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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 17, 2011

WOW: Hammer Time

By Mark Sisson

Complete 5 cycles of:

6 Hammer Around-the-Heads, each direction
10 Hammer Shovels, each direction
12 Hammer Slams, each side


Warmup: 15 forward-to-back shoulder dislocates, 2 Grok hangs.

Before you do anything else, procure the proper equipment. This workout is designed around a sledgehammer, which you can find at any hardware store for around thirty bucks. I use a 16-pounder, which may not sound like much, until you try to handle the thing by holding onto the very end of the handle and find it feels like triple the weight. Mess around with some in the store and choose the one that is legitimately hard for you to support. You can always choke up on the handle to move your hands closer to the weight and, thus, make things easier until you’re ready to progress, but you can’t add weight to a too-light hammer. Buying a light hammer will end up a waste of money.

If you don’t have a hammer and you can’t buy or find one, there are alternatives which I’ll discuss later.

I detailed Around-the-Heads in the old mace workout post from a couple years ago. In it, I say to use a mace, but I’ve since found that using my hammer works just as well. Begin by grasping the handle and holding the hammer in front of you just below chest level with the weighted head pointed up and at, or just above, head level. Push the hammer back and to the right, so it descends over your right shoulder toward the ground. Pull the hammer around your back to the left side and then pull it up and over your left shoulder, using your upper back musculature to move the hammer. Keep your entire body tight. If you’re swinging to the right (clockwise), place your right hand on top of your left when grabbing the handle; do the opposite for the other direction.

Shoveling should be second nature, especially to you east coasters (I hear there’s been some kind of little snow flurry, or something), but there are a few details to keep in mind. First, adjust resistance by adjusting your hands’ position on the handle. Both hands at the end make for a harder workout, while moving one or both of them closer to the weighted end makes it easier. Second, this is not simply an arm workout; use your legs and hips to generate most of the power. Say you’re shoveling to the right: turn your body and move the hammer across by pivoting off your left heel and squeezing your glutes and engaging your hamstrings. Once the weight has moved to the right, then use your arms to “shovel” it back over shoulder, as if tossing snow or dirt into a pile. Pull with your right arm, externally rotating that shoulder (while keeping the right shoulder blade tight and retracted to protect the joint), and push with your left arm. Staying tight all over will engage your abdominals and make your movements stronger.

Hammer Slams are normally done against tires, but anything that you don’t mind bashing with a hammer will work – sand, soft dirt, an old tree trunk. They’re pretty straightforward. Just hold your hammer in a comfortable position that gives you just enough leverage without making it too easy, and go to town. I like making this a full body workout by involving the hips on the upswing, but you can just as easily isolate the upper body. Your choice. Just go hard and fast and minimize breaks in between reps. It should be a fluid circular motion.

That’s it. Get yourself a hammer and go to town. Oh, and I apologize for the horrible title. I just couldn’t resist.


Obviously, a sledgehammer is ideal, but any dense object with a highly concentrated weight will work. A kettlebell, a large rock, a medicine ball are all viable options. You won’t be getting the benefit of wielding an asymmetrically weighted object on a stick, but these will all work. Just mimic the sledgehammer movements and know that they’ll be slightly truncated and the range of motion limited.

What are WOWs?

  • Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
  • In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWs replace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
  • Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.

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6 Comments on "WOW: Hammer Time"


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6 years 7 months ago

your WOW titles get increasingly more awesome as time goes on.

6 years 7 months ago

Dope on the floor, and magic on the mic.

6 years 7 months ago

I added a shot of Nitrous to this one and did a set of Kettlebell swings between each exercise. Ten was more than sufficient for each set. Great stuff, Mark! I always look forward to the WOW’s.

6 years 7 months ago

I like it Mark,
Since my tractor tire and car tires are all under a foot of snow, This will have to do!

alley cat
alley cat
6 years 7 months ago

You could always borrow your neighbours’ car tires.

Barnaby Nichols
3 years 10 months ago

Isolating the upper body in the slams? Please correct if wrong, but without proper hip activation for such an agressive movement I think that most people would end up sacrificing a neutral spine and solid glutes once the going gets tough. A lot of spinal flexion would start happening once the primary movers start tiring. It might turn into something like the bicep-curl-plus-lumbar-spine-hyperextension exercise variation I see as standard at the gym.