Hitting an oversized tire with a sledgehammer is an inexpensive, but extremely effective, closed kinetic chain exercise that allows you to increase strength and power in the muscles of the hips, legs, trunk, shoulders, arms and hands. And, because you do it from a standing position, it has a positive transfer to the act of hitting a baseball. There are two basic movements or swings when working with a sledgehammer and tire, the overhead swing and the diagonal chop. We will discuss the overhead swing in this posting and the diagonal chop will follow in a future posting.
Buying a sledgehammer. You need two pieces of equipment, a sledgehammer and a used, oversized truck or tractor tire. Don’t go overboard when buying a hammer. A good one can be usually be purchased for about $2 a pound in most hardware stores. Home Depot, for example, carries a brand (Ludell) that guarantees its handles for life. Bigger is not better when purchasing a hammer. The primary goals when working with a sledgehammer is to increase strength, speed and power. The heavier the hammer, the slower the swing; and slow swings produce less force and power. Start with a 6-8 pound maul and gradually progress up to a 10-pound hammer. Because you are using the hammer as a strength/power tool, you need to work at a high speed and intensity throughout the drill. If the sledge is too heavy, you will have difficulty completing the drill with perfect technique, your swings will become slower and the training effect will be minimized.
Finding a tire. Two things to remember when getting a tire; “bigger is better” and “if it’s free, it’s for me.” Most tire dealers have old tires and would rather give them away than to pay disposal service to haul them off. Find a dealer that supplies large tires for trucks and tractors. Car tires are too thin and lie so close to the ground that they can cause you to over-flex at the hip and produce undue stress on the low back.
Swinging the sledge. Keep it simple. Hitting a baseball is hard enough; don’t add another elaborate swinging technique to your training program. Stick to the basic movements. Use one that will allow you to cut lose while maintaining proper form. Start with the two-handed overhead swing. Stand in front of and approximately 2-3 feet away from the tire with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Grip the hammer with both hands near the bottom of the shaft. Set the abs, flex the knees and ankles, bring the sledge directly over the head in a controlled manner and then slam it down as explosively as possible, control the bounce and slowly return to the starting position under control. This is one rep. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps. Stop when you can’t maintain proper form.
Alternate hand position, i.e., which hand is on top and bottom each set to improve coordination and ensure balanced development. Start with three sets of five reps withone hand on top and 3×5 with the other hand on top. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets. Your goal is to be explosive on every rep, so take more rest as needed. Gradually progress to 3×10. Increase the weight of the hammer when you can do 3×10 with perfect form. Do overhead swings twice per week during the off-season and pre-season with at least two days rest between workouts as a supplementary, explosive, total body training tool for the muscles of the core, hips, legs, arms, shoulders and hands.
Napoleon Pichardo, CSCS, RSCC is the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Texas Rangers. Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS, RSCC, is the strength and conditioning coach for the Frisco Roughriders, Texas Rangers.