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This is a guest blog post from our friend Emilio Troiano, the head of WTA - Functional Training Academy.

All about the Steel Mace Bell: historical origins, technical characteristics and most importantly: what exercises to perform

What is the Steel Mace Bell:
About fifteen years ago you started to see the first kettlebells in Europe and only a few saw a particularly effective training equipment, so for a couple of years now it happens with the Steel Mace, few know what it is, and of these few, even fewer think of using it as a physical training tool. 

The reason for this distrust lies in the lack of knowledge of the technical characteristics of the tool. As in all things in fact, only through correct information you can get to the substance and understand if it can be of use for oneselves.

That is the aim of this article, to give as complete an overview as possible of everything related to this, in our opinion, exceptional training device, so that it at least inspires curiosity about the first exercises and is sure that for those who are looking for an ideal complement to their training, this is the optimal device!

Just like the Kettlebell and the more similar Steel Clubs, the Steel Mace has as its distinguishing feature to have the mass decentralized with respect to the handle, which allows us to safely slew the tool through ballistic movements in the three planes of movement of the space that surrounds us. Obviously this aspect is much more extreme in Steel Mace than in Steel Clubs and Kettlebells. The handle of the Steel Mace is in fact 1 meter long and this means that the weight of the ball is really very far from the section of the handle on which the grip is applied, especially in exercises involving the grip with both hands at its opposite end. 

The historical origins of the Steel Mace Bell
The potential of this tool has certainly not escaped the warriors of different parts of the world, especially those Hindus who for over 2000 years have used it in various forms, as a training tool and preparation for battles, recognizing what we could easily call today, the extreme "functionality" for a complete body and prepared to 360 º.

But the Gada (this is its original name), brings with it an even more ancient charm, sinks its mythological origins in the weapon of the Hanuman, Warriors half human and half ape, who embodied wisdom, justice and honesty, with enough strength to climb mountains with one arm.

Beyond the fascinating epic feats that have inspired the Eastern mythology, certainly this tool has always been the cornerstone of many athletes of the Far East, especially the Hindu wrestlers, The Pehlwani, known for being among the strongest athletes in the world. 

The technical characteristics of the Steel Mace Bell.
The technical characteristics of Steel Mace depend heavily on the manufacturers. The weight range itself varies from company to company. A first technical element to pay attention to is that the length of the handle is fixed, regardless of the weight of the ball. This is very important to be able to adapt progressively to the workloads, without changing the execution technique of the exercises. Having rods of different lengths depending on the weight, would distort the technical execution of the movements, especially when you switch from low weights to much higher ones. The key concept is that the overall dimensions of the tool and the gripping points on the rod must not change with the change in weight, otherwise it would totally change the exercise with the increase in weight, and this would not allow a progressive technical setting of optimal work! 

Another very important technical constitutive feature is the surface of the stickThe presence of knurling to facilitate grip on the tool is essential to progress in the loads.

The knurling on the stick allows in fact to exert more grip force and therefore the possibility of using loads higher than the smooth stick. This allows the conditioning of the force of the grip itself, without preventing the execution of all those exercises that involve the phase of slipping of a hand from a starting point to an arrival point, thus determining for another key feature of the Steel Mace, its versatility. With the Steel Mace it is in fact possible to perform a multitude of really incredible exercises, but many of these require stages of grip transitions, where one hand slides on the stick while the other remains in firm grip. You understand how knurling helps to exert more grip force right in the transition phase, which provides for rapid changes of grip on the stick. 

How large should the diameter section of the stick be?
In order to exert an optimal grip, the diameter must be 40 mm. Smaller diameters are absolutely to be avoided as you could not properly grip your hand on the stick, also making it extremely dangerous to perform many exercises. Diameters greater than 40 mm can be good for those who have particularly large hands, or for those who want to put their grip force to further test, but it would still reduce the range of exercises, especially those technically more complex.

What weights to choose from the Steel Mace Bell: what weight to use? The weight of the Steel Mace ranges from 3 kg to 15 kg. But I assure you that for those who start with this tool, the 6 kg and the 9 kg show immediately how challenging it is to perform even the simplest movements of the basic exercises. Obviously the choice of weight to use depends on various factors that we could summarize in these

1) Type of exercises to be performed according to purpose. In traditional strength exercises (deadlift, squat, row, press, lunge) you can use a greater weight, while in ballistic exercises you have to start with a lower weight.

2) Type of exercises according to grip. In single grip exercises, the weight should average half of what you use in double grip exercises. So for example if I use the 12 kg for double grip exercises, I have to use the 6 kg for single grip exercises.

3) General strength levels of the person. Clearly if the practitioner already has a basic strength trained in years of traditional weight training and/or functional training such as with kettlebells, barbells, clubs etc., has already a potential capacity to manage a load higher than those who are out of physical condition maybe for some time. If you are well trained you can start with the 6 kg for single arm exercises and with the 12 kg for two arms, at least starting to manage initially the basic exercises that will allow you to become familiar with the tool. For those who need to improve their physical condition, the best advice is to return to a minimum of fitness with a general basic strength built with other kind of training, from bodyweight exercises  to barbells, better still if with a balanced program of Functional Training, for at least two/three months, and then move to Steel Mace, starting from the double grip exercises with the 6 or 9 kg. The single grip exercises should be inserted only after a few months of work with the double grip exercises!

Closely related to the differences in strength of the person is also the age and gender of the practitioner. For older people and people who do not have special levels of strength, the loads obviously need to be lowered further. Starting with the 3 kg Steel Mace with double grip work is more than enough to create a base of technical knowledge of the tool and basic movements and then gradually switch to the use of the 6 kg.

In addition to these three fundamental aspects, it goes without saying that the main discriminator according to which the weight of the Steel Mace to be used is the degree of technical knowledge of the exercises you want to perform. Being a tool that requires great technical skills, the higher the technical level of the practitioner, the more you can afford to increase the load you use, just like any other training equipment, from Olympic Barbells to Kettlebells, just to give two examples.

Why use the Steel Mace Bell: what is the Steel Mace used for?
Now that you are curious enough about this tool we answer to what is the question that at this point rightly goes through your mind. 

But why would I use Steel Mace in my workouts?
A rod/handle of one meter with a spherical weight at one end and the hands on the side opposite to the weight, makes it immediately obvious that it is not a usual tool to which you are accustomed in the gym.

Next to isotonic machines, the most common strength and physical enhancement workouts are with barbells and dumbbells. Tools are certainly more unstable machines, but because of the mass less decentralized than the grip, much easier to handle than the Steel Mace. 

If the characteristic of free weights that differentiates them from the driven loads of machines is that of requiring greater ability to stabilize the load during the trajectories of movement, You understand well that this concept applies all the more when you use the Steel Mace that thanks to its shape allows the execution of trajectories where the mass is far from the axis of the body’s barycentre, making it even more difficult to control. The result is an even greater impact on the stabilization capacity of the whole body, while operating this tool, than any other free load, including kettlebells and clubs. Although the Steel Mace is maneuvered by the upper limbs, it will be crucial to involve the center and lower base, which will constantly provide stability to the shoulder girdle as the arms move. 

1) Core Training. This means that the trunk will be strongly strengthened both in terms of general strength and stabilizing and proprioceptive capabilities. 

2) Strengthening of the grip. It’s a fairly common opinion among physicians, that one of the indicators of a person’s health and efficiency is the strength of the hands in exercising a solid and secure grip on objects. If we think that the upper extremities, the hands in fact, as well as the lower ones, the feet, represent the union of the myofascial/kinetic chains of the body with the eyes, we understand well how a lack of strength in the hands, highlights lack of strength and efficiency of kinetic chains, which results in low levels of strength of the entire body. That’s why doctors are not wrong to give so much importance to the grip force of the hands, as the general strength of the body means more likely to have an efficient and healthy body! The reason why Steel Mace has a rather important role in strengthening the muscles of the hands and forearms is quite easy to guess, even for those who have not yet had the privilege to try this training. But it is guaranteed that it takes just a few minutes of training, even with the first simple exercises and with very low loads, to understand its "meaning". 

3) Musculoskeletal health and steel shoulders. There is a clear relationship between the Movement of the body and its physical health. What does this mean? That an efficient body moves correctly in the space that surrounds it and the Steel Mace with its multitude of movements allows to enhance to the maximum this concept determined for the health and functionality of the body. Slimming this tool in the three planes of movement in space (sagittal, frontal and especially in the transverse plane), allows both the superficial muscles engines that deep stabilizers to come into play in full respect of their physiology and biomechanics, through myofascial activations (muscle and connective tissue), which manage all the movements of the articular fulcra. Bending and extending movements on the sagittal plane, adduction, abduction and lateral inclinations on the frontal plane and especially the twists and rotations on the transverse plane, blend perfectly during the Steel Mace Training exercises. Particularly mentioned must be the rotations of the shoulder girdle, as although extremely important for the health and functionality of the shoulders, they are particularly difficult to train with other equipment such as barbells and dumbbells. In part they can be conditioned with some Kettlebell exercises, and especially with the clubs, but the Steel Mace for its constitutive technical characteristics, has no equal also with regard to this aspect. By training with Steel Mace you will build steel shoulders!

4) Powerful Hips and Stable Knees. But it will not only the shoulders and the Core to be stressed during the exercises with the Steel Mace. Many exercises include as primary motor fulcrum the Hips, with great involvement of the muscles extensors buttocks and ischiocrurali. But it is the whole lower limbs that are made to participate in these exercises. In fact, you can create many combinations of movement between Swing and Lunges of all types, without neglecting the simplest steps such as in Squats. The result? Also powerful, knees able to stabilize during movements in the 3 planes of space and strong and functional legs for every application and need. All characteristics of particular interest in the physical training of all sports that include accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction. And which Sport doesn’t need it? The Steel Mace is a real ace up the sleeve of any Fitness Trainer!

Who should train with Steel Mace: what physical goal is the Steel Mace Training aimed at?
After what has been explained up to this point, the answer comes from itself: all people who want to improve their state of health, efficiency and physical functionality, must train with the Steel Mace. At least they must include in their workouts some exercises that are unique to this tool, and that you can not play with any other training tool, especially in ballistic movements on the transverse plane, which translated means, more strength, more stabilization, more coordination, more joint health, more functionality in application to daily movements and athletic gestures specific to sports.

  1. Injury prevention and recovery. Working on joint stabilization on the three planes of movement and in particular on the transverse plane, clearly the most unstable joints of the body (shoulders, knees and spine)They benefit greatly both in stability and in the proprioceptive control of movements. All this means prevention of muscle and tendon injuries, and with the appropriate assessments of timing strategies and associations with other free-body work and other tools, can also be a good integration in the post-traumatic recovery protocols. Another optimal aspect for the health of the joints is the joint decompression that is obtained during the phases of momentum of the tool in the eccentric phase of the trajectories of movement, and dynamic active myofascial release, with the result of having healthier joints from inside the joint capsule and more elastic muscles both in depth and on the surface.
  2. Athletic Conditioning. General and special coordination abilities, intra and inter-muscular coordination, strength, activity, speed, power and resistance both aerobic and anaerobic, all these abilities can be trained very effectively with the Steel Mace Training exercises. All sports that require grip force, core activation and control, coordination of all body segments during high-intensity movements in the three planes of space, benefit greatly from movement with the Steel Mace.
  3. Strength and Hypertrophy. Inter and intramuscular coordination, speed and hypertrophy of the fibers means training strength, and although the weight of the tool is still limited compared to other tools such as barbells, having to do with a mass strongly decentralized with respect to the grip, In the face of a lower external workload, an internal load is obtained, however, high to the point of also resulting in considerable gains in both neuromuscular strength and muscle hypertrophy.
  4. Body Recomposition and Weight Loss. The execution of sequences of exercises with low recovery times, for a medium-high working volume, allows the application of the Steel Mace also for protocols of this type. The results derive from an optimal balance between muscular and aerobic work, a fundamental condition for both the use of energy substrates of storage, fatty acids of adiposity (fat cells)and the increase of EPOC and Basal Metabolism after training, thanks to the work on the increase of lean muscle tissue.
  5. Cardiovascular and HIIT Training. Obviously managing high intensity exercises, especially those that provide frequent changes of grip and position with ballistic trajectories, with low recovery times between exercises or between exercise sequences, We also have the optimal conditions to set high intensity training circuits aimed at both cardiovascular work and resistance to strength/ speed/ power.

Which exercises to choose of the Steel Mace Bell.
A tool with such a wide range of exercises can create an embarrassment of choice. 

But what are the best exercises of Steel Mace Training?

There is not the best exercise or exercises in an absolute sense, there may be more representative exercises such as the Gamma Cast, the Shield Cast, the Archer Press or the Warrior Swing, but to choose the most suitable exercises for your workouts, As with any other tool, you must always take into account two fundamental aspects: what is your physical/ technical level and what is your goal of that training program you want to build. So go and choose the exercise based on your physical abilities of general strength and techniques of knowledge of movements, and according to the technical characteristics that brings with it each exercise. For example, if you want to improve speed or power you will choose the exercises of momentum, if you want to improve strength and hypertrophy you can opt for push and traction exercises.

How often should you use Steel Mace?
Once you have experienced the extraordinary benefits that the training can bring with the Steel Mace it is guaranteed that you will not be able to do without it in your workouts. How often to use it. You can put Steel Mace exercises in every program you do, especially to fill the gaps of other tools. For example, if you include strength exercises on the sagittal and frontal motion planes performed with the barbell, with the Steel Mace you can complete the training with exercises on the transverse plane. But nothing prevents you from doing whole workouts with the Steel Mace, especially when you have gained more confidence and have a good technical knowledge of different exercises, you can have fun creating whole combinations of exercises in sequence with each other. This will allow you to make the workouts always stimulating and varied, increasing more and more your coordination skills to 360 º.

What to do before using the Steel Mace.
1) Joint Mobility. Maneuvering the Steel Mace requires optimal joint mobility especially of the shoulder girdle, as well as good stabilization of the trunk and pelvis. These features are easier to train with free body exercises and other training methods such as Suspension Training. So before moving on to the Steel Mace, you have to ensure the minimum parameters of mobility and joint stability, this is essential both to prevent muscle-joint injuries, to optimize the technical performance of the exercises, and thus derive greater physical benefits.

2) Start with the basic exercises. As stated many times, maneuvering the Steel Mace is not easy at all, and even if the more advanced exercises attract more because they are the most representative of this tool, it is essential to build a knowledge base of the tool and the simplest movements, before venturing into more complex exercises.

3) Follow precise technical guidelines that respect the biomechanics of human body movement and the technical characteristics of Steel Mace, in order to enhance them, without incurring unnecessary injuries.

Where to find valid technical support both on the Steel Mace exercises and on the Workouts that you can perform to optimize its characteristics according to your level and your specific objectives.
By clicking on the following link, you can go to the amazing Workout App that I realized on the use of Steel Mace, where you will find over 160 technical videos of the exercises, and over 50 types of Workout classified according to the starting level and the specific goal!

The Steel Mace will always be your "ace up your sleeve" both for your personal workouts and for those of your customers! Are you ready to start?

Emilio Troiano

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