With the recent upswing in the popularity of functional fitness and unconventional training, equipment that had been lost to history is starting to find its way back into contemporary gym life. Sandbags, stones, kettlebells, and sledgehammers used to lay untouched in the corner, but today, they're each taking their turn on the stage.
I've had great success with all of those, but lately, my favorite piece of unconventional training equipment has been the steel mace. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll see that lately, I can't seem to get enough of this ancient Persian war tool. I also can't get enough of how great I feel using it. Training with the mace has brought me some of my best physique results in years, but more importantly, it leaves my body feeling like a well-oiled machine.
If you have access to a mace, and are interested in training with it, here are my five favorite movements, and my five favorite workouts using those movements. You'll see people online doing far more exotic and complicated moves than these, but this is meant as an introduction.
Implement them into your regular training split for a fun challenge once per week, or, if you catch the bug, use these to build your mace-skills foundation before moving on to more advanced moves and routines.
Why the Steel Mace?
Every type of weight has its own special advantages. For the barbell, it's the way you can load it up evenly with weight on both sides and test your strength. The mace's appeal is pretty much the opposite: It's only weighted on one side, so using it demands you tap into stabilizer muscles, use their joints in their full range of motion, and make your core work overtime.
If you've done any of the back workouts in my new training plan Rise and Grind, you've done moves like pull-downs, rows, and presses kneeling or with a single arm. And if you have, you know it takes a lot of stability to move well with unevenly weighted equipment. Even if you think your core is strong, you'll likely find your abs are sore after trying these exercises. That's a good thing.
The steel mace gives your core plenty of this kind of stimulus, but it can also help you fix any imbalances you might have. Unilateral training—especially with a unilateral weight like this—will keep your dominant side from assisting your weaker side. If you have significant strength imbalances, you may have to do fewer reps in the short term. Don't worry; you'll catch up.
If you've never trained with a mace before, pay strict attention to your form. Do your best to keep your torso upright, your glutes engaged, and your abs tight. Start slowly. As you get more comfortable with the movements, you can add reps, do the reps more quickly, and take less rest.
Exercise 1: Mace-Switch Squats
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the mace so it's parallel to the floor at about chest level. Your hands should be wider than your shoulders. The hand closest to the head of the club should be supinated, or palm up. Squat down until your knees are at least at hip level. Keep your torso tall.
When you stand back up, flip the mace so the hand closest to the weighted end now moves to a pronated position at the bottom. Then, rotate the mace back to the original start position, and squat again. Perform all repetitions with the heavy end of the mace to one side before switching it to the other.
Exercise 2: Mace Front Squat
Hold the mace in a front-rack position with the weight on the left side, but keep the weight off your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed down and the weight slightly in front of you, similar to a goblet squat. Push the hips back, keep the spine erect, and squat down until your knees are at least at hip level. Push through your heels to return to the starting position. Perform all repetitions with the heavy end of the mace to the left before switching it to the right.
This may seem easy on paper, but keep in mind that the position of the mace will affect the difficulty of this exercise. The closer the club is to your body, the less difficult the exercise. If you want a challenge, move the club outward.
Exercise 3: Rotating-Mace Reverse Lunge
Begin standing, with the mace hanging in front of your thighs and the club end on the left side of your body. Take a significant step back with your right leg and rotate the mace around the left knee so that it runs parallel to your thigh on the outside.
Step your rear foot forward to return your body to the starting position while you rotate the mace back to the starting position. Perform all repetitions on one side before switching to the other.
Exercise 4: Mace Press
Stand with the mace at shoulder level in one hand, gripping the mace right under the club end. Keeping your abs and glutes tight, press the mace straight up until you lock out your elbow and your biceps is beside your ear.
Lower back to the starting position and perform all repetitions with one hand before switching to the other.
Exercise 5: Mace Row
With your knees slightly bent, hips pushed back, and back straight, hold the mace with an overhand grip. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart; one hand grips near the club.
Pull the mace to your chest, with the arm beside the club doing the majority of the work, and lower it back to the starting position.
Perform all repetitions with the heavy end of the mace to one side before switching it to the other.
5 Steel-Mace Workouts
Workout Scheme 1: Traditional
Perform each exercise for 4 sets of 8 reps on each side. Rest one minute between each set and each exercise. This method is best for improving strength and muscle mass.
Workout Scheme 2: The Circuit
Perform every exercise for 8 repetitions per side, one after the other, with limited rest. Complete 4 rounds. Rest 2 minutes between rounds. This method is best for increasing muscle mass and muscular endurance.
Workout Scheme 3: Escalating Density
Perform every exercise for 5 repetitions per side, circuit style. Do as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes. Rest for 4 minutes, and repeat. Try to do more rounds than you did the first time. This method is best for fat loss and muscular endurance.
Workout Scheme 4: The Ladder Circuit
Perform each exercise for 10 repetitions per side in a circuit. Rest as long as needed, then perform each exercise for 9 repetitions on each side. Continue to decrease by 1 rep each round until finishing with a round of 1 rep each side. This method is best for increasing muscle mass. You'll be seriously challenged here!
Workout Scheme 5: Every Minute on the Minute
Start a clock, and perform 5 reps of mace-switch squats per side. Rest until the clock reaches one minute. Continue doing one set per side, per minute for four total rounds. At minute 4, switch to mace reverse lunges. Continue performing 1 set of 5 repetitions each side, every minute on the minute for 4 minutes, until each exercise is complete. If you do all five exercises, this workout should take you 20 minutes. This method is best for muscle-building and fat loss.