Interval Training with a Sledgehammer

Sledgehammer training

Long time readers of the site know that I’m a fan of the sledgehammer. Swinging a sledge is undoubtedly one of my favorite power and conditioning exercises. It’s not something I keep to myself though. Every athlete I’ve ever trained has spent time swinging a sledgehammer. That’s how much I believe in the tool.

And although I’ve written about different facets of sledgehammer training before, there seems to be a new crop of readers here who aren’t familiar with my past work. With that in mind, it might be useful to revisit some topics that haven’t been discussed recently. To kick things off, I will start with a brief discussion about interval training with a sledgehammer.

Sledgehammer Conditioning

It’s worth noting that the sledgehammer can be used to develop power just as it can be used to build endurance. If the focus is power, your rep range will naturally be lower. Fatigue isn’t part of the equation. Instead, you should strive to get the most out of each individual swing. In other words, you aren’t rushing to finish the set. You are putting as much power into each swing with no concern over time.

As your focus shifts towards conditioning, you will naturally swing the sledge for higher reps or longer intervals. I personally don’t get too carried away with lengthy rounds though. I prefer to keep the sledgehammer moving at a rapid pace. As for ideal work-to-rest ratios, one minute rounds seem to offer a happy medium. The minute round is short enough where you can go all out, yet long enough to ensure a positive conditioning response. Rest between rounds is typically 60 seconds.

A brief demonstration can be seen below.

During each minute round, the goal is to swing the sledgehammer at least 40 times. If you can’t get 40 reps, you are likely using a hammer that is too heavy for the drill.

Questions and Answers

After posting the video above to Instagram, I received a plethora of questions about the drill so I’ll use this space to answer them all.

Do 1-minute rounds with the sledgehammer build power too, or just endurance?

When you’re working for one minute continuously, you are certainly focused on conditioning, but there’s also a hint of power training as well. In the least, you are improving your ability to display power in the presence of fatigue.

Are your feet squared up in the video? I can’t tell with the tire.

The feet will be slightly staggered, but only by a few inches. This is particularly true when performing full speed intervals. You don’t want the feet to slow you down when transitioning from left hand dominant to right hand dominant swings. A slightly wider stance with minimal stagger allows one to transition from side to side without delay.

Do you always change hand position (left dominant vs. right dominant) every 10 swings?

Typically speaking, yes. Switching hand position after less than 10 swings will reduce your overall output. The goal should be to minimize the time spent changing hand position.

What size sledgehammer do you recommend?

There’s no universal answer that holds true for all. With that said, an 8 to 12 pound hammer will suffice for most. Ideally, you should be able to swing the hammer at least 40 times per minute.

If your focus shifts away from conditioning towards strength, you could certainly use a heavier sledgehammer. Less can be more when the focus is high speed conditioning however.

How many rounds should I perform?

We commonly perform anywhere from 5 to 10 intervals with the sledge. Such work is typically performed towards the end of a workout (i.e. a finisher). For example, a boxer may finish his boxing workout by closing out with a few rounds on the sledgehammer. The sledge is just one part of the workout. It is not something that we use on its own.

What brand interval timer do you use?

I personally use a boxing timer from Ringside, but individuals could certainly use something such as a Gymboss timer. You don’t need anything fancy.

Where does the sledgehammer work?


Final Thoughts

To conclude this brief entry, swinging a sledgehammer at a rapid pace is a tremendous conditioning exercise that has stood the test of time. Countless (past and present) world champions have chopped wood and swung sledgehammers with tremendous success.

And while one minute intervals are just one of many options, I have found this drill to be one of the better ways to use the hammer. This drill allows you to accomplish plenty of work without eating up too much time.

Related Entry:


“Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.” – Alfred Adler

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  1. Hello Ross, great article as always.
    Lets say that I am not fortunate enough to have sledgehammer / tire to hit. I live in apartment and have some weights, adjustable dumbbells, barbell, pullup bar, gymnastic rings, weighted vest etc… What would be your best replacement for sledgehammer swings either weighted or bodyweight? DB swings on or two handed, snatches, burpees… something that could be performed in similar manner???

    1. There’s plenty that can be done without a sledge, but there’s really no substitute as far as what you’ve listed. It would be more a case of apples to oranges. You can still get in a quality session. The focus will simply be different.

    2. I see two aspects at work here:

      – you don’t have to descelerate the sledgehammer at the end of the range of motion, because you are crushing it into a tire or similar. There are some similar exercises though, like plyo pushups, jump squats, heavy medicine ball throws or heavy enough swings.

      – there is a full body FLEXION at work, or, when done with a straight trunk, a vertical pull movement TO the ground. You don’t see that direction often in explosive exercises. You could do cable crunches or triceps extension explosively, but that are more isolation exercises that don’t have the same whole body utilization.

  2. When you say you don’t need anything fancy for a gym timer, the truth of the matter is your smartphone may also suffice for a gym timer. There are several apps for both Android and iOS enabling workout timers for a smartphone. I mean, if you already wear headphones during your workout or have the stereo plugged or synced to the phone, why not? Plus, it’ll encourage those working out on their own to “put the damn thing away”, so to speak- so it fits your smartphone criteria!

  3. Ross,

    Great stuff as always! I have actually found that I prefer the tornado ball to the sledge just because the rotational component adds more instability and power to my swings. The hammer is great too, but your tutorial on the tornado ball was a game changer for me, my conditioning and punching have never been better. You’re the man!

  4. I see this method used quite a few times in the pro game but rarely in the amateurs, is it still beneficial and would you recommend it for the amateur game?

  5. Ross,
    Great information. I have a technique question. I see some tutorials focus on getting the sledgehammer as high as possible at 12 o’clock including going up on the toes (the whole triple extension thing and getting as big a ‘swing arc’ as possible).

    However I see you slamming
    away at an impressively rapid rate with a much smaller arc (
    hammer head just clearing the shoulder).

    Is it just a case of training for power vs training for conditioning and then choosing the suitable technique? Thanks!

    1. Some people try to complicate swinging a sledgehammer. You don’t need any fancy techniques. Just swing it hard and fast and you’ll do well, regardless of whether you’re targeting power, endurance, etc.

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