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

The Sledgehammer Workout

Next time you’re in the vicinity of a hardware store, stop in and ask for the sledgehammers. They are a relatively cheap, easy way to get an effective Primal workout. Building your own exercise equipment is fun and satisfying (and inexpensive) in its own way, but sometimes you just want a simple, over the counter alternative. We aren’t all DIY types, after all. It fits the general criteria for Primal workouts: natural movements that engage the entire body in a full range of motion; heavy thing on stick that can withstand vigorous pounding. Men and women have been working with large hammers for millennia, as tools of work and of war. Smashing things with heavy objects is in our blood.

The best part about the sledgehammer workout is that it doesn’t really seem like work. It takes me back to childhood when, for whatever reason, I’d often wander around the countryside interacting with the environment in various (and sometimes destructive) ways. Throw rocks and logs into ponds (nothing better than a big splash on an empty, tranquil lake), smash rocks together or against tree trunks, test out my boxing skills on whichever tree had relatively soft bark. Just the pure, uninhibited release of bottled up boyish energy.

It sounds silly, but it’s true. There was something incredible about generating a huge amount of force and making contact with the world around me. That point of impact – when the rock smashed into something – was the best. Now, every time I do pick up that sledgehammer for a few rounds of work, that rush of childhood energy comes surging out and I don’t even realize I’ve just exhausted my core, back, arms, and grip. I’m always smiling, though.

How to Workout with a Sledgehammer

To get started, you’ll need a sledgehammer (check out the various sizes in the store and handle each one; a sixteen pounder should be enough for anyone, and less fit people might want to start with ten or twelve pounds) and access to a surface that can withstand repeated and protracted bashings. You generally want to avoid hitting concrete or your living room floor with these things, and sand or soft earth might work, but the industry standard seems to be a used rubber tire. Huge truck tires are the most durable; regular car tires are a lot easier to find, can go inside, and they work just fine. I went to Costco’s automotive department and they just gave me a bunch of old ones for free (not pictured here).

The basic sledgehammer workout is all about letting loose while maintaining proper form. Luckily, because you’re working with relatively lighter weights and probably have some experience swinging a heavy object, form isn’t a major problem and most people will naturally assume the correct position (if you’d like a more detailed treatise on sledgehammer form, check out this).

The Diagonal Swing

This is the basic sledgehammer swing. Stand in front of the tire, about two feet away from it. If you’re swinging from your right side, your left foot should be closer to the tire. Again, this will come naturally when you start swinging.

Grip the sledgehammer. Your left hand should be at the bottom of the handle, and your right hand should be choking up closer to the head. As you bring the sledge up, your right hand slides toward the head; as you swing down, your right hand will slide down to join your left hand.

Slam it down as hard as you can against the tire. It will bounce upon impact, but you have to control this. In fact, controlling the bounce is half the workout.


The Overhead Swing

If you did just the diagonal swing (making sure to switch sides, of course), you’d be getting a pretty complete sledgehammer workout. If you want a bit more than that, try the two handed overhead swing. Both hands remain in place for this one, and there is no switching of sides (do switch your hands from time to time, though). Grip the sledgehammer with both hands at the bottom of the shaft and stand a bit further back from the tire. Center yourself – no staggered feet this time. Bring the sledge directly over head and then slam it down. Repeat until you can’t maintain proper form.

Throw five or ten minutes of sledge work to the end of your next strength session. The swings are great for metabolic conditioning, so you could think of it as a variation of a sprint session; you’re generating the maximum amount of force with a single movement repeated over and over again. For your next sprint day, pick up a sledgehammer instead and do Tabata intervals (VIDEO).

Sledgehammer workouts probably won’t replace your normal routine, but they’re not supposed to. They’re supplementary, and it’s about achieving balance. I imagine a truly dedicated user could get into great shape through just sledgehammer workouts, but I think optimum fitness means utilizing everything at your disposal: weights, sprints, hikes, play, bodyweight HIIT, and then some routines utilizing fun gear (slosh tubes, sandbags, medicine balls, kettlebells, maces, clubbells, sledgehammers).

Some other interesting sledgehammer ideas, for anyone looking for more ways to use one:

The “shovelglove”.

The sledgehammer seems to be working out okay for Fedor (VIDEO – around 35 seconds in).

And if you insist on making the sledgehammer your go-to workout tool, check out these 23 exercises (VIDEO).

Matti Mattila, Wilson B Flickr Photo (CC)

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. For whatever reason I picture the sledgehammer bouncing off the tire and into my forehead…it just seems like something that would happen to me.

    hannahc wrote on July 29th, 2009
    • The trouble I’d have with it, is it’ll probably fly off the handle as I swing it back, and end up going through my neighbor’s greenhouse.

      Actually, as I scrolled down the page, I was very glad to see the picture of the big tyre. Without this, I think I’d end up with aching finger joints.

      Sally wrote on January 31st, 2012
      • To give you an idea of training experience with this I swing from 5 lb maces to 35 lb hammers in my weekly workout. Hitting a tire is actually a lot more forgiving than you would think. I have swung my hammers into wood the ground, sandbags, rock, water, Ice. Pretty much whatever is available. in my experience I have only had a head break free if I miss my target and strike the handle. I treat this the same way I treat exercise form. If I am too tired to keep the hammer on target to strike the face I am not performing the exercise in good form. But if you are still worried about the head flying free you can pin the head as seen in the pic at the end of this link.

        This small hammer is just an example of what Im talking about and not a workout hammer.

        Train Hard

        Dan wrote on May 20th, 2016
  2. Great post! John Hackleman from The Pit (trains Chuck Liddell)swears by this move. He was a former boxer and learned this from Ernie Shavers who is rated in top of the hardest hitters in history.


    Christian wrote on July 29th, 2009
  3. Ever met a blacksmith? If you ever get the opportunity, take a look at their arms. ‘Nuff said.

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on July 29th, 2009
  4. Reminds of the construction work of my Italian ancestors.

    My uncle is in his late 60s and he still has incredible pure strength that just can’t replicated with standard gym equipment.

    And don’t even try the old tough guy hand shake where you try and out-squeeze him. He still drops me to my knees when we play this game:)

    Michael - Fat Loss Tips wrote on July 29th, 2009
  5. Ross Enamait has some excellent material on sledge training (among other things).

    KettlebellMan wrote on July 29th, 2009
    • ^^

      Clint wrote on July 29th, 2009
  6. Who read my mind? I was just wondering about a sledgehammer workout…

    We did the tire smacking as part of our annual physical challenge on the volunteer Fire Dept. Big huge tire is also good for a drag. Also a great (primal) way to split wood: with a sledge & “wood grenade”

    I also liked the bit about a big rock splashing in a tranquil lake; I still love doing that (& skipping stones).

    Thanks for that great post!

    Peggy wrote on July 29th, 2009
  7. This is a staple to my workouts. My favorite is to do a set of Tabata swings followed by 20 jump squats. I do that for four sets.

    That will get your blood flowing!

    Clint wrote on July 29th, 2009
  8. I have been considering this for awhile now and just might have to finally dive in! Any other personal experience in terms of logistics like hammer weight, type of tire (car, truck, tractor, actual size, hardness, etc.), and sources for old tires would be greatly appreciated. I always find the readers here an abundant source of knowledge. Happy swinging!

    Rodney wrote on July 29th, 2009
    • I bought a 16# hammer from Home Depot pretty cheap…..

      I learned on a tractor trailer tire…it was kept at my old mma gym, and they just left in the back parking lot…

      usually any junkyard or tire place would be happy to unload a few free to you….

      If you do not want the hassle of storing a tire and looking spend some more money, look into a slam ball. All you need is to hit the pavement and you are set…

      Christian wrote on July 29th, 2009
    • You can get a car/truck tire for free from any auto place that changes tires. Just ask them and they’ll be happy to give you one.

      If you’ve never done sledgehammer swings before, I would start of light, around 8-10 lbs. This kind of workout leans more towards conditioning, so speed is the key factor here, not weight.

      Clint wrote on July 29th, 2009
  9. Simple, potent and works a variety of physical fitness adaptations.

    Make it more challenging by driving actual metal stakes into the ground and you’ll hone your accuracy as well.

    On a side note, here’s an interesting link on the value, or lack thereof, of organically grown food. I’d like to hear some thoughts from the MDA crew.

    Philip Mancini wrote on July 29th, 2009
    • I have my doubts about this study. It was just a review of research, not an actual study of actual food that they actually compared in an actual lab. I know that the organic vegetables I grow in my garden taste better than factory farmed tomatoes. I would be very surprised if taste was the only difference.

      Kevin wrote on August 5th, 2009
      • The other problem is that they compare factory farmed “organic” food to factory farmed “normal” food. I don’t care how organic factory farm food is, it’s still not given as much attention, as much compost, and as much love as a back garden. Plus, they follow the normal farming technique of picking the food WAY too early so it can ripen on the way to the store.

        Willow NyteEyes wrote on March 17th, 2010
  10. First came the Kettlebell – the Yin. Now I have the Yang- the sledgehammer. I love workouting out in the backyard between my Kbells and my Hammer. Not a set of curls in sight. Get two tires and add a marial art turn between them and go to battle.

    pjnoir wrote on July 29th, 2009
  11. Please do not underestimate the power of the hammer to bounce off of that tire. This is not a silly concern. If you want to practice swinging a hammer a little more conservatively, hit the beach – literally!

    Michael wrote on July 29th, 2009
  12. Oh, yeah – “Orrrg! Grok pound tire. Huah!!!” 😉

    Reminds me of when I was helping my brother clear out an old concrete sidewalk, shortly after they moved into their house. I shifted into what I then called “Borg the Barbarian” mode (this was before the Star Trek Borgs), sledgehammer in hand. “Borg break rock!”

    Borg’s greatest accomplishment was breaking the three concrete steps – all poured in one block. After getting tired of just busting pieces of it off from around the edges, I finally decided that if I hit it repeatedly, very hard and very fast, in one spot, I’d set up a vibrational pattern that would help me break it apart. Darned if it didn’t work! :-) “Borg break BIG rock!”

    Of course, the vibrational pattern also transfered through the hammer-handle to my own body. And between that and the act of swinging the hammer and slamming it into the massive concrete chunk, it was DEFINITELY good exercise…!

    Tom Harbold (a.k.a. "Young Fogey") wrote on July 29th, 2009
  13. Here in New Zealand we have wood burner fires for heating. I use the chopping of the wood and moving big piles of wood around in a wheel barrow (with a punctured tyre) as part of my daily workout. The axe isn’t as heavy as the sledgehammer but the repititions are higher. I few it is as being paid to exercise because doing the chopping myself saves me money and gives me a workout.

    Phil wrote on July 29th, 2009
  14. I guess hitting tires is okay. But, for those of us living outside the city, the real fun is in splitting your own firewood. I’ve always got some log I’m sawing into rounds and splitting with a maul and wedges or with my splitting maul (“heavy wedge on a stick”). It is extremely satisfying to split a round of wood with the pieces flying in opposite directions. It’s sort of like smashing a tennis ball right in the sweet spot of the tennis racket. They say that collecting, splitting and stacking fire wood warms you even before you burn it in your wood stove. Also, burning wood for heat is supposedly carbon neutral.

    Thin Man wrote on July 29th, 2009
  15. Jerry Hill wrote on July 29th, 2009
  16. So I read this earlier today and thought it would be fun to just hit the ground. Then just a few hours ago had some major problems w/ my ex girlfriend, and decided to run to Lowes, buy a sledgehammer, and proceed to smash the ground to oblivion until i couldn’t move anymore. I feel much better. Thanks MDA!

    Paul Von Tersch wrote on July 29th, 2009
  17. It was awesome that after reading this I found an old sledge hammer in the garage of our cottage’s garage, full of old things from the previous owner, half of which I haven’t seen yet buried in the corners. I still want to put a gym in it, but how cool that waiting for me was gym equipment already “installed.” Great workout on the fly.

    Zach wrote on August 2nd, 2009

    rico wrote on October 26th, 2009
    • The best way to describe this would be to say it works the mirror opposite of Kettlebell swings. You will see a dramatic change to your forearms, upper arms, shoulders, and even your abs.

      Dan wrote on May 20th, 2016
  19. Gotta say I love the sledge workouts. So much fun, and a great workout.

    And thanks, Mark, for including that Fedor link. Made my day- that man is a beast.

    Sean wrote on November 13th, 2009
  20. I have tried this sporaticly(off and on) and it is a lot of fun. This + pushups + chinups + dips + burpees + crunches + lunges and squats = awesome results. Try it for a couple months. I did. Went from 170 to 187 and almost got a 6 pack.

    Mack wrote on March 10th, 2010
  21. we did something very similar at a camp i worked at with a huge stump in the ground they gave us a pick axe sledgehammer and axe out there and told us if we got mad about something to take it out on the stump it worked great

    MELOFLIN wrote on April 23rd, 2011
  22. Love the sledgehammer workout; as someone has already noted, it’s the yin to the yang of the kettlebell. Add a bosu ball, medicine balls, and perhaps a weight vest and you’re rockin’!

    Also check out for some really cool stuff!

    Jeff wrote on April 27th, 2011
  23. I am fully into working out as much as possible with ordinary items and body weight exercises, my opinion some of the best out there. Personally I like the sledgehammer workouts, I don’t do one too often, but it definitely has benefits in grappling and the mechanical natured work I do. But an average gym goer probably will take a hammer to the face on the rebound. I see someone wrote about weighted vests, what is the consensus on those?

    Steve wrote on October 11th, 2011
    • Steve: I wear a 40# weighted vest (I’m 55 and weigh 175) and use it to slowly jog backwards or power walk backwards up long / gradual or short / steep slopes. GREAT overall leg, core and wind workout with minimal joint stress.

      matthew wrote on April 28th, 2012
  24. Love it! I’ll have to look into this…very soon!

    Nate Alexander wrote on December 13th, 2011
  25. I decided to make a garden wall a couple months ago and had always been curious about rammed earth building so I got some tyres and filled them full of earth using the sledgehammer to really pack em full (in situ of course). It took me three weeks working about 2 hours a day 4 days week. BEST workout of my life!
    I’m going to make a pig pen next.

    Janine wrote on November 15th, 2013
  26. I did this for some martial arts training back when I was still on my college’s Judo team. It really helps the upper body strength.

    Rami Hourani wrote on January 5th, 2014
  27. Get a job as a tire tech. No more need for a gym membership or working out in your spare time after work and make money while you get jacked. I’m about 165 pounds and constantly wrestle with 200-450 pound tire and wheel assemblies and swing a big tire hammer all day. We store our semi tires on a chest high rack and have to load them onto a ches high service truck deck all the time. They weigh about 90-140 pounds a piece and it’s a great full body workout and cardio. Doing skidder tires and grader tires is always fun too. Lifting a 60-80 pound bead breaker 5-15 times over your head while squatting under a skidder in the mud is always a killer workout too.

    Steve wrote on May 31st, 2014
  28. I used to do this at a gym that had a specialized program they called Metabolic Conditioning. I MISS that class!!

    Kevin Grokman wrote on July 28th, 2014

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