rotary and angular/diagonal muscles ready to assist the prime movers as they function in a near-maximal or maximal state and are ready to function when called upon. An example of this is as follows: a hockey player can power clean 110 kg for 5 reps.

A very good weight for anyone. Now, when he gets on the ice he is able to use this added strength to check harder and skate faster. However, when it comes time to hit the puck as hard and with as much finesse as he can, he is not able to transfer all that added strength to hitting the puck.

Why? In this example, his prime mover muscles are strong, but his rotary and angular/diagonal muscles are not as functional. When it came time to utilize his new strength, there was a loss of power transfer to the puck since his trunk stabilizers and movers were not as strong, thereby not allowing the prime movers of his body to put forth all of their power.

If these trunk stabilizers and movers were stronger and more functional, there would be less power loss during transfer of the energy created by the prime movers to the rotary and angular/diagonal muscles, thereby creating a more powerful slapshot! Whew!! In the next couple of issues I will discuss several different methods of using the sledgehammer, including applying the periodization model to training with it and what type and where you can get the proper equipment to make this type of training effective and successful for you and your athletes!!


#2

Article 2. Enjoy.

In the last issue I introduced the idea of using a sledgehammer for weighted GPP. Several of the benefits of using this common tool include increasing rotational and angular/diagonal strength of the trunk, increasing forearm and wrist strength, increasing reaction times of the forearm and wrist muscles as they stabilize the hammer's handle and an overall increase in the body's strength-endurance capabilities. This issue I will discuss what equipment you will need and where to get it.

Get A Good Tire

You will need to hit something that won't break after smashing it a few hundred times. What I have found works best is an old, used farm tractor or truck tire. The harder the tire the better. This will decrease the height the sledgehammer will come off of the tire after impact. I usually hit it near the outside of the tire when it is lying on the ground. The type of tire that I use came off of a semi-truck. Call around to various tire dealers that deal with trucks or tractors and ask if they have any old tires sitting around.

The interesting thing is that you should be able to get the tire for free. The dealer has to pay someone to take the used tire from them so I have dealers wanting to give me the tire for free so they don't have to pay this fee. The only thing you will need is a large trunk in your car or a truck to carry the tire to your favorite hitting place as it is large. The nice thing about using the tire to hit is that it won't wear out anytime soon. You could also use it for flipping as another exercise, but that is another article.

Get A Good Sledgehammer

The next piece of equipment you will need is the sledgehammer. Most people have access to a sledgehammer. Since I have been married and I don't live near my parents anymore, I didn't. I went to my friendly neighborhood Lowe's store and bought an 8# and a 10# sledgehammer. As I progressed through subsequent workouts with the sledgehammer, I found that I could use the 8# and 10# sledgehammers interchangeably to increase or decrease the intensity, namely periodizing the use of the hammers. I then proceeded to search for larger sledgehammers. I found a 12# and a 16# sledgehammer at northerntool.com, based in Minnesota.

I also bought a 6# sledgehammer for smaller athletes. I now have a 6, 8, 10, 12, and a 16 lb sledgehammer. The total cost of buying these sledgehammers was about $130.00. By having the different weights, I can apply periodization principles to using this form of weighted GPP. There is a big difference physically in swinging the 6# sledgehammer versus the 16# when you do it for 3 minutes continuously. You don't need to have all these different weights as you can change the intensity with hammer contacts and time performing the movements, but I found with my personal training and with my athletes that it added an extra edge and I got better results with the different weights.

Get Some Gloves & A Timer

Some minor pieces of equipment you might need are work gloves and a stopwatch/timer. Those who have hands not used to doing lots of work could use gloves. Personally, I don't use them as I am always gripping something in my training so my hands are used to the tension on the skin. I recommend to my athletes to not use them either to help facilitate the neurological response of the proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors.

Click Here To Get Lifting Gloves

This will also help them in their respective sport, as most sports require us to hold onto or grab something. A stopwatch/timer that beeps when the time is up is handy as well. I will set the timer to whatever time length I want to hit for, say 3 minutes, then start the timer and begin pulverizing the tire. This allows me to concentrate on my contacts with the tire and I know when to stop when the timer goes off.


#3

Didn't know people were finally waking up to these articles. Amazing that we published Mike's work what, 3-4 years ago and now people are finally getting a chance to read them. Enjoy, but I know Mike has some great work to be released in the future that'll you'll love.

In faith,

John


#4

As someone who swung a sledgehammer and ran a shovel for a living in the past, I can tell you both of them can be a great workout. If you do it right, you can get a whole body workout, along with some cardio.


#5

Dr.Mike should be a T-Nation writer as well. But he may be to busy with his Chiro practice and training. I thought Mike Robertson was going to push for this. Dr. Mike can give views on older lifters as well. he's not that old but getting there.
Yes these are great. I believe there are 7 Sledgehammer and 5 wheelbarrow articles on RenegadeTraining web.


#6

Part 3.

In the last issue I discussed the equipment needed to begin using the sledgehammer for weighted GPP. To reiterate, several of the benefits of using this common tool include increasing rotational and angular/diagonal strength of the trunk, increasing forearm and wrist strength, increasing reaction times of the forearm and wrist muscles as they stabilize the hammer's handle and an overall increase in the body's strength-endurance capabilities. We will now get started with the first type of swing we use: diagonal swinging.

How To Do It

Last week's article showed a picture of me holding the sledgehammer. This is the beginning position. The hand nearest the hammer part will be called the slide hand. The hand at the end of the handle will be the static hand. Decide which side to hit to first. Stand in front of the tire and square yourself up to it. What I mean is place the center of your abdomen in line with the center of the tire. Back up from the tire about 12"-18" depending upon how tall you are.

Then place your feet just wider than shoulder width and parallel to each other. If you decide to make the static hand your left, you will be swinging to your left and contacting the tire on the left side. When you reach the number of contacts you wish to on that side, you will then switch your hands quickly and do the same to the right side.

During the first workout I suggest you do the first set slow to get your rhythm right. For the following scenario and instructions, we will be having the static hand as our left and contacting the tire on the left side. As you start to swing back make sure you rotate your body while keeping your feet planted. Moving the feet during this exercise is not wanted or suggested as you will lose some of the effect we are trying to achieve.

When you have rotated and laterally flexed your trunk and hips enough reverse this direction. As you reverse the movement, your slide hand (right hand) will move down the handle to meet up with your left hand during the swing.

Your buttocks will push backwards as you bring the sledgehammer down to contact the tire. After hitting the tire, the sledgehammer will bounce a little off of it, but as I stated last week, I suggest you contact the tire just inside the outside edge where the tire is harder. When the sledgehammer bounces up, start to pull it up and back and start another rep.

One other item to mention is occasionally when the sledgehammer hits the tire, the sledgehammer handle may want to twist in your hand or the hammer part may want to go to the side. Make sure you have a good grip on the handle with your static hand to prevent this. Another way to train that grip!

An interesting item to note is for most right-hand dominant people, swinging to the left will be easy, especially if you have swung a sledgehammer before. When you start to swing to the right with the left side of your body, make sure all video and regular cameras are turned off as you will feel and look goofy!! The reason for this is since you are right-handed, your central nervous system (CNS) is used to swinging with the right side of your body. You now are asking it to swing with the non-dominant side of your body, which will feel and look weird at first. After a few hundred reps over several workouts, swinging with the left side of your body will start to approach the normality of the swing of the right side.

Go With The Flow

All I can say is stick with it and go slow at first until you feel more comfortable swinging with your left side. When you feel more comfortable, increase the contact frequency and speed to bring it up to par with the right side. When you bring the left side up to speed with the right, you will be that much more prepared for your sport as your weaker and non-dominant side will be able to hold its own just like the right side does when you encounter the type of scenarios I mentioned in Part 1 of this series. Of course, if you are left-handed, then just reverse the aforementioned information in this paragraph.

The next issue we will discuss and show another of the three ways we swing the sledgehammer. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.


#7

How do clubbells compare to sledgehammers?


#8

totally different animal and yes...you can swing a slegehammer with me in my beach training soon. Nothing like sledge training in water.

: )

and yeah...I'll get to your OTHER questions soon.

In faith,

john


#9

Mike - old?

Mike would be an amazing featured asset to any publication.

In faith,

John


#10

That would be soooo cool!

I've been waiting to train! I'm right around the corner from you and mornings would be perfect.


#11

How do clubbells compare to sledgehammers?

[/quote]

You can't swing a hammer in a circle like you can with a club, it's all about the balance. All the hammer's weight in it's head, the club's weight is more evenly distributed.


#12

btw..I couldn't help notice you were from Kentucky and given your interest in Sledgehammer training you really should visit with Jamie Hale, whose gym is in Winchester. Jamie utilizes Sledge work extensively in his training and featured a huge section in his book "MaxCondition" on it. Jamie's the real deal and one of the best people you'll find in S&C.

In faith,

John


#13

Part 4.

In the last issue I discussed diagonal swinging of the sledgehammer for one facet of this type of weighted GPP. This article will talk about another facet: vertical or as in anatomical speak, midsagittal swinging. Before we get started, I would like to pass on a tip from my father about using the tires for hitting. Most of us will leave the tires outside and therefore they may accumulate some water in them. He suggested drilling some holes in the tire to allow the water to drain out, thereby decreasing the potential for mosquitoes, etc., to use this area to breed.

Diagonal Swinging

Last week we talked about swinging from one side to the other: diagonal swinging. We also talked about having static and a slide hand on the handle. This week's swinging variation will have both hands become static. You may also find that you may need to use a lighter sledgehammer at first for this movement since you are not sliding one of your hands, which changes the leverage of the movement. For those of you that only have one sledgehammer, you should be okay but you may need to either decrease your reps at first or choke up a little on the handle (as in baseball) or both.

This type of swinging is similar to doing a medicine ball toss where you squat down and jump up and throw the ball as far in front or rear of you as you can and similar to the movement in a power clean. The main difference between vertical swinging and these aforementioned movements are the eccentric and concentric phases are opposite. During vertical swinging, the eccentric loading part happens during the upward swing bringing the sledgehammer up and behind your head. The concentric phase occurs upon reversal of this upward movement, thereby bringing the sledgehammer down towards the tire.

Click To Enlarge!
In performing vertical swinging, your stance will be similar to last week's, only that you will need to back up from the tire a little more, possibly a total of 30 inches or so, depending on how tall you are. Feet should be the same as last week's. To start this movement, place the sledgehammer on the tire in front of you, grip it with both hands at the end of the handle, and slowly raise it above and behind your head. Squeeze the handle hard so you have full control of the sledgehammer throughout the movement. Make sure you alternate your hand positions every 10-15 repetitions to make sure the mechanics of the swing are evenly distributed throughout your body. You are now ready to start smashing the tire with this new swing!!

The muscles recruited for this swing are virtually the same as in the diagonal swing but in different intensities and recruitment percentages. The trunk rotary muscles are not being recruited as much as rotary muscles in a unilateral fashion but as bilateral stabilizers of the spine, assisting in the flexion/extension of the spine that is occurring during the swing. The posterior chain gets more involved in this swing with the flexion/extension of the movement.

The Workload

The workload of the forearm/wrist flexors and extensors and the elbow flexors during this swing is greatly increased since the hands are static and the weight is approximately 30-36 inches away from the hands for the whole movement. This distance from the weight loads these muscles even more, making the intensity higher for these muscles. The same is true for the anterior deltoid and pectoralis major muscles going upward with the sledgehammer and the abdominals, serratus anterior and latissimus dorsi going downward.

Click To Enlarge!
One variation of this swing that I like to do every so often to change things up a bit is to really emphasize the gluteals and hamstrings by sticking the buttocks back and out as you bring the sledgehammer down. Look at the last two pictures in this article. This variation will help recruit these muscles which are a vital part of the posterior chain group. The backward movement of the buttocks and hips is similar to the movement of the Romanian deadlift.

Click To Enlarge!
Another variation of this swing is to combine a minor diagonal swing with the vertical swing. For example, instead of bringing the sledgehammer straight down, have the sledgehammer strike the tire just to the right or left of center. Keep both hands static for this and bring it back up to the same starting point as the pure vertical swing start point.

The next issue we will discuss and show another variation of swinging the sledgehammer. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.


#14

Jamie is a personal friend of mine who I will be hanging out with tomorrow doing "scientific stuff." I completely agree with Coach Davies on this one, his sledgehammer training has killed me so many times.


#15

Part 5.

This article will talk about yet another facet: horizontal, or as in anatomical speak, transverse swinging.

At first glance, this type of swinging will appear to resemble swinging a baseball bat. That is correct to a certain extent. The swing is similar in the motion but that is where the similarity ends. First of all, we are using a sledgehammer with a different type of handle. This will create different recruitment patterns involving the forearm and wrist muscles.

Next, we are using a weight that is concentrated at the end of the handle, instead of throughout the last 2/3 of the bat, thereby increasing the distance the weight is from the hands, changing dramatically the leverage.

The weight of the sledgehammer is also about 360% greater than the average baseball bat when using an 8# sledgehammer, therefore the neuromuscloskeletal demands and workload on the muscles involved are greatly increased, thereby creating a superb training effect. Finally, we will use two different hand positions. One type is the same as the diagonal swinging: using a static and a slide hand, the static hand being the hand on the side the sledgehammer is being swung to.

The other type is similar to the vertical swinging where both hands are static, with the bottom hand being the hand on the side the sledgehammer is being swung to.

Before I get started describing the mechanics of this swing, I want to make it clear that this new swing isn't just for baseball/softball athletes. This swing is a part of the larger picture of this new type of weighted GPP. So far we have talked about diagonal, vertical, and now horizontal swinging. I introduced the diagonal version first since most people are familiar with it.

Then the vertical was introduced and finally the horizontal. If you think about it, the diagonal swinging contains both vertical and horizontal swinging components or vectors (talking in those physics terms again!) in varying degrees.

The diagonal version recruits most of the trunk musculature, involving those muscles that are responsible for lateral flexion, flexion/extension and rotation. The vertical version mainly recruits the flexion/extension muscles with the horizontal version mainly recruiting the rotary muscles with some of the lateral flexors thrown in for flavor. These are the three basic swings that I have my athletes perform.

There are other swings, more specialized, which I will cover in detail in later issues. I have some of my athletes do these specialized swings but it depends on their sport-specific needs.

When performing this swing, I suggest leaning the tire up against a wall or other similar object. One thing to be careful about when doing this is the tire can make some marks on the wall when you are hitting it. Stand perpendicular to the tire at its outside edge. Place your feet about shoulder width apart with the foot that is closest to the tire about 18 inches away from the tire.

Without moving your feet swing and hit the tire. Depending on how tall you are and how large the
tire is, you may be able to hit it at the top of the tire or you may have to step back with your feet slightly so you can hit the tire lower.

Try and hit the tire at a level somewhere between your waist and chest areas, preferably just above your umbilicus. As I had mentioned earlier, there are two different hand methods with which you can swing.

I recommend using the static/slide hand combination at first until your grip gets stronger. Then you can have both hands become static throughout the swing. This will really work your forearms/wrists and even change the relative load on the trunk, as the weight at the end of the handle won't be supported at the beginning of the swing as with the static/slide hand combination.

One last thing about this swing: when you hit the tire, depending on how hard you hit it, the tire may bounce off the wall slightly. One suggestion is to secure the tire to the wall (bungy cords, etc.).

When you are done with your predetermined number of tire contacts for that side, switch over to the other side of the tire and do the same thing. When I had previously discussed diagonal swinging, I had brought up the point that for most right-hand dominant people, swinging to the left will be easy, especially if you have swung a sledgehammer before. When you start to swing to the right with the left side of your body, it will feel even more weird and strange with the horizontal swing than it did with the diagonal swing.

After a few hundred reps over several workouts, swinging with the left side of your body will start to approach the ease and smoothness of the swing of the right side. What I suggest is to continue with it and go slow at first until you feel more comfortable swinging with your left side. When you feel more comfortable, increase the contact frequency and speed to bring it up to par with the right side. Southpaws need to just reverse the aforementioned information in this paragraph.

I would like to thank everyone for emailing me regarding this series of articles about this different form of weighted GPP: the sledgehammer. I enjoy hearing from you and answering your emails. The next issue we will discuss and show yet another variation of swinging the sledgehammer. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.


#16

Just wanted to bump this thread. Can't believe I missed it. I'm gonna go back to the folk's farm tomarrow, and I'll have my tractor tire. I think I'll have to find a hammer and go to town on that bad boy!


#17

dont forget that sledgehammers can be used for a super powerful grip, lots of people who bend nails use them to strengthen their hands and forearms, theres a site on geocities that tells you how to do it but i lost the website, if you go to www.geocities.com/fightraining

and check the links to home made equipment theres a link there to this guy who trains with sledgehammers, he bend steel rods like they are plastacine and hes only like 180 pounds dripping wet.


#18

I saved this link to my favs. about 2 months ago & finally got to read it. I'm starting this tonight! Great stuff!