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The Savagely Effective Mace

I once said that the most Primal piece of exercise equipment was the clubbell [1], 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 [2], the sandbag [3], and the slosh tube [4], 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 [5], including perhaps the most famous one of all: the Great Gama [6]. 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 [7] 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 [8], 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 [9], 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 [9].

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 [10] next month (begins August 3)! We may (wink, wink) be giving away a mace as a prize.