Sure the sledgehammer is used for breaking objects and driving them into the ground... But this useful tool is also one heck of a training aid which can really put your strength and endurance to the test while improving these areas of physical fitness as well.
Now, if you prefer to use conventional weights for your training efforts then that’s completely understandable. But if you’d really like to take your functional strength to the next level, then it’s hard to beat the sledgehammer. And by the end of a session, your swinging muscles will be on fire.
So, let’s dig a little deeper into the ins and outs of sledgehammer training. Plus, we’ll give you a sample workout routine to use so you can experience for yourself the intensity and benefits of this type of training...
INTRODUCTION TO SLEDGEHAMMER TRAINING
You’ve likely seen the typical training setup for a sledgehammer training session. The big tire lies on the ground, while the person swings the hammer overhead to slam it into the rubber before it bounces back and another repetition is performed. Another name for this is tire slams.
But you can also do effective movements where you’re just swinging the sledgehammer around.
Now, the sledgehammer should be a weight that is relative to the person’s strength and capabilities but sometimes this isn’t the case which can cause injury and poor performance. So, there’s a strategy when it comes to working with a sledgehammer (as with any form of resistance training) as you simply cannot just select anyone to start hacking away like a neanderthal.
There are many different sizes and shapes and we’ll try to detail how to choose one based on your current level of physical fitness and goals.
Before you’re able to do a sledgehammer workout, get yourself a decent sized tire that has enough surface area to where you don’t have to hit in the same exact spot. And of course, make sure you have a decent quality sledgehammer that’s not too heavy for you to swing repetitively.
Doing tire slams or other sledgehammer exercises are not meant to test your one-rep max. Sledgehammer training should be explosive, and functional.
BENEFITS OF SLEDGEHAMMER TRAINING
There are several notable benefits of sledgehammer training some of which are not possible through conventional weight training in a gym due to the functional and real-life body movements performed during a tire slam for instance.
- Strength increase
- Muscle hypertrophy
- Improved endurance
- Cardiovascular health
- Better power and explosiveness
- Improved grip strength and coordination
And then the quick and powerful movement does, in fact, improve explosiveness. Grip strength is a side effect of handling the heavyweight to slam the hammer down. And you’ll develop good coordination from performing the reps by hitting the same spot while keeping your body still and using the same movement patterns each time.
WHAT MUSCLES GET WORKED?
The tire slam works essentially all muscles… and that should be quite obvious based on the full-body engagement required to swing the heavy hammer and hit the tire. You’re putting your entire body into the movement from your legs to your back, arms, shoulders, and core muscles (rectus abdominis and obliques).
But if doing upper body movements, you’ll obviously be working the muscles of the upper body.
DOES SWINGING A SLEDGEHAMMER BUILD MUSCLE?
You’ll definitely experience muscle and strength gains due to the weight of the sledgehammer providing resistance against the muscle used. And the impact of the sledgehammer hitting the tire will challenge the muscles as you try to drive the hammer as hard as you can into it.
However, it’s important to remember that the tire slam should not replace your conventional progressive weight training routine using compound lifts to build maximum muscle size. And that’s because there isn’t a sufficient resistance load placed on the target muscles to elicit a big enough stress response and you still need peak contraction to cause maximum muscle tissue breakdown for optimal gains.
But that’s why sledgehammer training serves a main purpose to improve functional strength, power, and explosiveness as opposed to being a real muscle building movement.
HOW TO PICK A SLEDGEHAMMER
Picking a sledgehammer should be done strategically and based on your level of strength. But even if new to tire slams and sledgehammer training, you should start out relatively light to condition your body and joints before stepping up the weight used.
The weights can vary though from 4 pounds and upward so as you become more advanced, you can go up to the heaviest sledgehammers while maintaining good form.
And as far as hammer length, choose a relatively standard one with a longer handle for better leverage.
WHAT WEIGHT SLEDGEHAMMER TO USE?
If you’re a beginner, 4-12 lbs is an appropriate weight to use where you can do more repetitions. This will help you get used to the movement and improve your cardiovascular endurance.
Do several workouts with this weight and perfect the exercise before moving up in weight and how you can handle this type of weight. It will take time to progress in weight which is typical for any resistance training routine.
Tire slams are the most common form of sledgehammer exercises. But there are a few different variations which include overhead slams, right side slams and left side slams.
Then you have sledgehammer workouts where you simply use it as a functional, resistance training tool.
Check out this video for additional sledgehammer training ideas and exercises besides the basic swings. These exercises are great for agility, balance and core strength as well.
To perform the basic side slam, you want to take a staggered stance (one foot in front) and swing the sledgehammer in circular motions sliding the top hand down the whole handle until you slam the tire.
You can get even better power through pivoting the front foot as you swing the hammer back before you slam it down.
The overhead slam can be performed with the feet shoulder-width distance apart and it’ll be, of course, more of an overhead slam motion as opposed to the side slams.
Here’s a basic beginner and more advanced sledgehammer workout.
Perform one set of each exercise and rest 20 seconds before repeating each exercise for the remaining two sets.
Left Side Slams
Right Side Slams
Alternating Tire Slams
Use a heavier sledgehammer for this exercise and rest 20 seconds in between each set performed in a circuit type fashion.
Alternating tire slams
- 3 sets x 12 reps
If you really want to challenge your balance and coordination, try the tire slam standing on a Bosu ball.
- 3 sets x 12 reps
Here’s a video example:
HOW OFTEN TO TRAIN
A good way to determine how often you should train is to gauge how you feel on a daily basis. Sometimes we might be a little tired and unmotivated which is completely normal. But overtraining is a real thing and if you’re also doing other forms of weight training then you need to be careful to not overexert yourself.
But for the aesthetic and strength benefits, training two to three times per week for a shorter duration until you tire (no pun intended) yourself out should be plenty. And the more advanced in your training, the better you can determine a good training frequency.
Be sure to get plenty of rest and make sure your diet is sufficient enough to support your intense training session.
HOW TO PROGRESS
How do we progress when it comes to any form of resistance/endurance training? We can up the resistance used (progressive overload), increase the volume, implement new exercises, decrease rest times and deload every now and then.
Progression results from pushing yourself harder and creating a progressive challenge to the body. Exercise intensity is key and making the exercises more difficult through utilizing variations is a good place to start.
"High-intensity interval training provides variety and challenges that appeal to some types of personalities," says Mercedes Carnethon, who is an epidemiologist and vice-chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
So not only is sledgehammer training good for improving functional performance but you can tailor it to your liking.
Sledgehammer training is a viable option for improving all aspects of functional strength and performance. There are different variations of sledgehammer exercises and various levels of difficulty of each one.
The basic sledgehammer tire slam is pretty easy to get down so take it upon yourself to implement some of the basics for your own physical fitness benefit based on the provided instructional videos. Then turn up the volume once you get more advanced as a result.