The Mace - A BRIEF HISTORY
The steel mace follows the same design principles as the ancient weapon with the same name, a mace.
A mace, which is a bludgeon, is one of the oldest man-made weapons in history. Archeologists have discovered stone mace heads that date back to the Late Stone Age, some 50,000 year ago.
While maces of all sizes and with special features can be found across almost every major civilization throughout history (after all, it is a very simple yet effective concept - a long handle with a heavy end), ancient India is where the mace stands most prominently in time.
There are millennium-old epics of ancient Persian and Hindu warriors wielding these brutal bludgeoning devices. The Hindus even have a god, Lord Hanuman, who carries a mace at all times, or as it is called in India, a gada.
The great physical benefits of mace (or gada) training were eventually realized by wrestlers in the Indian Subcontinent. From around the 13th century on, it has remained one of the most popular training tools for Kushti wrestling (a form of wrestling that still exists today). In fact, it is such a prominent part of the sport that ceremonial maces have been, and still are, given to certain champions.
Most famously, The Great Gama - a mammoth of a man who was a Kushti wrestler and strongman in the 20th century with an undefeated record spanning a 52 year career - was known for carrying and swinging a heavy mace every day. The most illustrious picture of The Great Gama features him holding onto a ceremonial mace made from silver.
The Mace Is Making a Comeback
The uses and benefits of training with a steel mace are many:
The 360 and the 10-to-2 swinging exercises. These are the most traditional exercises for maces and they are arguably the most fun and effective.
The steel mace 360 and 10-to-2 are to the steel mace what the kettlebell swing is to the kettlebell.
Like kettlebell swings, 360s and 10-to-2s are swinging exercises. However, where the kettlebell requires the hips to be mobile (ballistic hip hinging) and the shoulders to be packed down by the lats and stable, 360s and 10-to-2s work in the opposite way. The shoulders should be mobile with 360s and 10-to-2s and the hips should remain stable.
What the kettlebell swing and mace 360 and 10-to-2 do have in common is momentum, torque, and core stability for controlling acceleration and deceleration of the load.
Tip: The mace should be moving around your body closely. It shouldn’t be too far out in front of you or too far behind you when swinging it.
Now, you are probably wondering what you can gain from doing steel mace swings…
Well, both the 360 and 10-to-2 are greatly beneficial for grip strength, shoulder resilience, core strength and stability, and strong posture.
However, if done incorrectly, they can do more damage than good. The long lever with a heavy end makes what would normally be considered a light weight feel a lot heavier. This offset, uneven weight distribution gives your body instant feedback. If you have issues with your wrist, elbow, or shoulder joints, it will become apparent very quickly. People who are new to steel mace exercises are always surprised by how challenging just a 15lb steel mace is. This reigns particularly true with steel mace 360s and 10-to-2s as you will be creating torque and resisting torque throughout the exercise. It is a complex movement and there is no cheating with mace swings.
The point is…it’s imperative that you learn the correct mechanics of the movement (but this is true for any weight lifting exercise).
Beginners are recommended to break the 360 down into three movements, the metronome, pendulum, and pull over, practicing each of these movements separately before attempting the first full 360. This will help reinforce the mechanics for each phase of the movement. These practice exercises also apply to 10-to-2s…
The 10-to-2 is similar to the 360 in its mechanics, except you won’t be pulling the mace to a vertical front position. You will be pulling the mace down to a diagonal position, pointing up at either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock. From there, you will swing the mace back towards the opposite way (in the direction of the head of the mace). Then you repeat the process going back and forth from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock.
Just like the 360s, there should be a pause for a split second on the front side. This ensures the shoulders and lats are stacked and reset with each swing. Moreover, it will build grip strength tenfold. With the mace in a diagonal position, grip strength becomes even more apparent.
We highly recommend practicing the metronome exercise before doing 10-to-2s, as that helps to get a feel for how the mace should be pulled down on the front side and it prepares the wrists and forearms for holding the mace in the 10 and 2 positions.
Does the steel mace 360 and 10-to-2 help with shoulder mobility?
Contrary to what a lot of people say, steel mace 360s and 10-to-2s are not shoulder mobility exercises. However, it will help you maintain good mobility and fluidity in your shoulders. So, you should have adequate mobility in your shoulders before performing exercises like the 360. Good shoulder mobility is an important prerequisite, not an outcome.
Are the Steel Mace 360 and 10-to-2 Rotation or Anti-Rotation Movements?
Both the 10-to-2 and 360 in their standard format are not rotation exercises, they are anti-rotation exercises. The hips should squared forward at all times. As you are swinging a heavy load around your body, it can be challenging to resist rotation, which is why steel mace swings build incredible core stability, especially as you start to swing heavier maces.
Once you have a solid foundation of anti-rotation, then you can start adding rotational movements into the mix. There are plenty of rotational exercises that you can do with maces.
This video demonstrates 66 different steel mace swings, many of which are two or more exercises combined. Some are rotational, some are anti-rotational:
As you can see, you can build off the 360 and 10-to-2, combining other mace exercises to make more complex movements. In steel mace training, the 360 is as much a staple movement as it is a transition movement.
Steel Mace Exercises
There are honestly countless exercises that you can do with a steel mace, as you’ve gathered from the above video. You are really only limited by your creativity. And while the dynamics will be slightly different, the easiest approach for those who are new to steel maces is to use it in a conventional manner, like you would a barbell or dumbbell, but obviously in an offset, unilateral manner. These would be considered beginner exercises for most.
Some fundamental steel mace exercises include ballistic curls, switch squats, switch lunges, and tire slams. Although these exercises are simple, they can be a little awkward when first starting out. So, the focus should be on performing the movements slowly, controlled and with adequate tension.
For the purpose of not overloading you with information, we will leave it at that. It would require an entire book to show you all of the different exercises you could do with the mace, which SET FOR SET created with their Steel Mace Training e-Book.
You can also check out SET FOR SET’s Steel Mace Exercise Poster to get an idea of different exercises that can be done with the steel mace.
Steel Mace Complexes
Once you learn the basics of steel mace training, a number of different exercises, and the mace 360 and 10-to-2, you can explore the realm of steel mace complexes, which is when you can really take your steel mace training to the next level.
A complex is a series or sequence of movements performed back-to-back, with each movement flowing seamlessly into the next. In the steel mace world, they are often called flows.
When it comes to steel mace training, complexes are very common practice, as they are with kettlebell training. Complexes are not only fun, but they are great for improving muscular endurance and strength, building muscle, improving balance, coordination, and proprioception, and creating an EPOC effect (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, aka the after burn effect). It also really helps you forget about everything else going on in life, as you really need hone in and think about what you are doing.
Here is an example of a complex using a steel mace.
Check out the training guide and all the options you have with this device if you are looking for something new and challenging.