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Shovelglove 201 - Comprehensive Review
Urban Primalist

Comprehensive Review

Professor Williams

Hello again, and welcome to Shovelglove 201!  I certainly appreciate your patience, in that some of you have been on the waiting list for two years now.  Budget problems, you understand.  Hope you weren’t waiting on these credits for graduation.


You’ve got some good hammer experience under your belt now that you’ve taken the first four courses.  You have a hammer of your own, or several, and they all have names.  Right?  And decorations, yes?  Rhinestones, stickers, decals, engravings, airbrushed valkyries -- all good choices.

For 201, we’ll review the essential shovelglove lore, examine how shovelglove might fit into a larger fitness program, and serve up some video of the classic moves in the context of a typical workout.


But first, allow me to introduce our teaching assistant, Kaiser Frederick IV Barbarossa.  You may refer to him as Dr. B.

Dr. B

Dr. B is a 21.6-pound shot-loadable sledgehammer crafted by grandmaster metallurgist Ryan Pitts.  Surely you’ve heard of him?  If by some egregious oversight you have not, the syllabus requires you to pay a visit to his web site, strongergrip.com.  That’s some good stuff, right there.  Of course your final grade in the course is not for sale, but SCC’s many deserving scholarship students are grateful for equipment donations from our generous alumni.


So let’s review some important shovelglove principles:

Diet First
This cannot be overemphasized which is why I put it up front.  You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet.  If somebody put sugar in the gas tank of your car, would drag-racing make it better?  The metaphor is approximate, but you know what I’m talking about.

Getting your diet right is actually easy, despite what the weight-loss industry would have you believe.  Just eat Real Human Food (“RHF”).  You know, the stuff we evolved on for 99.9% of our history as bipedal hominids: healthy plants and animals.  It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.  If you want further explanation, Mark Sisson’s got the details for you right here.

Real Human Food
Please don't eat this.

Depending on how deranged your palate is from the Standard American Diet, RHF may taste unsatisfying or objectionable at first.  But I absolutely guarantee that if you stick to it, your palate will normalize and you will enjoy it more than the “edible food-like substances” that are all the rage these days. 


Nobody had more of a deranged palate than me.  I used to eat fast food virtually every day.  When I first discovered the Primal Blueprint I thought that surely life without bread would be a living hell.  Yet today bread does nothing for me.  Nothing!  Bread is lead!

For the love of all that is holy, don't eat this.

Imagine that you had 100-decibel music blaring in your ears all day.  You probably wouldn’t appreciate, say, fine classical music or the tinkling of wind chimes.  But if you took the headphones off, after some adjustment, you’d discover a world of auditory nuance that you might never have suspected.

So it is with food.  Eating junk is like having a jumbo jet taking off in your mouth and soon enough that’s all you can appreciate.  But your palate will heal itself just like your body will become lean and strong.  And you will discover that RHF is, in fact, the tastiest food of all.

Always Warm Up
This is obvious, right?  That’s why the very first course consisted of warm-up maneuvers.  Get that blood pumping, those joints lubricating, that pulse elevating.  You’ll know when you’re warmed up because you will start to feel, well, warm.


No Sudden Stops
I had to learn this the hard way.  If you let the hammer yank your joints, you’re going to have problems sooner or later.  So by all means, start with a massive explosion of force, but always leave enough range of motion to stop the momentum of the hammer with comfortable deceleration.

Don't be this crustacean.

Almost all of us have a dominant side.  You do most things with one hand and not the other, right?  So your grip is stronger and your fine motor control better on that side.  Some of us are also recovering from terrible lifelong habits like always crossing one leg over the other or leaning to one side while standing.  That includes me.  But shovelglove will iron you out, provided you do the exact same reps on each side.  Always.  When I say do 15 Torso Twists, that means 15 on the left and 15 on the right.  If symmetry is tricky for you, always start with your weak side, then match the reps on the other side, so you never have to fight to stay even.

Full Body Motions
Shovelglove is not for isolation exercises.  We always want to engage as many muscles as possible, because that’s how your body was designed to operate and that’s how you build functional strength.  Isolation exercises are generally a waste of time better spent on other things.  Ask Martin Berkhan if you don’t believe me.  Don’t fall victim to “the itis”.

In particular, no bicep curls with your hammer.  That is an expellable offense.

Use Momentum
This is where shovelglove departs radically from traditional weight training.  With barbells and dumbbells, you generally want a full stop between reps.  But with shovelglove, the real magic is in the eccentric contraction as your muscles decelerate the hammer, and also in that crucial little stretch you get as you reverse the momentum.  So let your ligaments store some momentum and give it back.  We’re going light enough that this is a feature, not a bug.


You got all that?  ‘Course you do.

Now let’s examine the role shovelglove might play in your overall fitness regimen.


You could use shovelglove as your entire weightlifting program, and in fact I did for a year with decent results.  But it’s not ideal.  The main reason is that, broadly speaking, strength is best built when you perform exercises that result in failure after 4 to 6 repetitions.  As you get stronger, you need to increase the weight to stay in that range, and unless you have an awful lot of Master Smith Pitts’ equipment that is just not feasible.  Also importantly, the momentum from a hammer that heavy would pose a grave threat to your joints and ligaments, and we certainly don’t want any accidents or repetitive-use injuries.


For pure strength training, use barbells.  We will study that topic in detail in another course.


Sledgehammers excel in three areas:

Active Recovery
Right after an intense workout, and also in the day(s) after, you’re better served by doing low-intensity motions than just sitting around (or, ancestors help you, trying to go all-out two days in a row).  This appears to be mostly because of improved circulation, both of the blood and lymphatic systems.  Shovelglove is perfect for flushing out your whole body with a casual, even effortless, level of intensity.

Shred your brain, then your body.

Synaptic Facilitation
There’s more to weight work than sheer muscle mass.  To use your strength efficiently, your brain has to be able to tap that mass.  (You overlooked the “m” on that first reading, didn’t you?)  This means developing thorough neural penetration of the muscle fiber as well as dedicated, redundant circuits in your brain.


It is well established, for example, that chin-ups in particular are best built with lots and lots of practice, not just a few sets per week.  Clarence Bass, an indecently ripped septuagenarian, can tell you why.  Chins are so far removed from our daily civilized motions that the brain hardly knows what the heck is going on when you attempt them.  So you may well have the strength to do 20 chins, but to pull it off requires firing everything off in the right sequence.  And that takes practice.


Synaptic facilitation is allegedly best built with “negatives” – there’s that eccentric deceleration of the hammer we were talking about.  Every shovelglove motion has oodles of negative goodness.  So even if you never use a heavy hammer, shovelglove will help you recruit strength when you need it for low-rep heavy lifting.

Or you could use a hammer.

The science here seems to be much less clear.  But it is well known that for the spine in particular, traction is essential for vertebral health.  Those discs don’t have blood vessels and it takes mechanical compression and decompression to keep them healthy and to alleviate nerve compression.  You could get an inversion table, and those are a lot of fun.  But you could also use your hammer.  And it is not too much of a stretch (ahem) to generalize this to your other joints as well.


Traction also helps stretch your muscles actively, which is much more natural than static stretching, not to mention less excruciatingly awful.

To conclude the big picture, here’s a good rule of thumb for best results:  Use a hammer light enough that you can complete at least 10 repetitions of all the exercises without ever going to failure.

You’re sold on the benefits, I can tell, because you’re still reading this and not casually checking your smartphone.  Let’s put our knowledge into practice and feel it on our own hides.  Dr. B and I will now demonstrate a typical shovelglove active-recovery workout using the basic moves from 101, 102 and 103.  Click the links to view the video, and click an ad or two if you want to make a donation to your otherwise unfunded alma mater.


12 Torso Twists

20 Boat Rows

10 Hail Reinhards


Shoulder mobility sets 1:

20 Bullroarers

20 Grutte Piers


Work sets (repeat as desired):

12 Stakhanov Shovels

12 John Henrys

12 Scythe Swings

12 Orville Redenbachers


Shoulder mobility sets 2:

20 Bullroarers

20 Grutte Piers


Burst sets (give these your all!):

10 Iron Roundhouses

10 Skyhooks

10 Spear Thrusts



12 Torso Twists

20 Boat Rows

10 Hail Reinhards


And that, dear students, concludes Shovelglove 201.  Next week we’ll delve into some very special material indeed.  It may, in fact, be the most fun you’ve ever had with your blunt companion: hammer charges.

Timothy Williams
May 14, 2012

All text copyright © 2010-2013 Timothy Williams