Sledgehammer Training – Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Sledgehammer Training

As a teenager, one of my early boxing coaches introduced me to swinging a sledgehammer. He told me how great fighters such as Archie Moore used to swing a sledgehammer to build power and endurance. At the time, I thought my coach was crazy, but it turns out he was right. It’s been a few decades since I was introduced to the sledgehammer and it remains one of my favorite tools. Every athlete who has ever trained with me has spent time swinging at least one of my hammers. The sledge is one of those tools that never gets old and is always effective.

Yet, while the sledgehammer’s effectiveness is impossible to deny, there is still some confusion regarding the tool. In a previous article, I shared my thoughts about handle options and durability, but I am continuing to receive questions about the ideal weight. With that in mind, I’ll use this entry to share some additional thoughts regarding various sized sledgehammers.

Understand the Tool

For starters, it is important to understand that swinging a sledgehammer is different from lifting in the weight room. When swinging a sledgehammer, the goal isn’t to continuously add weight to the hammer. Although certain sledgehammers may build strength, the sledge is much more than a strength training tool. As stated already, swinging a sledgehammer at a rapid pace is a tremendous conditioning exercise. And contrary to what some believe, you don’t need a heavy sledge to achieve a quality conditioning workout. Hammers of all sizes can prove useful in the gym.

The question therefore is what is the best weight to swing?

Before I attempt to answer that question, I will share two videos that feature two different hammers. First, you’ll see a 10 pound sledge that is swung at a rapid pace. During this workout, I was performing 60 second intervals with a goal of 40+ swings per minute.

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Next, you’ll see a 20 pound hammer. Notice how my pace has slowed despite my best attempt to maintain a brisk tempo.

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The Best Choice is Both

When comparing the videos above, it’s not difficult to see that a lighter hammer allows for a faster pace. The pace that you can achieve with a 10 pound hammer has an entirely different feel from swinging a heavier sledge. Once again though, the fact that I can swing the lighter sledge at a faster clip doesn’t mean that it is better. It simply means that it is different.

Speaking as someone who has spent the past few decades swinging sledgehammers of all sizes, I can honestly say that there isn’t an ideal weight. Whenever I’m asked to pick between heavy or light, my response is always the same. I enjoy both. It’s useful to build strength with a heavier hammer, just as it is useful to maintain a faster pace with a lighter sledge.

My Preferred Range

As for ideal weights, I have several different sized sledgehammers in the gym. The two that receive the most use however are the 10 and 20 pounder. The 10 pounder allows for a lightning pace that will eventually leave any athlete out of breath. The 20 pound hammer is heavy enough to build some strength, yet light enough to still allow for conditioning benefits.

As for progressing beyond 20 pounds, there are plenty of monster sledgehammers on the market today. The heaviest that I’ve used is a 50 pounder, but I’m not a huge fan of these monster hammers. While they are fun to hoist around on occasion, I prefer the faster pace that can be maintained with a more moderate weight.

I’d rather swing a sledge at maximum speed while lifting heavier weights separately in the weight room. I prefer not to turn the sledgehammer into a weight lifting exercise.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I’ve had several athletes tell me that they are too strong for a 10 pound hammer. I typically respond to that comment by asking if they are also too strong for 10 ounce boxing gloves. At that point, the athlete usually has a puzzled look on his face. I then explain that the best boxers in the history of the sport didn’t need heavier gloves to achieve a quality workout on a punching bag.

In some ways, the same logic can be applied to a sledgehammer. You don’t need a monster hammer to achieve a quality workout. Whenever someone questions the potential of my 10 pound hammer, I ask them to perform intervals with 40 or more max effort swings per minute. When working at that pace, it’s only a matter of time before the sledgehammer catches up to you.

In summary, don’t be fooled to believe that you must constantly progress to a heavier hammer. Plenty can be accomplished with an inexpensive hammer in the 10 to 20 pound range. I don’t say this to suggest that you shouldn’t ever go heavier. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that it’s always necessary.

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“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” – Edmund Burke

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4 comments:

  1. I have never thought of my sledgehammer as beeing a good tool for a workout. Rather, I have yet to use it in a real workout. Right now I only use it for splitting wood, but I don’t need it all that often. I will also need a tire if I want to work out with a sledgehammer. Any suggestions on where I can find a large tire?

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