Maces and clubs are among the world’s first pieces of man-made strength training equipment. Originating thousands of years ago, these tools have stood the test of time and offered value to those applying them.
Utilizing maces and clubs in a training program can fill several gaps that aren’t always met through traditional means of training. The construction of both pieces of equipment creates an offset in the load, intensifying even basic compound movement patterns and challenging trunk and grip strength. This also allows the user to train the shoulders in more open, expressive patterns, creating a fun and more stimulating training experience overall.Utilizing maces and clubs in a training program can fill several gaps that aren’t always met through traditional means of training. Click To Tweet
I understand that in the saturated space of fitness gimmicks and fads, something like maces and clubs can be drowned out. Yet these pieces of equipment have been a staple of many training programs for a reason. Like any piece of exercise equipment, they can be effective when used within the proper context. My personal experience with mace and club training has all been self-exploration. Looking into alternative training options with special population clients, I purchased a few pieces and began experimenting and training with the tools on my own.
Yes, I did some research and reached out to others in the field, but I do not believe that you need to be a mace or club guru to benefit from their use. Baseball and softball athletes, who have unique upper body demands, love the feel of shoulder prehab work with the clubs, and the mace comes second nature to them for training rotational power. The offset shift and grip demand of both tools help build up the necessary qualities for combat athletes to grip, rip, and prepare for the chaotic demands of their sports. And even with general pop clients just trying to be awesome at life, maces and clubs are great to keep their training fresh and challenging through simple yet different movements.
The purpose of this article is to go into detail on how to integrate maces and clubs into your own prescribed training programs, allowing you to offer more to those you train.
Getting Started with Maces and Clubs
To begin, here are a few notes and considerations when first selecting the weights of the club and mace. Each situation could vary, depending on the athlete’s training experience and abilities, but these are my recommendations:
- When beginning with a mace, 10 pounds is a great starting point for a new client (male or female). This is typically the lightest option, although there are sometimes lighter choices—unless you want to make maces a larger part of the training program, the 10-pound mace is most appropriate.
- This size will be great to gain a feel for the implement and learn some basic movements. This is also the weight I started with—I consider myself fairly strong, and this was still a challenge for me to start.
- When selecting a heavier mace, understand that the weight isn’t like when progressing a dumbbell or kettlebell. A 10-pound increase in a mace is a BIG difference. (I know because that’s what I chose.) The 15-pound option would work better with a majority of athletes’ and clients’ training. Remember, these tools just help supplement my training programs and don’t make them up as a whole, so I don’t stress over having every weight selection.
- In a perfect world, you could have three maces. One 10-pound for introductions, warm-ups, and prehab work. Then, one of 15–20 pounds for primary strength work and an advanced option of 20–25 pounds.
- When it comes to clubs, I would recommend a 5-pound pair to start, primarily for the upper-body prehab exercises. These movements do not need to be performed with a heavy load but rather with proper intention and range of motion. I have seen lighter clubs used in clinical rehab settings, but that’s not my domain.
- From there, a single, 10–15-pound club can be used to gain a feel for the tool and develop some basic skills before moving up to a heavier weight. The same principles apply, where a 10-pound jump goes a long way, and our previous experience with strength progressions doesn’t help as much.
- I would recommend a similar setup as the mace and have a lighter club or club(s), 5 pounds; a base strength option, 10–15 pounds; and an advanced option, 20–25 pounds.
I would go with steel for both options just for durability purposes and feel. Onnit is a great resource where you can get a start on purchasing your equipment and also learn a lot about the specialization of the equipment.
Introduce these new tools while performing exercises you are already familiar with and confident instructing. Athletes can perform squats, press, pull, and hinge with these tools, and they can feel like brand-new exercises.
A progression layout to follow would be:
- Introduce isometrics within these movements.
- Execute the exercises focusing on control.
- Perform more dynamic, fluid exercises.
Each of these three stages builds upon the prior one.
By utilizing movements your athletes are already familiar with, you can also help them to better familiarize themselves with the mace or club and its unconventional nature. The offset of load requires more stability throughout the entire body, and especially the targeted areas, without having to alter the movement completely.
When training with the mace, make sure to keep a strong grip; holding the mace, you want to have the intention of pulling the mace apart. Doing so creates total body tension and lays the groundwork for the exercise. Maintain the weight in as balanced a manner as possible when performing each movement, not allowing the end weight to lower or raise past the rest of the implement. Adjusting your grip away from the end weight—creating a longer lever arm—will increase the difficulty level and amount of balance and strength required.
While training with the club follows similar protocols, the tool’s shorter nature allows for less room to adjust hand grip in relation to the weight. This is a never-ending battle when training with both tools, as there will be a constant need to maintain balance and control of the unruly weight.
Video 1. Isometric squats, split squats, bent rows, and other movements with clubs and maces.
The Basics: Incorporating Compound Movements
Building from the isometrics, the next step is performing the major compound movements using these tools. No matter how strong someone is, performing exercises such as the squat or overhead press with a mace or club is an entirely different feel, and a different type of strength is required to do so.No matter how strong someone is, performing exercises such as the squat or overhead press with a mace or club is an entirely different feel, and a different type of strength is required to do so. Click To Tweet
Just because a client or athlete has a strong back squat, bench press, or level of athleticism doesn’t mean they will excel with these pieces of equipment. There is never a moment of complete comfort when using either tool. It is a humbling experience when a 10-pound weight has you shaking, sweating, and falling over yourself. When holding the club or mace away from your body, there is such a high level of total body isometric strength required to prevent that weight from tipping or falling to the ground.
You may just slide your grip a half inch farther down, and all of a sudden, you’re wrestling with the weight of the world pulling you down. Like a ship in a thunderstorm, there is never a moment you can completely relax and be at ease.
When performing the movements, maintain balance and alignment with the midline as best as possible; once that’s mastered, you can begin to work away from that position. For example, holding the club on the left side of the body will cause a huge disturbance to balance and require more stability throughout the exercise.
Video 2. Basic mace exercises, including overhead press, goblet squat, RDL, and more.
Video 3. Basic club movements, including squats, reverse lunges, shoulder raises, and more.
Training the Shoulders
The mace and club are fantastic for building strength, mobility, and durability in the shoulders. No piece of exercise equipment allows for the freedom of movement and fluidity to train not only the shoulders but also the elbows, wrists, and grip strength.
This exercise selection is more technical, including movements such as swings around the head, extensions of the pieces, and more. When swinging the mace or club(s), there is an additional layer of connection required to the piece to perfect the timing and rhythm of the movement.
When performing these movements, remember that the objective is to move the mace or club around the body rather than the other way around.
Video 4. Dynamic swings and switches with a mace.
Video 5. Dynamic swings, rotations, pullovers, and twists with a club.
Training the Trunk
Almost any exercises performed with the mace and clubs involve trunk strength. Any of the previously demonstrated movements require a great deal of trunk stability and control to perform correctly. While it is an option to perform additional core work with these tools, it may not be required if the individual is new to this unconventional form of training.If you do want to include a different training stimulus for direct trunk training, the mace and clubs work great since multiple layers of movements are interlaced within a single exercise. Click To Tweet
If you do want to include a different training stimulus for direct trunk training, the mace and clubs work great since multiple layers of movements are interlaced within a single exercise. When using these tools, you can use weight in patterns you may typically not have before: movements demonstrating rotation, lateral flexion, diagonal patterns from all directions, and everything else in between.
Video 6. Club and mace trunk training exercises, including pull-throughs, plank rows, and half-kneeling woodchops.
Using these tools in training doesn’t have to be complicated. I like performing many of these exercises in the warm-up for 2–4 sets of 10–15 repetitions on each side, depending on the exercise. It is great for the individual to perform something different that they’re not accustomed to, and that allows them to continue to develop and grow within their training.
When beginning to use these implements, I would recommend first performing them yourself and then following the progression listed. First, use isometrics to become familiar with the tools, then transition to performing controlled foundational exercises, and finally, get a little more creative working in greater ranges of motion and freedom for the shoulders and trunk development.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF