How a Stone-Age Weapon Evolved into a Useful Piece of Fitness Equipment

(courtesy Stew Smith)

Many fitness tools on the market add extraordinarily little to personal fitness and end up being mere accessories from fitness companies looking for new ways to make money.

However, there are a few tools that could revolutionize the industry or at least the way you train. The steel mace is one of those tools.

The steel mace is not really new at all. In fact, the battle weapon is one of the world’s oldest pieces of fitness equipment. Over the past year, the mace has resurfaced on my radar as an effective fitness tool.

(courtesy Stew Smith)
(courtesy Stew Smith)

At this point, you are not likely to find steel maces at commercial gyms. Of course, you couldn’t find kettlebells there a decade ago, and now they are everywhere. If you had asked me in the 1990s whether the kettlebell would be so popular someday, I likely would have said something like, “No one in America is going to use that commie exercise device.”

Obviously, an ability to foresee how the fitness market will evolve is not my strong suit. If you talk to people who already use the mace and tactical fitness trainers, they confidently predict that the steel mace is on a similar trajectory.

Like the kettlebell, the steel mace is a specialty training tool with undeniable purpose, and I now use both near daily.

What Is a Steel Mace?

(courtesy Set For Set)
(courtesy Set For Set)

A steel mace is a weighted globe welded onto a long, somewhat-hollowed lever. On average, around 90% of the weight of a steel mace is in the globe (aka the head of the mace), giving it a significantly uneven weight distribution.

Generally, you will find steel maces in weights of 7, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 pounds. While that might not seem heavy, even the “light weights” feel conspicuously heavy because of the long-levered offset design.

Put a 30-pound mace in the hands of the strongest guy you know, and we guarantee he will reach for the 10- or 15-pound mace in a matter of seconds. The dynamics of tension and force are completely different from what you get with perfectly balanced training tools, such as dumbbells. That makes the mace great for filling in the gaps of conventional training.

Benefits of Steel Mace Training

Steel maces can help to improve your fitness and sports performance on many fronts. Here are a few of the areas that are particularly unique to steel mace training:

1. Shoulder resilience

Out of all the joints in your body, the shoulder girdle is the most versatile. Unfortunately, that versatility also makes it susceptible to injury. The steel mace does a great job of building shoulder resilience, since the disproportionate weight displacement activates and strengthens the stabilizer muscles surrounding your shoulder joint.

There is a difference between shoulder resilience and mobility. Decent shoulder mobility can be very helpful when using the mace. I see it as a tool that enhances the stability of the shoulder, even though some argue that the mace is more a tool to build mobility.

2. Grip strength

Even fitness enthusiasts can overlook grip training, but grip is one of the most important elements of fitness. A stronger grip translates to improvements in strength on all fronts.

Without a strong grip, you cannot build serious strength in other areas of your body, especially your upper body. Any big lift starts with a strong grip.

The steel mace does a thorough job of improving your grip strength. Its long, levered and uneven design, coupled with repetitive movements, will support all aspects of grip, including fingers, hand and forearm strength.

3. Core strength, stability and power

The transverse plane is the most often neglected movement zone in fitness. The steel mace focuses a workout on that transverse plane, because so many exercises are multiplanar. The mace workout will take you through all three planes of motion, emphasizing the transverse plane as you rotate and resist rotation.

This technique is not only great for building core strength and stability, but it is also fantastic for sports performance. If you have a strong, powerful core that can rotate and resist rotation, you will have a better foundation to build balance and coordination and have the ability to accelerate and decelerate in all directions.

4. Stronger stabilizer muscles

Because of the long lever, every movement you perform will require a lot more stability. It is not just your shoulder joints that will benefit from steel-mace stabilizing exercises.

No matter what exercise you perform, the stabilizer muscles for any movement will be working harder. This will translate into improvements in strength and stability for other areas of your training, such as barbell lifts. That stability also will make you more resilient to injury on all fronts.

Overall, the steel mace is a great supplemental training device that fills in the gaps of conventional strength and conditioning workouts. The mace teaches your body to work as a single unit.

Steel mace training fortifies this bond of connections between joints and muscles throughout the body. If you have weak areas or muscle imbalances, they will become apparent quickly.

What Size Steel Mace Should You Start With?

Steel maces feel a lot heavier than their listed weight would suggest. This is because the long lever requires your body to use more force to resist and create torque. Therefore, a 15-pound mace feels significantly heavier than a perfectly balanced piece of equipment, such as a 15-pound dumbbell.

Keep this in mind and do not let your ego get the best of you. I have a 15- and 20-pound mace and find that it’s better to learn new exercises with the 15-pound mace.

Overall, the general recommendation for men and women alike is to start with a 10-pound mace. Starting light will allow you to streamline the learning curve. Stronger individuals can opt for a 15-pound mace.

Please keep in mind that the jump from 10 to 15 pounds and 15 to 20 pounds is a lot more significant than jumping the same weight increments with dumbbells or even kettlebells.

Because of the long lever, you can alter how heavy the mace feels by moving your hands up or down the handle. Choking up on the mace is helpful. The closer your hands are to the head of the mace, the easier it will be to use. This means you essentially can increase the weight load with a single mace, a training variable unique to this tool.

(courtesy Stew Smith)
(courtesy Stew Smith)

After I met a few tactical fitness trainers and athletes who used maces for training, I thought I would try them. I also found a company, Set For Set, that not only sells maces and kettlebells, but also provides incredible training information, videos and smart articles on how to use this potentially revolutionary piece of equipment. They also have a very comprehensive training e-guide that is highly recommended for anyone just starting out on their steel-mace journey.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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