Modern strength training can often seem like a complicated subject. Experts and scientists continually debate which movements and methods are best, and studies are often contradictory. Exercises fall in and out of fashion, and movements considered essential one day are deemed useless or even dangerous the next.
Needless to say, this can be very confusing and can lead to “paralysis by analysis.” This is where exercisers have no idea what workouts they should do and end up doing nothing.
As a personal trainer with over 30 years of experience, I’ve seen the rise, fall, and rise again of many exercises and training methods. This tells me that almost every type of workout has benefits and drawbacks and will work for some people if not for others.
Invariably, the best workout is the one that suits your needs and goals and that you are willing to do consistently.
As such, it’s always worth exploring new and unusual training methods. Experimenting with different types of training could lead to discovering your ideal workout.
In this article, I take a look at mace training so you can decide if this ancient exercise method deserves a place in your workouts.
- What is Mace Training?
- What Are the Advantages and Benefits of Mace Training?
- Example Mace Training Exercises
- Mace Training – Closing Thoughts
What is Mace Training?
A mace, also known as a steel mace or mace bell, features a spherical weight at the end of a long handle. Resembling a rounded sledgehammer, maces were once ancient weapons utilized to smash enemies in battle. However, in more peaceful times, they have been repurposed as tools for strength building and conditioning.
Maces have been used all over the world. Still, they are most strongly associated with the continent of Asia and, specifically, India. Traditional Indian wrestlers used mace-like weights called Gada to train for combat. Mace exercises typically involve a lot of rotational power and grip strength, two things wrestlers value and need.
Fast forward to the 21st century and maces are now best thought of as a functional training tool. They can be lifted or swung in many ways to develop all the major muscles. While modern maces don’t look much like the traditional Indian Gada, they are no less effective.
Maces are available in a range of weights, from 3 to 15 kg (6 ½ to 35 pounds), and are typically made of steel. Most have a knurled handle to provide a secure grip. Maces can be used using one or both hands, depending on the weight and the diameter of the handle.
No mace? No problem! You can make your own, use a standard sledgehammer, or load weights onto one end of an adjustable barbell. While not perfect, these solutions will allow you to try mace training without buying a dedicated steel mace bell.
What Are the Advantages and Benefits of Mace Training?
Does mace training deserve a place in your workouts? Consider the advantages and benefits outlined below and then decide!
When it comes to core training, most people tend to focus on the sagittal plane. This involves forward and backward movements like crunches, leg lifts, and back extensions.
However, as well as moving in the sagittal plane, your spine can rotate in the transverse plane and shift from side to side in the frontal plane. These movements are often missing from core workouts.
Mace training typically features rotational movements targeting the obliques and your lateral chain. These muscles are critical in most sports and are involved in many everyday activities. And yet, they’re often neglected.
While Pallof presses and cable woodchops are effective rotational exercises, they’re generally performed slowly. However, dynamic rotational movements like punching, kicking, and throwing are fast and explosive, just like most mace exercises. As such, mace training will carry over better to athletic activities and sports.
Forearm and Grip Strength
Steel maces typically have thick handles that must be held firmly. Lifting and swinging a mace will challenge and develop your forearms and increase grip strength. Combat and contact sports require a powerful grip, and grip strength is intrinsically linked to longevity (1). So, whether you want Popeye-sized forearms or a vice-like grip, mace training can help.
There are very few seated mace exercises. Instead, you do most of them while standing. As such, every movement you perform is essentially a full-body exercise. For example, swinging a mace involves bracing your feet and legs so you don’t lose your balance.
In theory, this means that mace training will burn more calories than some other types of exercise, such as machine-based and seated freeweight exercises.
Mace training isn’t just good for your muscles; it’s good for your nervous system, too. Most mace exercises involve large and often complex movements, which will challenge and develop your balance and coordination. You need to be aware of not just your body but the position and location of the mace.
This all adds to an excellent workout for your neuromuscular system, which is the collective term for your brain, nerves, and muscles.
Increased Shoulder Mobility and Stability
Most mace exercises involve a large range of motion, especially in the upper body and, in particular, the shoulders. Mobile shoulders are less prone to pain and injury.
As well as moving your joints through a broad range of motion, you’ll also need to use your shoulder cuff to stabilize your joints and the weight of the mace. This all means that mace training is very valuable for improving shoulder functionality and health.
It should be no surprise to hear that strength training makes you stronger. However, strength gains tend to be specific to the movements you perform. For example, leg extensions increase leg extension strength, and biceps curls increase biceps strength.
Mace exercises often mimic the demands of many everyday and sporting activities. As such, the strength you develop with a mace will transfer well to outside the gym. This is one of the reasons that Indian wrestlers favored mace training over conventional exercises; it got them strong for the demands they’d face in the ring.
Instant Load Adjustment
While maces come in a range of weights, you can vary the difficulty of many mace exercises simply by moving your hands up or down the handle. The closer your hands are to the weight, the shorter the lever and the lighter the load. Move your hands down the handle and away from the weight, and your chosen exercise will be instantly more challenging.
This easy adjustment means you can adapt your workout to your current abilities and perform multiple exercises with a single steel mace.
Long-Lasting and Hardwearing
Strength training equipment can be expensive, and that’s true for steel maces, too. However, unlike rowers, bikes, and cable machines, steel maces have no moving parts and are built to last. In fact, your purchase will probably last a lifetime. As such, steel maces, like kettlebells and clubbells, are excellent investments in your lifelong fitness.
Example Mace Training Exercises
There are hundreds of different mace exercises to try, so it’s beyond the scope of this article to provide you with a library of movements for your workouts. That said, here are three classic mace training exercises to try.
1. Mace 360
The 360 is a classic mace training exercise. Done with light weights, it’s a great way to warm up your shoulders and improve your mind-muscle connection. Done with heavier loads, it’s an excellent core, grip, and shoulder-strengthening exercise. Take care not to go too fast too soon. A fast-moving mace can pull you off balance.
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, core, forearms.
How to do it:
- Hold your mace in front of you. Your hands should be near the end of the handle, and the mace should be vertical. Brace your core and bend your knees slightly for balance.
- Tip the mace toward one shoulder and circle the weight around your body. Use your core to keep your torso stable.
- Return to the starting position and pause briefly with the mace vertical and stationary, resetting your grip and core.
- Continue for the prescribed number of reps and then repeat in the opposite direction.
- Move your hands closer to the weight to make this exercise easier.
- Keep the mace close to your body to avoid losing your balance – but not too close!
- Ensure the area around you is clear to avoid injuring passers-by or damaging your surroundings.
2. Mace Barbarian Squat
Muscles targeted: Full-body
While most mace exercises are classed as full-body movements, the barbarian squat takes that statement to the next level. In fact, the only muscles this exercise doesn’t really work is your calves. So, if you only have time to do one mace training exercise, the barbarian squat should be it.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned slightly outward.
- Hold your mace in front of you. Your hands should be near the end of the handle, and the mace should be upright.
- Raise the handle, bend your elbows, and lower the end of your mace behind your back.
- Next, pull the mace back over and return to the starting position. Without pausing, bend your legs and descend into a deep squat.
- Stand back up and repeat.
- Do not round your back during the squat, as doing so increases the risk of injury.
- Do not hyperextend your spine as you lower the mace behind your back. Ensure the movement comes from your shoulders and not your lower back.
- Raise your heels on blocks to increase squat depth and quadriceps engagement. You may also find it easier to balance with your heels elevated.
3. Mace Joust Lunge
Muscles targeted: Full-body
It’s easy to forget that the mace was originally a weapon of war. Remembering this fact will make the following exercise more effective. Imagine you are driving the head of your mace into the belly of an enemy. Needless to say, this “killer” exercise involves all your major lower and upper body muscles.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together and hold your mace in a mixed grip at hip height and with the weight at the front. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Take a large step forward, bend your rear leg, and lower your knee to within an inch of the floor.
- Simultaneously extend your arms in front of you and drive the head of the mace forward and into your imaginary opponent.
- Push off your front leg and return to the starting position, pulling your mace back toward you as you do.
- Continue on the same side for the prescribed number of reps, then change arms and legs and repeat.
- Switch hands and legs rep by rep to make this an alternating mace joust lunge.
- Link several steps together to do walking mace joust lunges.
- You can also do this exercise with an extended mace thrust, which is significantly more challenging.
Mace Training – Closing Thoughts
Training with a mace is a great way to build strength, endurance, power, and athleticism. Mace exercises are fun and effective, despite being somewhat unconventional and rarely seen in Western gyms.
However, mace training has a centuries-old history, and the fact that we’re still talking about it today strongly suggests that it works.
While some fitness experts use mace training exclusively, I’m not one of them. Instead, I like to incorporate mace training with other workout methods. Mace exercises are especially good for building core and grip strength. They also make an excellent circuit and interval training tool.
So, why not try mace training for yourself? Start with the three exercises in this article, and then expand your movement library according to your needs and goals.
- Bohannon RW. Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clin Interv Aging. 2019 Oct 1;14:1681-1691. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S194543. PMID: 31631989; PMCID: PMC6778477.