To preface this, a lot of the exercises were borrowed or modified from a Grapplearts post (which in turn was apparently a Diesel Crew post first). Credit to them.
If possible I’ll addend this post with pictures, but let’s be honest, it’s probably not going to happen so I’m going to try to link out to YouTube videos (which are not my own) when possible.
As a disclaimer – consult a doctor before starting any exercise program, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah… Seriously though, you’re going to be throwing a hammer around so be careful and be reasonable. Just like weightlifting where the weight can get too far from you and you throw out your back, sloppy hammering can wreak some havoc so take the time to go through motions slowly and take the time to find a video if what I’m describing sounds like nonsense (or skip it all together).
First off, you don’t need that heavy a hammer. I got a 12-lb hammer and I’m seriously choking up on it. An 8-lb (or even smaller) hammer should be sufficient for just about all of these. Having said that, you can always choke up on the heavier hammer and for me, 12-lb was only $5 more than the 8-lb.
You’re going to need a tire. The advice from most sites that have hammer workout routines is that you can get one from somewhere that does tire replacement. I just happened to have a couple of old tires at home that I got talked into taking home when I got new tires because they’re viable spares. I think bigger tires are better because tractor tires are recommended, but I’m using car tires and it seems to work okay.
There are a few key positions and terms that I’m going to use.
Choking up - this is an idiom for taking a higher grip relative to the hammer’s head. That is, a grip closer to the head of the hammer.
Split grip - I’m not sure if there’s an actual term for how one holds a hammer with one hand by the head and one hand at the bottom of the shaft, but with respect to martial arts movements it’s a fundamental split, so I’m calling it a split grip. Both thumbs should point toward the hammer’s head with this grip (which means the top hand is always under the hammer).
Baseball bat grip - I’m sure there’s a better term than this, but it reminds me of holding a baseball bat. From the split grip, let the top hand slide until it touches the bottom hand. This is how one holds a baseball bat in my experience.
The Overhead Swing
Again, I feel like there are probably proper names for these exercises, but I can’t find them so you’re getting whatever I feel like calling them. This is swinging a sledgehammer, thus “the overhead swing”. Chris Melton has a great video explaining the motions if you’ve not used a sledgehammer (or an axe for that matter – pretty much the same motion).
Get into a squatting position. I actually have one foot slightly forward because it feels more comfortable. Start with the split grip, raise the hammer over the shoulder of the top hand, and swing it. As you’re swinging, let your top hand drop into the baseball bat grip.
Making this harder requires getting a bigger hammer or just going faster.
The Grapplearts post notes this as “[levering] side to side”. I call it a twist because you’re keeping your elbow in place and twisting at your wrist. Grab the hammer in one hand and twist your hand both directions through the full range of motion at a controlled pace. That’s it. I recommend starting with a very high grip on the hammer and moving your grip down (head further from your hand) if it’s too easy. This one gets hard after a few reps so be prepared to choke up if you’ve started too far out. You’ll feel it in your forearm and elbow. A good video of both this and levering from GTSPerformance is on YouTube.
Once this is done, I turn the hammer upside down and repeat with the head of the hammer below your hand. Don’t cheat yourself out of a full range of motion here, it’s easy to.
The way to make the exercise harder is to have more shaft between your hand and the hammer. If you get to the base of the shaft and can do this, you are a better man than I and should probably seek a bigger hammer.
Of all the forms of levering, the form I’ve found most effective is the one where you hold the hammer to the side (choke up, seriously) and just move at the wrist up and down through the full range of motion. I’ve been doing this with the hammer both in front of and behind my hand on each side and it feels awesome. This is heavily covered by the Grapplearts post so you should look there for pictures. A good video of both this and forearm twists from GTSPerformance is on YouTube.
This gets harder with more shaft between your hand and the head of the hammer.
I’m going to try to do my best to explain this exercise. It’s very easy once you get it, but feels a bit awkward at first. You’re just going to switch between right-handed and left-handed split grips. Start with one split grip and toss it in front of you such that you catch it in the other split grip. I can’t seem to find a video of this, but I promise if you’re tossing from a right-handed split grip and catching in a left-handed split grip (and vice-versa) you’ve probably got it right.
One rep is the hammer getting back to the position you started from (so tossing right to left to right is one).
I have no idea how to make this harder.
More ballistic exercises which I don’t do, but look kind of cool: Sledgehammer Workouts
If you look around YouTube you can find other stuff, especially videos targeted towards MMA. I’m not doing those exercises myself so I can’t speak to them. Try them out if you care to, you already have a maul and a tire.
- 10x twists (head above hand), each hand
- 10x twists (head below hand), each hand
- 10x lever (head in front of hand), each side
- 10x lever (head behind hand), each side
- 10x juggling
- Overhead swing until the cows come home (switch sides every 10 reps)