WOW: Sledgehammer

Complete four cycles:

15 Around the Heads (both directions)
15 Stakhanov Shovels (both sides)
15 Spear Lunges (both sides)


Warmup: 30 second Grok Squat, 1 minute Grok Hang.

Before I describe the workout, I have to give credit to its inspiration. Long time reader and commenter Timothy has been perfecting the art of sledgehammer swinging for a couple years now. You may already visited his website, Urban Primalist, but if you haven’t, check it out. He provides extensive detailed instruction on all the various ways to swing a sledgehammer and repurpose the common workman’s tool for the purposes of physical fitness.

At PrimalCon, Timothy showed up with a bevy of hammers and he put on several impromptu clinics for fellow guests. His enthusiasm for the hammers really shined through. I think the clinic participants felt the same way. So Timothy, this one’s for you.

What I like about Timothy’s approach is that it’s more than just bashing the heck out of things as hard and as fast as you can. Now, I love that too, and while tire whacking certainly has its place, the sledgehammer is a far more nuanced piece of exercise equipment. Using it doesn’t have to be jarring; it can be fluid and graceful. Besides, if you want to get in a quick workout in your living room and all you have is a sledgehammer, you don’t want to go bashing in your couch cushions. You want a kinder, gentler (but no less effective) option. This is that option.

I’ve talked about Around the Heads before in the mace post from a couple years back. Here’s a video that shows exactly what to do. Of course, since you’re using a sledgehammer, you’ll want to be extra careful swinging that thing in vicinity of your brain.

Read Timothy’s treatments of the Stakhanov Shovel and Spear Lunge for a good primer on each.

A few things to remember:

  • Keep a strong, engaged core. Power is transmitted through your core, and a weak, floppy one will mean weak, ineffectual movements.
  • Watch your surroundings when you’re swinging. Hammers are designed to do damage, after all.


To make things harder, vary your grip on the hammer. Choke up toward the head to make things easier; choke down toward the end of the handle to make things harder. This makes progression with a single hammer easy by increasing the length of the lever. It’s also affordable. Rather than buy heavier hammers each time the last gets too easy to handle, simply vary where you grip the handle.

Winner of Last Week’s WOW Contest:

The randomly chosen winner of last week’s WOW contest is skink531. Congrats to skink and thanks to everyone that submitted their favorite Primal workouts.

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.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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15 thoughts on “WOW: Sledgehammer”

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  1. Woohoo, I won something!!! This is awesome, I never win things. Thanks Mark, I’ve wanted a T-shirt for a while now. So how do I go about getting it?

    1. Congrats, skink!! Well deserved, sir.

      Of course, now you’ll have to do a new set of progress pics with the new shirt. 😉

  2. Hooray sledgehammer! Thanks for the link, Mark!

    “Shovelglove” (zero-impact hammer swinging) is such an enjoyable and effective workout, I’m surprised it hasn’t entered the mainstream yet.

    It will galvanize your core muscles all the way around. It can be great cardio, if that’s what you’re after. And it’s a superb way to condition your body for weightlifting: you’ll build up all the connective tissue and joint mobility you need to attack the heavy weights.

    But where shovelglove really shines is synaptic facilitation. That is, by precisely controlling a flying chunk of iron, you will dramatically increase muscle control and coordination by your central nervous system. You’ll polish your proprioceptive sense until you can feel just where each swing will take you and how to position your body for maximum leverage. Put on some good music and you’ll really get in the zone!

    I encourage you to play around with your hammer and discover what works for you. But to help spark your imagination, I posted beginner lessons on my site. After another year of practice, I’m just getting ready to write the intermediate course, so please stay tuned.

    Dean, thanks for the dubbing! Thor is cool, but my personal sledgehammer hero is John Henry. There’s just something about a dude dual-wielding twenty-pound hammers to beat a machine in a mountain-tunneling race that speaks to me.

    1. Timothy, what weight of sledgehammer do you use and is pictured over on your site? I’d have sent you an email to ask but others here might be wondering the same thing.

      Thanks, and congrats on your successes!

      1. Thanks for the congrats! Hopefully my sledgehammer successes are just beginning… and hopefully yours are, too!

        I use a 12-pound sledgehammer that I picked up at my local hardware store. I’ve never really needed to upgrade it, because as Mark said above, you can always adjust your grip to make it feel heavier or lighter. There’s a picture of it in the first installment of the beginner’s guide on my website.

  3. I heat my home in winter with 100% wood. That means swinging a 15-pound monster maul (among other things). The impact is really hard on the shoulders, but I hate any exercise that’s not doing something, so I’ll keep at it. The process of getting up several cords of wood is a varied whole-body workout that I recommend.

    1. Actually hitting things with the sledgehammer is a whole other workout… and one that I envy very much when I pass a construction crew using hammers!

      I’ve only done it a few times, by beating on an old log, but you’re right, the impact can be severe. Whereas shovelglove is a conditioning exercise that can be done every day, actually hitting things with the hammer (or splitting wood) is more like weightlifting, and merits a day of rest between serious attempts, I think.

  4. There is debatabley nothing more masculine than throwing a hammer around. Except perhaps using an actual spear for the spear lunges.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Jaybird. If you’re looking for a sure way to boost testosterone, hammering (or spearing!) gets the job done.

  5. Hopefully it’s not too late to post a comment and get a reply from someone; I’m looking for some feedback here. I love the Shovelglove site, and checked it out last year. I like the exercises, too. However, two of the three here don’t seem to go together very well. Maybe I’m just doing them wrong, or are further out of shape than I thought. The wow seems really arm-heavy to me.
    I’ve been nursing a bicep injury for a few months now, so maybe that’s why it stands out to me the way it does, but my arms were spent about halfway through the first set of spear lunges. The way I do the shoveling put a lot of emphasis on my biceps, and then, as I stepped into the lunges, I was holding the hammer under static tension for most of the movement, again placing a lot of strain on the biceps. What am I doing wrong?
    Looking for a different focus, in the third cycle, instead of the shoveling and thrusting, I did two different twisting strikes, even having to change my grip there into something resembling holding a katana to take the stress off my biceps. And for the fourth, I did a series of walking lunges, holding the hammer at arm’s length over my head, on both sides for some more core work, and then 2 sets of 15 reps of a modified Skyhook that my brother calls Joan of Arcs–holding the hammer in the low grip (at the end of the handle) in both hands, I lift the hammer as high as I can. Controlled, not slowly, but not explosively, either. With the last two cycles, I feel like I got a more rounded whole-body workout. Hope I didn’t miss something elementary here…

    Comments? Sorry for the long post.

    1. Ioelus, it’s never too late for sledgehammer advice.

      Hammering is definitely an arm-heavy activity. Everybody walks; most people jog; and so leg work like lunges and sprints come naturally. But hammer work can be challenging because most of us don’t get a lot of regular arm conditioning.

      Stakhanov Shovels can be made into more of a whole-body exercise by lunging forward onto your lead leg as you thrust the shovel forward, and then straightening your back as you lift the shovel back up. But you will certainly feel them the most in your biceps.

      Spear lunges, being an explosive, plyometric motion, will wear you out quickly, especially after bicep work. So the fact that you fatigued says to me that you were doing them correctly.

      Your idea to progress to a deep stance (lunges) with difficult leverage (Skyhook, but I like Joan of Arc even better!) is a great way to target the core. Another idea is to end with big swings, like Paul Bunyans, Scythe Swings, Bullroarers or Grutte Piers. Another possibility is to do Orville Redenbachers, a unique move that puts serious dynamic tension into your core and legs.

      In general, keep up the good work. Your arms are getting great conditioning with a workout like this, and their endurance will improve significantly after a few weeks of faithful practice.

      1. Thanks for your response. I guess I was just surprised that Orville Redenbachers or another movement that focused somewhere else wasn’t one of the exercises instead of one of the two that placed so much emphasis on the biceps. Maybe (he says, chuckling) these should be part of Mark’s Bro workout from a few months ago. Oh, well. Thanks again.