Training for me used to include squatting, benching and deadlifting exclusively. You could throw in a good morning, or some tricep work here and there but the majority of my time in the gym was spent around the “big three.” Training with unconventional tools like steel mace had not even crossed my mind. It could be because I did not have anyone who was able to teach them or just they were tough to come by.
It was not until my powerlifting and football career ended that I discovered unconventional training. I had spent the better part of a decade training heavy with a bar and I had to find something new. In short, I was growing bored of the same thing all the time. So I took the internet, searching out tools that I could utilize and make myself better without using the typical barbell and weight plates. That is where I discovered the unconventional tools, ironically used for centuries by other cultures.
What Are Unconventional Tools?
How I define unconventional tools is simple: A tool that you rarely see used in conventional gyms. Simple as that. Tools that are not used because they have no one to teach them or because people are too intimidated to learn how to use them.
Kettlebells, farmers handles, steel mace, clubbells, Indian clubs, or meals. The list could go on and on. The point is that there is a world of fitness tools that have been used by warrior cultures for improvement for centuries. It was the research I did to find them that made me inspired to set aside the barbell and pick up something new.
The unconventional tools I am talking about in this article have a rich history in the cultures they come from. A lot of them are weapons of the past that have been turned into fitness tools. So modern man can reap some of the benefits given to the warriors who used them in the past.
I have spoken extensively about kettlebells before and for a good reason. They are exceptional tools for developing the crazy amount of strength as well as conditioning. For me, the kettlebell was one of the first unconventional tools I used after my departure from conventional training.
I saw a whole bunch of youtube videos by a guy named Pavel Tsatsouline. He was selling the kettlebells benefits pretty hard. I fell for the sales pitch and picked up my first set of kettlebells shortly after that.
Training with kettlebells gave me a glimpse at a tool that could train so many aspects of athleticism. You can do everything a dumbbell does plus so many other things.
As I moved into this new world of unconventional tools. I started to learn a little more about myself as an athlete. Namely how garbage my physical preparedness was. I was astonished at how sore I was after starting with the kettlebells. Not to mention how bad my conditioning was. Brutal, it sparked an almost obsession with seeking out more ways to improve me.
Probably my favorite tool on this list. Something about the steel mace makes you feel like an ancient warrior training for war itself. I know that sounds extremely corny as heck, but it is true. Something about swinging a steel mace is almost primal.
The steel mace or Gada has been used for centuries in India. Wrestlers in that country swing a bamboo pole connected to a formed concrete ball. That is one of their main training implements and has worked wonders for hundreds of years.
As with most things these days, I only found out about the steel mace from good old youtube. I saw some people swinging this thing around, and I got curious. I picked up some sledgehammers because they looked like they would work well. They were also cheaper than anything else available here in Canada.
After sometime swinging the sledgehammer there was finally a distributor here in Canada who decided to bring them to this market, I dove in hard and bought a bunch of them. I have not turned back since; They can be used in a variety of ways. Far more than just swinging.
There is a new way of training with them called flow, meaning you move and almost dance with the steel mace. It is incredible to watch.
I have always had notoriously weaker shoulders than most people, but after training with the steel mace for some time now, my shoulders are stronger than ever before. No amount of benching or overhead pressing could have prepared me as the steel mace has. P.S If you are in Canada and need some Macebells check out www.extremekettlebell.com and use the code AC10 for 10% off your order!
Now, these are a new tool for me. I have used their little cousins called Indian clubs before which weight anywhere from 1-3 lbs on average. But clubbells weigh from 10-45lbs on average.
They are tough to control because of the weight distribution but they are also instrumental in developing the shoulders. However, their most significant advantage is their ability to increase your grip strength. For me being introduced to these tools was a game changer for my grip. When you are moving a club, your entire wrist range of motion gets put to the test.
A buddy of mine asked me how I could be so open-minded to the other tools but closed minded about clubbells. The quest itself threw me merely because the question itself snapped me into reality. That being closed-minded about one thing when I am open-minded about so many other things make no sense.
I can not speak about how good or bad these are. I just have not put the time in with them, but I can say that from my limited use of them that they will become a staple in my training moving forward because of how awkward they are to move and how they attack specific weak spots.
The use of unconventional tools in my training today is directly related to my refusal of change during my athletic career. Interesting how that works. I grew frustrated with doing the same things over and over again and now change it up all the time. I am far more open-minded than I ever was and will always preach this to coaches and athletes alike, do not shut down one training tool or another without first looking at how it should be used and how other people are effectively using it.
It is always easier to pass novel things off because there is a learning curve that you do not want to climb then just to give it a shot, trust me I have been there. Keeping an open mind may have enhanced my athletic career further than it was when I was playing football and competing in powerlifting. All I can do now is help those who are closed minded to new things try and see that there are new ways to train you have never imagined before.