Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Jul

The Savagely Effective Mace

MaceI once said that the most Primal piece of exercise equipment was the clubbell, but I think I may have been wrong – I was forgetting all about the mace.

Rather than fend off purse-snatchers and kidnappers (like the one to the right might do), the mace we’re interested in fends off muscle atrophy (although I suppose you could use it as a weapon). Its appearance is jarring and rather clumsy, our dexterous manipulation of it even more so. That’s the point, though. It’s supposed to be difficult to handle. Just like the kettlebell, the sandbag, and the slosh tube, the effectiveness of the mace workout relies upon the grossly uneven weight distribution of the equipment. This is especially pronounced in the mace, which boasts both a long shaft and a lack of counterbalance. As a result, your workout options with the mace are a bit limited – but this isn’t a strike against it. It’s actually one of the benefits, since the relatively simple, basic movements of the mace offer a well-rounded, comprehensive workout for your body without a whole lot of fuss.

The mace, or gada, is essentially a weight on the end of a shaft. It can be a rock on a stick, a ball of cement attached to an old shovel handle, or even gym weights affixed to one end of a barbell. The longer the shaft, the more resistance you’ll encounter, and it should go without saying that heavier weights will also increase resistance. As a workout tool, the mace was popularized by Near Eastern wrestlers, including perhaps the most famous one of all: the Great Gama. Gama toured the world around the turn of the 20th century, issuing challenges to local and global champions while going undefeated for his entire career. He also used the mace extensively. Now, I’m not suggesting his success was due to his gada workouts, but I’m sure they didn’t hurt.

Even non-wrestlers could stand to gain from employing a little mace work now and then. The basic movement – an around-the-head-swing with a push-pull mechanic – taxes the entire upper body. You begin by holding the mace upright about waist high with your elbows close to your body. You then push upwards, and as the weight begins to fall behind your head, you pull it around to the other side and repeat the process. You’re both using momentum and fighting it. Initiating the movement, letting gravity exert its pull, and then exerting your own force as a counterbalance. All strength training is, to some extent, a fight against gravity, but it generally takes place on a single plane (usually vertical). Mace work is far more than that; you’re twisting, pulling against centrifugal force, and contorting yourself across multiple planes. Just check out this video for an example of a basic mace swing.

As you know, I’m not big on targeting specific muscles with isolation exercises, and I maintain that the multi-joint, compound movements are pretty much all we need for optimum Primal fitness. Doing endless amounts of bicep curls is a great way to get a ridiculous, asymmetrical body, but it won’t do much for actual athletic performance. Mace work is great in that it undoubtedly works the entire upper body, including the core, the arms, shoulders, and grip, only it does so in a dynamic, fluid fashion. It’s almost like a crescendo of isolation exercises – the shoulders pushing, the lats and biceps pulling, with the constant backdrop of a tense, active core and hands. At the end of a mace workout, you’ll feel the individual muscles crying out in pain, almost as if you had worked out each one individually. And you have, but with a real purpose. You’ll have all the superficial benefits of the beach body exercises with some actual fitness results to back them up.

If the mace is a little too heavy for you, choke up on the shaft. Conversely, if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, move your hands as low as you can handle. Whichever you do, maintaining a brisk but controlled pace will work on muscle endurance and serve as an intense metabolic conditioning workout.

Making Your Own Mace

Making your own mace is an easy affair. You could buy one for upwards of $200 (shipping included), but why not save that money for a side of grass-fed beef? I found a few simple methods for making your own mace. The first, from DIY Strength, involves a 1” bar loaded with weights on one end. The advantage to this method is that you’ll always be able to adjust the weight as your strength increases, but the disadvantage is that the weight of the bar itself might throw you off. If you try this out, make sure you use collars to secure the weights!

The second one is a bit more involved, but it’s far less expensive. According to Steve Maxwell, all you need is the long handle of a gardening shovel, a kiddie-sized basketball (or a regulation sized ball, if you think you can handle it), a few nails, and a bag of Quikcrete (or any instant concrete mix). Steve’s also put up a video demonstration of his homemade mace.

The third DIY mace involves a 16 lb bowling ball and a steel pipe:

If you’re intrigued, make sure you take part in the Primal Blueprint Health Challenge next month (begins August 3)! We may (wink, wink) be giving away a mace as a prize.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. How about a sledge hammer? They’re certainly not $200 and a lot less DIY work.

    Cheers.

    Bryan wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  2. Sledge hammer came immediately to mind as well, was going to leave that as a comment but had to sign in first lol

    darienx19 wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  3. Very cool, Mark.

    My neighbors might think I’m a big weird battling invisible medieval enemies in the backyard.

    But to hell with them, they’re weirdos anyways. :)

    I’m a big fan of “alternative” exercises like this that simulate actual (at least at one time) human movements for specific reasons – i.e. defend your life.

    It definitely puts a little “fun” into things (for me at least).

    Ryan Robitaille wrote on July 22nd, 2009
    • So don’t battle invisible ones. Make a manikin to do battle with. Then post videos of you losing battles.

      Henry Miller wrote on July 22nd, 2009
      • Hey, some days if you don’t bring your “A Game” the mannequin WILL win. : )

        Ryan Robitaille wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  4. Another way to emulate this is by splitting wood with a wood maul. Busting large logs with a 12 lb weight, loading them up, and hauling them home makes for a tremendous workout!

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on July 22nd, 2009
    • I’m with you there Greg, I like to put more work into my workout. I’ve been doing a bit of landscaping lately and swinging a mattock, digging, and hauling dirt has the same effect.

      grandma wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  5. That is, simply put, f***ing cool.

    Mr.M wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  6. Looks interesting – and I like the sledgehammer comments above as well. But could you combine this with High-Intensity Interval Training somehow?

    gcb wrote on July 22nd, 2009
    • absolutely – high rep club swinging will have similar effects to other comparable HIIT activities.

      John Sifferman wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  7. I’ve never used a macebell before, but I’ve been using clubbells for 3 years and love it.

    Don’t let the HANDle fool you, club swinging is a full body activity – not just upper body. I like to think of it as a tool of integration. Anyone who has done some serious club swinging will know that high performance is only possible if you utilize the entire body, and this usually requires proper leg drive and hip snap for most movements. You connect that to your macebell or clubbell with good core activation and proper arm biomechanics.

    My only word of caution is that accidents can and do happen – even with experienced club swingers. One clip to the head can mean lights out or worse. I’d hate to take concrete or steel right to the head, and I would never personally recommend a plate-loaded version – no matter how sturdy those collars seem!

    John Sifferman wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  8. Hey Mark, just before dinner I did a set with my sledgehammer. That’s brutal on the hands! I went a little crazy and threw it, that’s fun ^^

    Great post, thanks.

    Florian wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  9. I think all the pieces of equipment that Mark listed are all great tools to use. Personally, sometimes I find myself getting caught up using all of these various tools, even simple barbells and weights. I always seem to go back to the bodyweight stuff though. It’s just fun for me and less complicated. There’s nothing my bare feet, an open field and some sturdy tree branches. Great book BTW, Mark! Thanks.

    Steven wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  10. Sledgehammers are not ideal replacements for a well-made maceball and there are three specific shortcomings.

    First, the handle is not radially symmetrical, which means that as the hammer rotates during the swing, you’ll tear up the skin on your hands more.

    Second, the handle is not quite long enough, as you want the weight to swing to about your knees.

    Third, the weight on the sledgehammer is not shaped to be safely swung close to your body. You WILL hit your body with your mace and it shouldn’t leave large bruises when you make contact. Those edges around the faces of the hammer hurt.

    Weight discs, concrete in a basketball, a bowling ball, or a plastic covered metal sphere (what you get if you spend the $200) are all round and can still hurt and bruise if you hit squarely enough, but are less likely to cause serious damage from a glancing hit.

    Ross wrote on July 22nd, 2009
    • Ooh, thanks for that, I had been considering using the sledge. Guess I gotta dig out some tools and make one…

      gcb wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  11. To start, for us older members, use a broom. Good length and the weigth can be increased by using heavier brooms until fit enough to graduate to something heavier.

    Noel Victor Comley wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  12. A mace? Really?? Wheee! This should be fun, if I can convince my husband that I won’t be damaging anything…
    property…
    myself…
    him…

    ;)

    Beth wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  13. I’ve just started using a sledgehammer after reading about Shovelglove. It’s a sledgehammer with the head wrapped in an old sweater for safety. I’m including a layer of large cell bubble wrap in mine.
    It’s an excellent way to build functional fitness, because the user mimics movments like shoveling snow, stoking a coal furnace or churning butter. There are many more movements that can be found on YouTube or the home site: http://www.shovelglove.com/

    Gary Slaughter wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  14. I started mace swinging last fall. I’ve got a “Monster Mace” from StrongerGrip.com. You can load it with shot up to 50 pounds. I’ve only got 21 in mine right now and let me tell you, 100 swings with that thing is a pretty damn good workout. If I’m short on time and need to get a quick workout in the mace is the tool I grab.

    Dean wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  15. I’ve tried using a sledgehammer for these, but I’m just not up to it yet, because the end of mine is a 16 pounder. Its pretty easy to do them scaled though, you just have to choke up on the handle.

    Yash wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  16. Holy crap I want to win a mace!

    George wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  17. How about a barbell with only one side

    Wouldn’t this be abit damaging to the wrists though?

    eyeshield9 wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  18. Wrist strength is one of the biggest beneficial outcomes of clubs and maces.

    It is advisable to use a club or mace with an adjustable weight (or make several and start light as advised in the article).

    Ross Bagley wrote on July 22nd, 2009
  19. I like it, great workout tool. I’ve been training more with Kettlebell over this last year. The sledge hammer looks like a great idea, and loads of fun. I’ll give it a go when I get home from New York.

    Brian wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  20. Sounds like a good use for an Animal Stick! :-)

    YoungFogey wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  21. Just received the loadable macebell from Stronger Grip, and played with it doing 360′s and 10-2′s this last weekend. In a word, awesome. I have been a kettlebell user for the last year, and the mace is a perfect compliment/change of pace to kb work. My core, lats, triceps are sore. Regarding the wrists, if you do kb work you will get it. The wrists act more as a pivot with the body propelling the macebell and your hands/grip coupling the macebell to your body.

    Ron wrote on August 10th, 2009
  22. This all seems rather silly. Picking up medieval weapons as a paradigm for 21st century ‘functional’ workout?! C’mon. Why not just buy yourself a 12 or 15lb shotput? 15lbs at 120mm in your hand is nothing to joke about. You can do all the clubbell or Mace or whatever exercises, work your grip, and spend maybe 30-50 dollars, less than a decent kettlebell.

    Ever see the upper body development on an Olympic Shot Putter? Shoulders? Arms? Chest? ‘Nuff said.

    sifter wrote on September 21st, 2009
  23. Picking up medieval weapons as a paradigm for 21st century ‘functional’ workout?! C’mon. Why not just buy yourself a 12 or 15lb shotput?

    With all respect, um, you are aware that shotput is a 6th century ancient Greek weapon.

    Different tools for different ends, a shotput doesn’t work rotational strength in the same way that swinging an imbalanced object like a hammer or mace does.

    Have an open mind before judging. That’s all.

    Kamal wrote on November 16th, 2009
  24. MACE, BRILLIANT, i love strength training and have been getting a bit bored with the gym of late, this is sort of stuff is great, more people should take a serious look at this sort of stuff. Have been beating tyres with sledges and doing olypic lifts with 120 lb sacks i get some strange looks from people down the local park though.

    Danny wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  25. Swinging a mace around would be a damn fun workout not doubt. I bet the wrists and forearms would start to look a lot more developed after using for a while.

    nathan wrote on June 10th, 2010
  26. I think that weapon pictured is a morningstar. Maces shouldn’t have spikes like that. To quote wikipedia:

    The morning star is a medieval weapon consisting of a spiked club resembling a mace, usually with a long spike extending straight from the top and many smaller spikes around the particle of the head. The spikes distinguish it from a mace, which can have, at most, flanges or small knobs.

    CJ wrote on July 25th, 2010
  27. I workout with a set of steel maces and clubs i got from Onnit. Theyre really nice quality. You can get some for yourself at this site.

    https://www.onnit.com/onnit-steel-mace/?a_aid=Solstice

    Ben wrote on March 18th, 2013

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