I am going to deviate this week from introducing a new type of swing and get a little technical about the sledgehammer. In Part 1, I discussed some of the muscular benefits of swinging the sledgehammer, especially on the trunk and upper extremity muscles. To recap briefly, I talked about the importance of the swinging motion to the angular/diagonal and rotary muscles. In Part 4, I discussed vertical swinging, which will also help with the flexion/extension muscles. As you can see, using the sledgehammer on a consistent basis with rotating the different swings periodically can produce great benefits to your neuromuscular skeletal systems. I am going to discuss today some of the direct neurological benefits of smacking something hard with the sledgehammer.
Balancing Out Your Non-Dominant Side
One of the first neurological benefits is something I have already talked about briefly before. All of us have a dominant side of our body. There are a few of us that are ambidextrous, but by and large, most of us do our physical work with one side of our body. We do use the other side, but more to support and assist the dominant side. Now here is where the interesting aspect comes in. Most of the sports that we participate in require us to utilize both sides of our body. In these sports, we don't always know what side of our body we will be using until usually right before the action/impact will occur. Take tennis for example. (Remember now, I am a powerlifter, not a tennis player!)
When hitting the ball back to your opponent, you don't always know where they will hit the ball back to you. You need to be ready to attack the ball no matter which side of your body it is hit to. Same thing with a baseball player. You have no control on where the ball is going to be hit to-you just have to be ready! My point is this: Train the weak side or non-dominant side to be able to move like your dominant side and you will naturally elevate your playing level. You will see quicker reaction times on both sides and an ability to be as strong on your non-dominant side as your dominant side. Most of the injuries I see in our office that are sports-related are due to imbalances, so by elevating the skill, strength, endurance and reactive ability of your non-dominant side will help quell or decrease this chance of injury.
Another of the neurological benefits that is generated by using the sledgehammer is that of a plyometric type. If you have been using the sledgehammer for awhile now, you will notice how tired your hands, wrists, forearms and even your trunk get even after a brief hitting session. Why is this? There are several reasons why. First, from a muscular point of view, the muscles in these areas have to absorb the shock of the impact along with stabilizing the handle at the point of impact and then reversing the direction of the sledgehammer to begin the next contact.
You may have also noticed this stabilizing effect when you strike the tire and the sledgehammer handle will want to change the direction you meant it to go originally and/or twist in your hand. The second reason is more neurological. You have deep sensory nerves in your body that are concerned with posture, proprioception, muscle tone and direction of movement. These are called mechanoreceptors. One of the functions of these mechanoreceptors is proprioception (the ability to know where any part of your body is in space).
The Functions Of The Sledgehammer
The other important function is direction of movement. These two functions are what I am primarily talking about in regard to the neurological benefits of using the sledgehammer. These mechanoreceptors are located in two areas: muscle receptors-muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs; joint receptors-free nerve endings, Ruffini endings. What these mechanoreceptors do is provide feedback to your central nervous system about what is going on and then send a signal back to the affected area, in this case your hands, wrists and forearms, and even your trunk, to tell it what to do. Pretty amazing!
How this impacts your sport is it allows you to have better control of your upper extremity with quicker reaction times, increased strength in that region along with both sides of your trunk and as I said before, decreased chance of injury because of the aforementioned benefits. Get swinging!
The next issue we will get back to discussing another variation of swinging the sledgehammer. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.