Train Like an Ancient Hindu Warrior: The Steel Mace Workout

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 23, 2013 · 79 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

gama

The Great Gama: undefeated wrestler, owner of a heroic mustache, and mace trainer.

OnnitLogo_125x125_WG This post is brought to you by Onnit. Check out Onnit’s line of supplements and fitness gear including their new steel mace.

Looking for a new workout? How about one that was used by Hindu warriors over 2,000 years ago and still used by Pehlwani wrestlers today?

The gada, or heavy mace, was the weapon of choice of Hindu soldiers as well as the Hindu deity Hanuman, an anthropomorphic monkey who can lift mountains with a single hand. According to the book Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture, warriors during the Puranic age would engage in mace training early in the morning along with wrestling, archery, and swordsmanship. Besides dueling one another with gadas, warriors would swing heavier versions — usually made with a bamboo stick with a heavy stone at one end — behind their backs in order to strengthen their backs, chests, shoulders, forearms, and fingers. Because of their rigorous physical and tactical training, Hindu warriors were some of the fiercest of the ancient world.

Today, the gada is used primarily by Pehlwani wrestlers in northern India and southern Pakistan. The most famous gada afficionado was the Great Gama (pictured above), the only undefeated Pehlwani wrestler in history. By the looks of it, his mustache also trained with a gada. That thing is a beast!

While the Indian Club enjoyed popular use among Western exercise enthusiasts as early as the 19th century, gada training for some reason didn’t catch on until very recently. Mixed martial artists in the West have taken up heavy mace training as a way to strengthen the muscles involved with throwing opponents to the mat. Functional fitness and natural movement practitioners have also taken to mace training because it provides such an amazing full-body workout.

If you’re ready to harness your inner Hindu warrior, read on. Below, Mr. Know Your Lifts showcases six different exercises that you can perform with a heavy mace.

Mace Grip Basics

Basics-500

To make an exercise harder, grip both hands near the end of the handle. To make exercises easier, move at least one hand closer to the weighted end.

360

360-500

The 360 has been used by Hindu warriors and Pehlwani wrestlers for ages. It works the shoulders, chest, back, and forearms. Begin by holding the mace directly in front of you with your hands gripped closely together at the end of the handle. If your left hand is above your right hand, you’re going to push the mace ball over your right shoulder. The mace ball should swing behind your back. When it reaches your left shoulder, pull the mace over your left shoulder so that the mace is once again directly in front of you. Repeat several times. Switch up your hands so that your right hand is above your left, and push the mace ball over your left shoulder. Repeat swinging the mace in this direction several times.

To see this exercise in action, check out this video of Diesel Crew’s Jedd Johnson performing the 360.

Barbarian Squat

BarbarianSquat-500

The Barbarian Squat is a great full-body exercise. You’re working your upper as well as your lower body in a single movement. Begin in a standing position with the mace behind your neck. Start lowering your body into a squatting position while simultaneously bringing the mace to the front. You’ve successfully completed the exercise if you’re in a full squat and the mace is in front of you. Return to your starting position by standing while simultaneously bringing the mace back to its original position. Repeat.

Dynamic Curl

DynamicCurl-500

The Dynamic Curl works the forearms and biceps.

Hold the mace with a mixed grip — one hand overhand and one underhand — with the hand near the mace ball-end holding the handle with an underhand grip. Lift the ball end with the hand closest to the mace ball. When the ball reaches the middle of the arc, switch your hands up by sliding the hand that was near the ball down towards the end of the handle and bringing the hand that was near the handle up closer to the ball end. When you’ve finished, the ball end should be on your other side and your mixed grip should be reversed — the hand that was originally overhand should be underhand; the hand that was originally underhand should now be overhand. Swing the mace back and forth like this for several repetitions.

Spear Stab

SpearStab-500

Hold the mace like you would a spear. Thrust as if you were an ancient Pauravaian warrior stabbing an a member of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army in the Battle of the Hydaspes River. The closer both hands are to the handle, the more difficult this exercise will be. Switch up your hands and your stance to work the other side of your body.

Grave Digger

GraveDigger-500

It’s time to bury all those imaginary Macedonian soldiers you just killed. Hold the mace like you would a shovel and pretend like you’re digging a hole in the ground with the mace ball. Repeat for several repetitions. Switch up your hands to work the other side of your body.

Splitting Wood

SplittingWood-500

You’ll need a tire for this one. Just pretend like you’re splitting wood like a lumberjack. Start off with your non-dominant hand near the butt of the handle and your dominant hand placed near the mace’s head. Bring the mace head above your head. Swing down. As you swing, slide your dominant hand down the shaft of the mace for extra power. Switch up your hand placement to work the different sides of your body.

Illustrations by Ted Slampyak

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tyler A. Sellers April 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm

This looks pretty cool. The 360 looks similar to the scottish hammer throw. And they use basically the same tool. I’ll give this a try :)

2 Braden April 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Bad ass! Where do I get one!?

3 John Burkett April 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm

In case anybody was wondering where they’d get a mace, buying a large, 8lbs sledgehammer from the local hardware store works just as well. (or you can get 10, 12, or all the way up to like 24lbs depending on you budget and strenght)

And the gravedigging exercise works particularly well on your abs.

4 Aaron H. April 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm

This is definitely an interesting idea! A fun and powerful exercise. Any warrior training is good in my book.

5 Lance April 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I was just about to say “ok, but where do I get a steel made?” When I saw the link and the ad. Ha ha! I’ll check it out. I like that this is something I can do in the back yard. Thanks!

6 mattoomba April 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm

John Burkett’s idea of using a sledgehammer is a good one. The side benefit is that you have a training tool that is also an actual, useful tool you can use. Plus, sledgehammers can be found in any hardware store.

7 Manly Mike April 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm
8 Jason April 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Awesome to see the steel mace getting some well-deserved attention. I have a home gym which I’ve stocked with lots of different tools and equipment (I get bored easily) and I have both a mace and a sledgehammer (and indian clubs too!). The sledgehammer I use for hitting the tire. Nothing better for that and definitely superior to the mace for that exercise. The mace I use for other exercises like the ones above. The advantages of the mace are that it has a round handle with is easier to handle, and it’s easier to handle when you’re doing things like the 360 (you don’t want to bump yourself in the head with the hammer!). The size of the hammer head just make it kind of unwieldy for stabbing it like a spear and stuff. So I like both for different exercises basically.

9 Paul April 23, 2013 at 5:06 pm

My taekwondo school has several sledgehammers and a tire that the MMA group used for the Splitting Wood exercise.

10 Wasim April 23, 2013 at 7:06 pm

If that were to be used as a real weapon, that could definately destroy a lot of Macedonian soldiers. Look at the size of that thing in the first picture.

11 Samir April 23, 2013 at 7:07 pm

With that facial hair and muscles, the Great Gama (first picture guy) could kill ten people with one blow.

12 J. M. E. Bridges April 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Would you make one by getting a strong stick and basically attaching a rock to the end?

13 Rik Brown April 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Next month I am doing a seminar in Long Beach ,CA about the Mace and Heavy clubs. Check me out on facebook.

14 Erick Sandoval April 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Very nice… Ive made two for super CHEAP! … I spent .99 for a bowling ball from a thrift store and a 36″ 1.5″ threaded pipe from any box hardware store, used a paddle drill bit for the appropriate size to drill into the bowling ball and then screwed the threaded pipe in… 19.5 lb mace for under $8.00… and let me tell you, 19.5 lbs kicks your ass!

15 JBu92 April 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm

This reminds me of that guy a few years back who made up a full workout based around a sledgehammer wrapped in a sweater.
http://www.shovelglove.com/
A couple of the moves are the same.

16 Josh April 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm

You don’t necessarily need a tire for the last one. If you have a patch of dirt somewhere that you don’t mind jacking up, just slam it straight into the ground (at least with a sledge…not sure if I’d do that with a mace). Makes it harder since you don’t have a rebound to help get it back into starting position. I also hit my heavy bag with the hammer (wouldn’t do this unless you have an old bag you don’t mind taking the chance of destroying).

17 Joseph April 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm

@Tyler A. Sellers bro u can make one yourself a cheap shovel handle a cheap plastic ball and some quickrite cement iit is pretty easy google it how to make your own mace ball the cheapest i have seen them on lie is a site called ” my mad Methods”has them at a reasonable price

18 Fil April 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

This is good, but remember to wear safety boots at least, to protect them piggies. Not a lot of things are as painful as a toe getting accidentally struck by a heavy hammer (of which a few have learned the hard way).

19 Philip April 23, 2013 at 9:27 pm

It is only a little different from sledgehammer training, and western boxers and wrestlers have been doing that for years.

20 Chris April 24, 2013 at 1:17 am

You could probably make one pretty easily by taking a pipe or heavy wood handle and setting it in a coffee can full of cement.

21 andy April 24, 2013 at 2:59 am

A good alternative to the sledge hammer is a bowling ball, easily found at op shops and a steel pipe

22 JB April 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

I’ve been using Harinder Singh’s “Action Strength” workout program which combines the Gurda (steel mace) with kettle bells, Taiji, and yoga. The mace is awesome, and I definitely recommend Action Strength for anyone interested in this type of training.

To respond to Philip, I’ve done Western sledgehammer training & the gurda, and there is a large degree of difference, especially when gurda is done as part of a holistic yoga program.

Anyway, you can check out Action Strength here:

http://jkdathletics.com/action-strength/functional-fitness-attribute-development/

Singh’s story is actually pretty interesting. He suffered a severe back injury in an accident several years back, and through yoga, gurda, & martial arts, rehabilitated himself. You would never know he had been told he would only have limited mobility if you watched him move now. It’s a really inspiring motivation to keep in mind when you’re having problems getting off the couch to go work out.

23 Andrew Ross Long (@DrewRLong) April 24, 2013 at 8:58 am

You can see the 360 technique in action in a very well done short film called “Beyond” by Cale Glendening. You can watch it for free here:
http://www.loveandfreedomproject.com/varansi-india-beyond/

The thing is, this technique is ALL about technique . . . not strength. As you can see, the Indian guys do it easily. Then the buff American, who outweighs them by probably 50 lbs, can’t do it, because he doesn’t know the technique.

If you watch the video you’ll see what I mean. I would be very dubious about the 360 technique in particular having much effective use in building muscle. It’s basically a hip-driven party trick. Looks cool, but not much else.

24 JB April 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

I love this kind of training. I’ve been wanting to get a giant tire for exercise at home. One alternative is a demo bar, these can be found at any hardware store, they are roughly 4 feet long and weight probably 30 pounds. The chief difference with them is their weight is evenly distributed rather than being based at one end which will alter the mechanics of some of the exercises.

25 DruB April 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

This is very similar to the Chishi (weighted lever) exercises that are done in classical karate styles.

The 360 exercise may not be intended to build raw muscle, but to increase the strength of smaller stabilizer muscles, which would be necessary for battlefield accuracy with melee weapons.

It also probably functions as a range of motion exercise to increase the flex in your core. But you would have to make sure not to use a hammer that was too heavy, or risk injury.

26 Rohit Ramachandran April 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

Killer!

27 Hans Braggart April 24, 2013 at 10:19 am

I believe that these execises can be done with a sledgehammer.

I attended PrimalCon in Oxnard, CA two weekends ago, and a gentleman taught a workshop on sledgehammer workouts. He taught many of the same exercises depicted herein. It was so much fun!

28 Mustached Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 10:42 am

I see some mentioning using a sledgehammer. Be careful if you go that route, mainly if you plan on doing doing the Splitting Wood exercise on a tire. The way the hammer head is designed can easily roll the edge on a hit and you can injure your wrist, arm or forearm.

Maces meant for exercise usually have a ball like end which prevent those types of injuries.

29 Ricardo Rubio April 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Anybody else notice the Great Gama has no left nipple?

and these workouts seem great! I’m willing to give them a try

30 James Malone April 25, 2013 at 7:59 am

Thanks for sharing, tried these out substituting for the mace with a sledge hammer. Seems like the the are good for conditioning as well as body alignment.

31 Swastik April 25, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I’m an Indian and Hindu by religion.Also a devotee of lord Hanuman .I was aware of such desi(indian) workouts but glad to see a detailed explanation of these mace workouts .

32 tim_lebsack April 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I use a 12 pound sledge and a rubber anvil. (tires lag bolted to a stump.See picture here. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150211487364946&set=a.287854069945.44428.501564945&type=3&theater

33 Timothy April 25, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Hans is right, maces are awesome but you can use a sledgehammer from any hardware store just as well. Google “Shovelglove”!

34 Matt B April 25, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Now this is interesting. I’m a former powerlifter, and I always liked the ancient lifting exercises. I think doing this, kettlebells, Indian Clubs, and bodyweight exercises really make you much more stronger than lifting weights. I’m a martial artist(Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Judo), and we’re taught basically bodyweight exercises along with some form of light, yet strenous exercise. This is another one to add my routine.

35 Galen April 25, 2013 at 11:40 pm

If i were to get one piece of exercise equipment, would this be a good one?

36 Bruno April 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I practice Karate and we use a similar “tool” for strenght called “CHI SHI”, its great and verty easy and cheap to build

http://www.shinkitaikarate.ca/Scona/Glossary/C/chi%20shi/chi%20shi%20catch.jpg

37 Scott Sideleau April 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I have both a light and heavy Scottish Hammer, which I use in competitions, which I think I will now start using to do these drills. Very cool.

38 MonsterD April 26, 2013 at 7:16 pm

TRAIN BY DAY JOE ROGAN PODCAST BY NIGHT ALL DAY

39 Will Asher April 27, 2013 at 2:02 am

Great respect to the Great Gama and whoever it was that invented this training!

40 Joep April 27, 2013 at 10:15 am

”Do not practice this indoors!”
- A man with practical experience

41 Tom April 27, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Do not practice this indoors!

42 Pete April 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

My gym has those weighted aerobics bars do you think I could get the same results with one of those. It doesn’t have the ball weight at the end but they do have veriying weights.

43 PK April 28, 2013 at 9:08 am

Something worthy of note is that the indian “pehlawan” tradition is directly learned/mimicked from Persian exiles in ancient times. The true form of Pahlavan submission wrestling and exercising is found in the ancient iranian/persian style. Notably since the latter has produced olympic champion wrestlers for 50 years. If you want more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varzesh-e_Pahlavani there are also a lot of videos on youtube.

44 Christopher Tonstad April 29, 2013 at 7:27 am

Great article! Also saw steel clubs on the Onnit website, would like to see some techniques for using those tools, too.

45 MS April 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Glad to see the barabrian squat getting some attention. It’s is a great exercise. Hits the abs too because you have to brace them when going in and out of the squat.

46 John April 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Love training with the macebell. I have used a 21.5lb concrete headed one for 3–4 years and have recently finished an adjustable one. Here are a few training videos https://www.youtube.com/user/johnsebooks

47 MS April 30, 2013 at 10:26 am

Great videos, John. Thanks for the link!

48 joe April 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

what happened to his nipples?

49 Bill May 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Check out these youtube channels, they do all types of mace, club, sledge, chain…etc type workouts. I think the gentelman is in his 60s and is very fit.
http://www.youtube.com/user/zenkahuna

http://www.youtube.com/user/CoachTara

50 Steve Jones May 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

While I’m not a Mr. Olympia contender, I’m not new to physical workouts with heavy weights. I tried this yesterday using a 10-pound sledgehammer and I’m definitely aware of it. This will now be part of my exercise routine. Awesome.

51 Joseph May 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

Clubells !!

52 Raimond May 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I’m training 4 day per week using 10 lbs sledgehammer. About 350-500 punches, in 3-10 sets with two hands or one at the time. It really boosts up reaction and makes your hands to be like steel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI71KPTHIGQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ECghYw3qzM

53 Christopher May 5, 2013 at 3:14 am

So I just ordered the 20# one. Who says guerilla marketing doesn’t work?

54 Christopher Tonstad May 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

Just started this workout regimen this morning, along with the club training listed on a previous article. This really does work the whole body! And the Onnit maces are nicely made and easy to handle. Their clubs are pretty nice, too, though they could benefit from knurling on the handle like their maces. Finally found a workout I can do at home and not have to have a whole gym to do. Thanks!

55 Michael Zicopoulos May 6, 2013 at 10:34 am

Inspired by this article I brought home a sledgehammer I had laying around in my shop and started working out with it – Awesome – then I started adding my own moves; just inventing them. I’m also doing many of the moves in a horse stance and also doing many while adding lunges to the moves to make it an overall body workout – Then I found a vintage post maul at a local swap-meet, made a new handle for it and really thing I’ve stumbled onto something…. Thanks for this – and check out what I’ve come up with here:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.648429001849862.1073741836.175671042458996&type=3

56 Zach L. May 8, 2013 at 8:25 am

A simple substitute for the mace (and inspired by the movie Taxi Driver) could be to take a section of piping and have it set in a a coffee can filled with concrete. Start with a smaller can, and as your strength increases, simply insert your current can in a bigger one, pour your concrete, set, and continue with your new, heavier weight.

57 R Phillips May 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I use an 8lb maul for the workout…awesome…great workout. I don’t need NO stinking gym.

58 René G. May 8, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I’ve been using a steel bar (around 10 pounds) for my sword work for a little while. As soon as I saw this I had to try it. I threaded the end of the bar and had a 1/2″ steel plate cut to add another 5 pounds…love it! Great for everything, arms, core, back, you name it.

59 Bill May 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

I use a 3′ length of 3/4″ pipe for a mace by sliding standard 1″ weight plates on the bar, putting a pipe cap on the end and then snugging the weights up to the cap with a hose clamp. I haven’t tried it on a tire yet.

60 Brandon May 21, 2013 at 2:11 am

Awesome. I’ve heard from a well known powerlifter that he uses these for shoulder flexibility rehab and prehab too. I believe it helped him get over a pec tear at one point and regain back his range of motion.

61 GoneWithTheWind May 21, 2013 at 11:17 am

I heat with wood and cut and split my own wood. Try splitting 3-4 cords of wood it is a mace workout for sure.

62 nobody May 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I do some of these with my sledge hammer like the 360, spear stab, and dynamic curl. The barbarian squat looks really good. I gotta try it.

63 Francis May 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Man that looks fun. We can get in touch with our inner warrior while enjoying a different workout. The sledge hammer was an excellent suggestion, John Burkett.

64 stev June 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Hans is right, maces are awesome but you can use a sledgehammer from any hardware store just as well.

65 davidovich June 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I’m training 4 day per week using 10 lbs sledgehammer. About 350-500 punches, in 3-10 sets with two hands or one at the time.

66 Alan June 18, 2013 at 9:04 am

Awesome looking workout. The moves are fairly simple, too. Not easy, but simple. Looking forward to getting up in the morning and reintroducing myself to my sledgehammer.

67 Alan June 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

Follow up:

This is an awesome workout. I’ve done it twice now (last night and this morning), and man am I feeling it.

My knees are up for the barbarian squat yet, and I didn’t have a tire handy, so I left out splitting wood.

It’s simple and strenuous, and first thing when I get up in the morning, it’s just me and my 12 pound sledgehammer for about 10 minutes. I’ll stretch that time out later as I start doing more reps.

Thanks for all the great information and support. AoM rocks.

68 N.Vest June 23, 2013 at 5:45 am

Personal I made one for about $20
I used a 3/4′ x 36′threaded rod and some 3/4′ nuts and a couple of weight plates. Wrapped the handle in para-cord.

69 Mike Z June 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thought you guys might dig this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnaB-50rcKU

70 Allen June 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I opted for the DIY method. Bought a 1″ x 36″ black iron gas pipe at Lowes for $13, which itself weighs 5 lbs. Since I planned to dip it in a container of cement for my weighted end I also grabbed a 1″ iron T to affix to one end of the pipe (both ends were already threaded) to ensure a solid hold on the cement. Since I am just starting this exercise and lack the muscle definition of the gentlemen in the illustrations above, I started with only the T on one end to create a slightly weighted mace. From what I have read on this subject the focus is on technique. not brute force, so I believe starting with just the pipe is best for beginners, and after some repetitions you can definitely feel the burn. Just remember to always keep your core tight as doing so will ensure proper control of the mace. I also purchased a spray can of black plastic dip which I intend to coat the cement portion of my mace with to help prevent chipping and cracks.

71 Mike July 15, 2013 at 12:01 am

@Mike Z where can i get a post maul? i went to the local hardware stores website and typed in post maul but they didnt have anything.

72 Chad S. July 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

I started using the mace soon after I read this article, have been using it for months now. I’m working on becoming a personal trainer and will defiantly be introducing this to my clients.

73 josh gillette August 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm

hey guys, what do you think would be a good regiment for the steel mace? how many reps? how many sets? any thoughts?

74 Varun Mohite November 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Its really good to see the Mace getting the much deserved attention on the only blog which I follow so enthusiastically… I’m not biased by my nationality but i’m very sure avid ‘artofmanliness.com’ readers deserve to be enlightened by virtues of traditional & ancient Indian exercises like Mallakhamb(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallakhamb), Yoga, Pehlwani (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pehlwani). Thanks. :)

75 David January 9, 2014 at 7:12 pm

This is interesting to me because I was thinking about unbalanced weights in the gym the other day as I did military presses – how often do you lift a perfectly balanced weights like that

76 David January 9, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I see another good exercise you can do with these – Javelin press. You vary the position of the centre of balance and have the weight either in front or in back of you.

77 Ry P March 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I’m definitely planning on getting one. Living in an island community, its hard to stay in shape all the time. The only gym is on the big island but during the busy months (April-September) I kinda need to move to the small island for work purposes.

I’m planning on purchasing a Kettlebell as well as a Steel Mace for my summer fitness! Should I go for a 10lb or 15lb or 20lb?

78 Ashijit Pramanik March 31, 2014 at 3:39 am

Take a look at this guy’s mace training on one the Benaras Ghats (from the movie Aparajito): https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=SOjn0_w2P34#t=123

79 Laren April 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I’ve been practicing mace and club swinging for about 10 years now. It’s fun.
Mine are made from wood.

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