Be Careful With That Sledgehammer

Take a sledgehammer and wrap an old sweater around it. This is your "shovelglove." Every week day morning, set a timer for 14 minutes. Use the shovelglove to perform shoveling, butter churning, and wood chopping motions until the timer goes off. Stop. Rest on weekends and holidays. Baffled? Intrigued? Charmed? Discuss here.
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Be Careful With That Sledgehammer

Post by minimizer » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:17 am

I got a sledgehammer (half-price!!) for my birthday a few months ago.
I guess I overdid it and got a VERY sore back that just would not go away.
Ended up at a chiropractor. Returned the sledgehammer for full refund.
I am now getting my exercise in other ways.

I think the shovelglove is a very interesting idea and wish I could have
used it with my program. However be warned--it might not be a good
idea for everyone.

Carry on...

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Post by reinhard » Mon Nov 16, 2009 1:44 pm

Ouch. Sorry to hear that -- and thanks for the warning.

Best wishes for a speedy and total recovery,


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Post by Huffdogg » Sat Nov 21, 2009 10:39 pm

I have to say that your personal experience from the program is most likely a result of failure to do the movements safely and properly rather than an "incompatibility" with your physique.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

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Post by zenboar » Sat Aug 21, 2010 5:48 am

Another necropost, but also another topic that is good to keep at the fore for newcomers.

One of the things I have noticed in my hammer work and playing with new moves is the tendency to arch the back. Part of this, IMO, comes from the overall feel of the hammer movements. It feels like something where you should be mostly controlling the path of the hammer as its momentum does its own thing once the swing is underway. When you're actually striking something you can probably get away with this some at the end of the swing, since the impact will stop it. When shugging, however, your body will be what stops the hammer's movement. You don't want to lean forward and overextend your back.

Likewise, when starting a swing, you don't want to lean too far back. There's probably also a tendency to do this from wanting to avoid hitting one's self with the hammer, but the backwards arch seems to pinch up the back - an effect compounded by the weight and motion of the hammer. From what I've toyed with, I try to give myself the necessary clearance through the shoulders and arms, rather than swaying the back.

I hope to do some videos soon, but I whipped these drawings up in the meantime. I know they don't look a lot different, but hopefully the arrows convey some sense of what I'm talking about.

This is just a rough sketch to kind of emphasize what I'm talking about. When drawing back for a regular hammer strike, some folks may tend to let their upper body bend too far back while also tilting their hips backwards. This puts a nasty sway in the back that probably contributes to developing back pain from shugging. My solution is to be mindful to keep my hips tilted forward and my abs engaged... almost like I'm trying to swing while holding a quarter between my butt cheeks. (There's a challenge for you!) The forward motion for the downstrike comes from a combination of the arms, chest, and a pull from the abs. As I swing around to move the hammer behind me I can really feel it in the obliques when I'm using what I consider to be good form.

The second image is based on a move I call "over unders." The hammer is held with a reverse grip at the head. The head is brought around almost into an uppercut, but with the fist turned the other way. From there it's brought around into a downward strike.. so almost like you're popping someone in the chin and then punching them again as they drop. When I first came up with this, the natural tendency was to lean back as I went into the "uppercut." But my back quickly told me this was not the way. As with the regular hammer swing, I keep my hips tilted forward and all motion comes from the arms, shoulders, abs, and legs. It's a pretty rough move... but done properly it does not feel like your torso is just pivoting around on your lower spine but rather the hammer is almost arcing around a central pivot. The effect is not unlike a good kayak paddle stroke... just a rather heavy one.

The TL;DR gist of this is this - at all times YOU control the hammer. The hammer does not control you. This is why good form is essential and, IMO, when your form starts to break down it's time to either modify the exercise to be easier for the rest of the workout or switch to something else. A lot of the hammer moves aren't just a matter of swinging it but rather moving the hammer where you want it to go and controlling its motion through the whole rep.

The effort is often a total body one in order to help avoid stressing any one part too much. For example, I use my legs a lot in a standard hammer swing. Even if actually hitting a tire, I drop my stance some rather than bending forward in order to close those last few inches to the tire or "stop zone." That way I'm not tearing at my back muscles nor overloading my forearm by making it do all of the work.

Again, I hope to do some vids soon that show some moves I've come up with, my take on other moves, and maybe some "right and wrong" ones showing the difference between something like a good over-under and a bad one.

As always take this as simply insights and musings and consider with your own observations and experiences. I believe I set some kind of disclaimer in my sig... I forget. Derp.
Please note I am not a doctor nor fitness specialist. Just a guy that likes swinging a hammer like an orc for fun and fitness. Readers assume all risk for trying anything relayed in my posts.

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Post by gratefuldeb67 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:11 am

Wow those are great pictures and they accentuate the proper form and the minor distortions that happen when people use bad form.. it doesn't take much to put yourself at a disadvantage if you use even slightly bad form, when exercising and then, make yourself much more susceptible to hurting yourself.
Excellent drawings and grasp of body mechanics!! :)
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Post by GDA9 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 9:28 am


The drawings and explanations are really great. Thanks!

I learned from my weightlifting coach that I suffered from lumbar lordosis ("swayback"), which I quickly learned to correct by engaging my abdominal muscles and my glutes when I was lifting weights - a habit that carried onto daily living, so nowadays I try to keep my core and glutes engaged as much as possible.

It also helps to inhibit the hip flexors as they can be problematic when they're tight. For this, I perform specific stretches three times a day.

( ... nance.html).

I'm only just starting with SG but I still need to keep all of this in mind, whatever exercise I perform. :wink:

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Post by Frankster » Sun Aug 22, 2010 10:40 am

Thanks for the tip, Zenboar.

I've just started out with SG yesterday, so all the tips I can get for doing it safely and correct is very much appreciated.

Love the drawings!

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Post by gratefuldeb67 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 7:01 pm

i have to make one note tho about your description which isn't accurate..
the right picture says "hips tilted forward"..
this is actually not right.
In the pic on the left, the hips are tilted forward.. In the pic on the right, the pelvis is tucked under and the coccyx comes forward, but the hips are actually have a posterior tilt..
When we say someone's hips are either tilted forward (anterior) or backwards (posterior) we base that on how far and what direction the *front* of the hip bones are to the mid line of the body.
The more anterior the hip tilt, the more the low back will look arched.. The more posterior the tilt, the more the low back will look flat, and they will seem like they have a very flat butt :)
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Post by reinhard » Wed Aug 25, 2010 1:36 pm


Those are fanatastic drawings -- and they make a good point.

I have to admit that the only degree to which I worry about form is to make sure that I'm "acting" each move right -- that it feels like something a lumberjack, etc. would do (and doesn't hurt). My guess (or at least my hope) is that I wind up in roughly the same place as your drawings, but it can't hurt to have them as an explicit sanity check, especially for people who are just starting out. And I'll certainly be paying a bit more attention myself.


P.S. with your obvious artistic abilities, might you be interested in designing a shovelglove T-shirt or logo? My brother and I are tinkering around with a shovelglove dvd and I want to do a marketing blitz to accompany the release. I've been thinking of launching some kind of contest on the site (with prizes!) or maybe going to one of those design auction sites to put in a bid.

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Post by david » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:03 pm

Could it be that the many posters over the years who have complained that Shovelglove doesn't work the abs aren't actually engaging the abs?


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Post by sherlock » Thu Aug 26, 2010 7:06 am

david wrote:Could it be that the many posters over the years who have complained that Shovelglove doesn't work the abs aren't actually engaging the abs?

I've wondered the same thing. My abs are working with nearly every move.

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Post by zenboar » Wed Sep 08, 2010 1:32 am

It could be that they're not really using the abs. Many of the SG movements can be done in a variety of ways to accomplish the same ends, but make the motion very different. For example, say you're doing a basic sledgehammer strike with your left hand near the head and your right hand anchoring at the base/butt of the handle. You could be swinging in such a way that your left hand is doing a lot of the work to move the hammer. The way I do it, however, the right hand is actually almost pulling the hammer through the arc and the left hand is controlling the motion. It's kind of like swinging it in such a way that you were going to try and hit an object with the butt of the handle, but then letting the hammer whip around so that the motion and gravity compound the work or force being exerted on the hammer head.

In fact, I can have my left hand open on the hammer through most of the arc... only closing the fingers toward the end to stop the motion of the hammer. Of course, I tend to keep my fingers closed around it lest the mallet get away from me.

Likewise, in a fireman's chop... like you're swinging an axe at a door... I try to let my hips and core initiate the move. Instead of hefting it with my shoulders, the motion starts from the hips and core and carries up through the shoulders. And again.. once the motion is transferred through my arms my anchor hand is actually the one moving the hammer while the other hand (closer to the head) is controlling the arc.

Overall many of the motions I use the most... standard strike, fireman's chop, gong-strike start with the hips, move up through the core to the shoulders, then extend into the arms and down the hammer.

Grateful.. thanks for the correction. You're right, it would be better to say the pelvis is tilted forward, tucked under, something like that. Basically, as I described above, imagine pinching a quarter between your cheeks while doing these motions.

Reinhard.. I'm more of a semi-competent doodler than anything. I don't really have tools for polished stuff like Photoshop or Illustrator. I could rough stuff out, but probably couldn't produce something polished for a T-shirt.

For folks just starting I'd say you really have to go through the motions slowly for a while... or warm up by focusing on your form. Just picking up a mallet and swinging away is a good way to injure yourself. And even after doing it for a while it's good to have those mental checks going on with your form. As I work out more I've noticed how the movements change so that many of them have become more of a practice in efficiency of motion than just lugging the head of the hammer through space, and it seems the more "efficient" movements are often more total-body exercises.

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Post by zenboar » Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:59 am

Here's a few more pics, though photos this time.

Here's a basic sledgehammer strike. In the first pic on the left I've done it the "incorrect" way.. or at least the way that's hard on the back. In the following two pictures I started the swing keeping the core stabilized and carrying a lot of the motion of the hammer through the shoulders.

In this one, the left side shows a strike ending where the torso is overextended. The hammer has pulled the body forward and can pull at the back muscles. On the right I've dropped my hips and gone into a crouch kind of stance to help absorb a lot of the momentum of the hammer. I also try to keep a slight bend in my arms so I'm not risking a motion that would hyper-flex the elbow. Depending on how my forearms feel, however, I may choke up or down on the hammer at this point so I'm not overworking the forearm muscles and risking a tear.

And finally the start of a fireman's door chop. On the left my shoulders are way back, putting a lot of stress on the back by kinking it. Swinging this way is almost just letting the hammer jerk you around one way then the other as you swing it.

On the right my shoulders are positioned more over my hips. My core is engaged to steady every thing and my torso and arms are moving the hammer.. not the hammer moving me. Leaning back in these moves may make you feel them more in your abs, but that lean is mostly forcing your abs to tighten to keep your body from extending back even further. In the "right" pictures, the abs are still being used a lot.. they're just involved in controlling me and the hammer rather than doing "damage control" from the hammer's momentum.

Just thought those might help some. I guess the way I look at it can be summed up by saying that you want to always be in control of your body and the hammer as an extension of it... not letting the hammer control you and your motions. Moreso when you're shugging because you won't have the impact against an object killing the momentum and YOU have to do that work as well. Plus you're probably somewhere where an out of control hammer might wind up resulting in a reasonable repair bill.

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Post by exnerd » Wed Oct 13, 2010 1:17 pm

zenboar, great drawings and pictures, and even better insights!

I guess that most of us shovelglovers haven't done a lot of hard physical labor before, so the biomechanics of efficient and back-saving shovelgloving don't come natural to us.

For me, the book "8 steps to a pain-free back" by Esther Gokhale has been a great help - mostly to get rid of the frequent backaches induced by my desk job, but the principles contained in the book can be applied to virtually any physical activity.

What I find fascinating is that I see them mirrored in your drawings and photographs as well: The idea is to put the spine in a naturally erect and elongated position, and once this is achieved conserve this posture for whatever you're up to.

This means more work for all other joints, so it may take the body some time to get used to this. But in my case, it has dramatically reduced the frequency and duration of back problems over the last year.

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Post by zenboar » Fri Aug 05, 2011 6:09 am

It's been a while since I've been here. In that time I moved up to using a 16lb sledge on a regular basis for pounding on a tire. Moving a hammer with that much of a jump in weight, I had to sort of relearn the dynamic. I also start from a dead hold with each rep so that I'm not letting the rebound from the tire do the lifting work.

Let me see if I can break down the concept of the movement into steps. I'll preface this by stipulating that this should not be construed as a "proper form" but more as a description of how I perform a strike. The movement will vary from person to person in some ways depending on your strengths, weaknesses, trouble spots, etc. (In other words, don't try to follow this and wreck yourself and then come after me. :D )

1: Neutral start position. Left foot forward, right foot back. Left hand near base of handle, right hand near hammer head. Spine straight, shoulders relaxed, core engaged for support but not tense.

2: Initiate swing by shifting some weight back to the right foot. The arms shift the hammer back some to start the swing. While the shoulders shift, the core stabilizes your body so your torso doesn't get out of control and tweak your spine.

3. As the swing begins the right hand shifts to start bringing the hammer head up over head. The right arm is doing a kind of curl with the hammer, the left is assisting by pushing the handle up towards the head. The core is still stabilizing and keeping your spine in a neutral position so you don't sway your back.

4. The lift of the hammer begins at the right heel. As the right arm begins to push it up overhead, the right heel plants and presses, the motion of that carries up the right leg, through the hips, up the spine and into the shoulders so that raising the hammer head isn't just in the arms but a total body movement. This motion transfers best through a nicely aligned spine since a poorly aligned one will sway or kink with the pulling from the hammer's weight. I kind of visualize it as a driving force that starts from my rear heel and travels up my body to the head of the hammer.

5. Overhead the hammer attains a moment of weightlessness. The right hand tips it forward and slides down the handle to join the left

6. The core/abs contract to start the downward strike. At this point, from your hips to your hands you are essentially pulling on the base of the handle. The force of the strike will be generated by this pull rather than simply motion from the arms.

7. As the hammer arcs downwards the arms at this point are basically steering it. That contraction of the core and tug with the arms provided the energy of the strike and gravity is helping it on its way. Your job now is to keep the hammer on target with the tire. Adjustments in height and arc are made by shifting your hips and dropping you stance, not by curving your spine forward. If you have to shorten the arc to be on target, bring your arms in and shift to you back leg some. If you have to extend the arc out some, lunge forward slightly with the legs. None of the course corrections should be absorbed through the spine.

So..... that's kind of a description of how I "feel" the process when I think about it in a broken-down fashion. If you're not striking a tire then the movement will be different. You probably won't swing with quite as much abandon and the hand near the hammer head will probably stay closer to control it. Overall, I also picture the movement being similar to how you might strike the tire if you had a hammer head on a rope rather than a rigid handle.

Once you gain strength and can control the hammer better, you actually can swing as if you were going to strike an object. The primary difference will be your control hand (the one closer to the head) will stay close and kill the motion of the hammer so you don't actually punch holes in your floor, wall, dog, whatever. The trick here is you want to start dampening the inertia (or whatever the appropriate term is) just after you commit to the strike. That way you're progressively slowing it rather than trying to jerk it to a halt at the end of the swing. Even if you have the strength to do the latter, I've found that's a good way to injure muscles and connective tissues in your fingers, wrists, and elbows.

Sometimes if I do the swings for speed and intentionally use the rebound from the tire, the motion winds up being effectively repositioning the hammer around its center of gravity at the moment of weightlessness from the rebound, then redirecting its movement back to the tire again. A lot of it gets done in the arms with the core stabilizing my upper body than any motion through the spine.

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Post by mattman » Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:41 pm

The pics and the drawings are very cool.
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Post by oolala53 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 4:57 pm

Don't know what you looked like before, zenboar, but you look pretty fit in those pics.
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