Mace Training for Mountain Biking: Hindu Warrior Training for the Trail

Dec 9, 2015 at 8:35
by James Wilson  

Training for mountain biking can be pretty tricky. While everyone knows that you need great endurance, it isn’t always pedaling based endurance that is most important.

In fact, when trying to get down the trail as fast as possible it is actually your grip strength endurance that has been shown to have the biggest impact on your performance, not your pedaling based endurance (Characteristics Explaining Performance in Downhill Mountain Biking - Int. Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2015, 10, 183-190).

On a side note, right after I wrote an article on this study for this site highlighting those conclusions Aaron Gwinn won a World Cup DH race after breaking his chain right out of the gates. It just seemed to reinforce the conclusion that, while important, pedaling based fitness is limited in same areas and that we need to find other ways to improve our endurance for the unique demands of the trail.

Enter the steel mace.

Steel Maces

Now, if you have never seen a steel mace it is exactly what it sounds like – a long steel handle with a ball on the end of it. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place on a medieval battlefield.

While it looks like something you could use to brain zombies with, the mace is actually based on the Gada (basically a stick with a rock on the end). It has been used by Hindu warriors and Indian Kushti Wrestlers for over 2000 years to build upper body and grip strength endurance.

Old school wrestling matches could last for hours, requiring levels of conditioning and endurance that we can learn a lot from today. In fact, one of the guys that Bruce Lee studied and looked up to was The Great Gama, an undefeated Kushti Wrestler from the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s.

After coming across enough references to it to pique my interest, I ordered some through the company ONNIT. After they showed up I realized I quickly realized that 1) holding a mace felt pretty bad-ass and 2) I severely misjudged how heavy these things would feel.

I had ordered a 10-pound and 20-pound mace, figuring that I could use the 20 pounder and my little girl, who trains with me, could use the 10 pounder. But the 10-pound mace was tough to pick up and handle and the 20-pound mace was almost impossible to do anything with.

So after fashioning one for my little girl out of some PVC pipe and a stick and starting with the 10-pound mace myself I started to play around with it to see how it felt and what it could do.

Shilo with her mace

What I found was that, when coupled with the kettlebell, you have an amazingly effective way to train for that all-important grip strength endurance you need on the trail. In fact, with a simple combination of Kettlebell Swings (already one of my favorite grip strength endurance building exercises) with the Mace 360’s you have a unique way to work on this important type of fitness.

Here is a video of me showing you the Mace 360’s, plus how I like to combine them with the Kettlebell Swing to build your grip strength endurance.

Views: 7,744    Faves: 37    Comments: 2


- Single Arm Kettlebell Swing X 10 reps each arm
- Mace 360’s X 10 reps each way (switch hand on top each round)
- Repeat 4-10 times

I’d recommend doing this workout 2-3 times a week in the off-season and 1-2 times during the riding season. As a bonus, the Mace 360 is also an excellent way to open up the chest and upper back, improving your posture and helping to combat the hunched-shoulder syndrome so many of us have.

I’d also like to point out that while this article is aimed at DH riders/ racers this is something every rider could benefit from. Last time I checked most trails had downhill sections on them and when the trail points down, grip strength endurance becomes an important factor. This is especially true for the Enduro Racers since they get timed on mostly downhill sections, meaning that their DH performance plays a big role in their overall rankings.

The Mace definitely represents something of a lost art in the world of strength and fitness. Besides the 360’s I cover here, you can do Spear Stabs, the Grave Digger, Barbarian Squats and all sorts of unique exercises that really challenge your grip and core strength like few other tools I have ever used.

If I’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about mace training, then here are a couple of resources for you. The first is the ONNIT website where you can buy a mace and/ or learn some more exercises and routines using it.

You can also check out this guy's website, where he shows you how to make a mace out of a clay pot and bamboo stick in case you prefer to build your own.

And just in case buying a mace or building one isn’t something you are willing to do then check to see if you have a 10-pound sledge hammer…or at least, check one out next time you are at the store. Look for one with a round, straight handle but at the end of the day, a sledge hammer is just a modern day mace made for pounding rocks instead of heads.

Training for a sport like mountain biking requires a dynamic blend of upper body strength and mobility and I haven’t found a tool that targets this better than the mace.

So I hope you’ll get yourself mace and try these exercises out for yourself. While it may take a little practice and your neighbors may look at you like you’re nuts (mine are used to crazy stuff like this by now) I think that you’ll find the mace to be a valuable addition to your toolbox.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson
MTB Strength Training Systems


MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 4 National Championships ranging from DH to XC, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com to sign up for the free 30 Day MTB Skills and Fitness Program and get started on the way to riding with more power, endurance and confidence today.

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MENTIONS: @mtbstrengthcoach

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51 Comments

  • + 50
 I'd also recommend hanging out at the climbing gym if you have access to one, much better forearm training than anything you can do in a standard gym.
  • + 4
 this!
  • + 29
 Climbing does wonders for my riding but riding does little for my climbing.
  • + 3
 I actually think riding does a lot for all the other sports I do. On weekdays when I have limited time in the evening often times I am forced to do more XC type rides. I do intervals on the trail, and I think building my leg strength does a lot for my climbing and skiing.
  • + 8
 "Hanging out", I see what you did there.
  • + 22
 The babe-to-bro ratio is also way way higher at the climbing gym or the crag than the typical mountain biking scene.
  • + 3
 @MorganBH You're right bro!
  • + 2
 It's a great thing to do during bike fixing season.
  • + 2
 This. I know zero people who climb regularly and also suffer from arm pump. Plus it's fun, and it really sharpens the mind.
  • + 32
 Instructions unclear; accidentally joined a group of LARPers and slew the Frost Giant of Medeivia.
  • + 29
 Nuts. I was hoping for some medieval fighting action.
  • + 2
 The perfect workout to do when watching Game of Thrones.
  • + 6
 Long time ago I used to swing a mace like that to exercise my kegels
  • + 20
 And sudoku to improve your map reading............ I cant find the door............
  • + 15
 I find that lifting up and down shitty cruiser bikes on the repair stands at work really help with my on bike fitness. Although with a side effect of severe lack of money and occupational depression.
  • + 12
 Try some trail building ("trail fit"), and ride it afterwards.
  • + 2
 Each to their own but I always felt like gym activities are meant to be in addition to other hobbies. And I can definitely say kettlebells and bosu ball pushups at the end of a standard upper body gym workout helped my grip strength and riding a ton over the last couple years. I am definitely adding a mace to my routine.
  • + 1
 Agree, trailbuilding for the total body workout. Grip strength, Yep. And then split some firewood with a splitting maul == mace equivalent.
  • + 5
 A few much cheaper ways to get GREAT grip strength are....filling a 5 gallon bucket with a 20lb bag (www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqZiVt9YBX0), draping a towel over a pull-up bar (www.rosstraining.com/images/towelpullup.jpg), and rolling up weight on a bar (cms.bbcomcdn.com/fun/images/2013/forearms-to-the-forefront-1.jpg). These can probably all be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of one kettle bell. Peace out homies.
  • + 7
 @mtbstrengthcoach hi James, not gonna ask about the mace but still in the topic about grip strength, what is your opinion on NSD Powerball/Dynaflex Gyroball and the likes?
  • + 3
 I think that they are better than nothing but they are not as specific for mountain bike grip strength and the Mace 360 or KB Swing. The reason is that grip strength is specific to how you build it and the type of reactionary grip strength you need on the bike is different than the constant grip strength you need for those devices. The hand position is different as well as the fact that you are moving your hand/ forearm to keep the ball going, none of which resembles the grips demands of mountain biking.

Again, they are better than nothing than but unless you are adding them in because you are bored and have the time to kill I can think of a lot better use of your training time. You could also do some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or indoor rock climbing/ bouldering as a great way to build your grip strength endurance.
  • + 7
 Duuuude, that video is 4:20 long. It's a sign brah. It's the only training you need right there.

Now where's my Doritos..?
  • + 6
 bong reps
  • + 4
 I shake my head everytime someone pulls out the idea fairy for gimmick to market at absurd prices when all you need is a pull-up station and a rope clymb. At over 50 years old, I have seen many a fitness fashion trend come in as the holy grail of olympian supehero type training systems or appparatus to make one the mostest bad assed mo fu in the universe.

Here's an idea all you sports physiologistos and certified "strength trainers", advocate for toe touching, bush pulling, pick swinging, shovel scooping, pry bar lifting, hammer swinging, rock throwing, boulder pushing trail building as the next " fronteer cross fit ninja warrior, grip strengthening. Then we can ride more bad ass trails and buy you that beer that you'lll be able to crush with those popeyed Di&k skinners. Win win like a Mercedes Benz commercial.

I'm gonna go ride my bike now........
  • + 4
 Actually, these maces are a pretty awesome and killer workout. Don't bag it til you try it. I'm a believer now. Using off-balance weights like maces and doing functional movement type stuff have been great additions to my training. Yeah, Wilson can be kinda overly verbose, but I've gotten a number of good tips from him over the years. Plus he does give out a lot of free content. Just filter and take what you want, ignore the rest.
  • + 4
 Everyone on here now wants a mace. Who cares about the exercise! I find bouldering a pretty good forearm and grip strength builder. I know it's not always exactly the same muscles when braking but if you can. Lift your body weight off a crimp you're doing something right. Plus bouldering is a nice laid back sport when off the bike and with limited kit needed can be built into rides too.
  • + 2
 A friend introduced me to bouldering a good 10-12 years ago, and I immediately fell in love. All you need are some shoes, some chalk, a pad, and a rock. It was amazing to drive 5 or 10 minutes out to my spot and climb for a bit. Makes me miss the northwest.
  • + 5
 C'mon, this is garbage. If you want to get in shape for biking hit the gym and do some good old fashioned resistance training. Arnold didn't win Mr Olympia swinging a bloody mace.
  • + 1
 No, but Iranian wrestlers did for a long time. Mace training is the very definition of old-fashioned resistance training. Arnold won Mr Olympia by using steroids and other modern exercise techniques.
  • + 2
 Riding 1/2 hour motos at an MX track is the best forearm endurance workout I know of - and you also get used to going so much faster, braking harder, dealing with way worse bumps, ruts, etc.

I find a good hard day of moto, then a 1 or 2-day rest, when I get back on my mtn bike I am putting down my fastest times without evening thinking about it or "trying" to go fast
  • + 3
 Ever try farmers carry with plates? Stand two ~30lb plates on the floor (standing up vertically, one on each side of you) grab the top of the plate between your fingers and thumb and walk 50 yards. Talk about arm pump...
  • + 2
 Crazy how complicated people like to make grip work. I personally prefer simple movements like static holds. Pick up two 50-60lb dumbbells or kettlebells and try to hold them by your sides for 5+ minutes.
  • + 1
 Thanks for the post @mtbstrengthcoach! Just suggestions but when it comes to equipment like this, I see them more as a good dynamic warm up exercise than the actual workout. Use a couple of sets of those to warm up, mobilise and activate key muscles before work sets of deadlifts, squats, hip thrusters, military press or bench press. Mountain bikers time in the gym is limited (lifting isn't their sport so any improvements/adaptations must be transferrable to the sport and be able to be achieved with limited time each week) so the most efficient use of time are the basic compound lifts programmed on a periodised approach to prepare, maintain or build relative strength and explosive power. I like to use gym time to build the generic fundamentals of strength & power for my clients and leave the specific adaptations for aspects of performance like grip strength to training done on the bike.
  • + 1
 hey , as long as he didnt use the words "box" and "wod" ....and "hey ,look at me..I am the best at working out and my FB page shows it" ..... but MTB grip training is ..well...just stupid.
  • + 3
 fighting with sledgehammers builds strength AND eye to eye coordination. you try now!
  • + 6
 Must use carbon sledgehammer though...
  • + 1
 I'll wait for the 29er, plus size version
  • + 0
 Worth a try. Hands and forearms are definitely having a hard time on those longer descends like the Megavalanche. I'm just afraid to break anything at home if I start swinging stuff around. Would it be just as effective if when I go for a run in the woods, I stop halfway and use a big stick for the mace and my camelbak for the kettlebell? The camelbak probably won't be 12kg though, but a big stick could easily be 10lbs.

Glad to hear the pedals are coming Smile !
  • + 3
 Plus you'll look like the next Star Wars Kid.
  • + 0
 I keep waiting for this guy to post an article that isn't shit... maybe someday.
  • + 0
 You are pretty butthurt for being such a an accomplished entrepreneur...
  • + 1
 Not butt hurt at all... just have an interest in fitness and find it a bit sad that this dude steadily ends up on the front page and has yet to not shit post. Honestly, this dude is basically one step above "that guy" at the local crossfit box who swears he knows how to do every lift better than everyone doing them and comes up with shit like doing max squats on a balance ball. Good for a laugh but, even just once, it'd be cool to see him offer some good advice.
  • + 0
 Eee, squats on balance ball are where it's at. Balance ball/board exercises are probably the most time effective way of strenghtening deep muscles. There's plenty of guys out there complaining about knee pain blaming stupid crap like Q-factor, crank arm length or hard gearing while they simply lack hip stability
  • + 2
 Seriously Waki... you're trolling me right? Bodyweight or dumbbell balance ball squats are great, max weight barbell squats on the balance ball are only good for emergency room physicians.

There are SO many better workouts for grip than steel mace 360's... this is basically a hype piece for $100 of over-hyped Onnit gear. Dude probably talked himself into a discount by offering to do this piece. You'd be better off doing some basic sledgehammer work or just incorporating some bell end dumbbell holds into existing work like lunges or the aforementioned body weight balance ball squats. If you really want to blow some cash on specialty equipment, you'd be better off getting something the Rogue Branch or Beam and using them in your existing workouts... or spend considerably less on some globe/cannonball grips and lash them to your kettlebells or dumbbells... or just work battle ropes and really work grip endurance and overall endurance. Even the technique on his kettlebell swing is mediocre at best... honestly, there was really nothing good about this article/video.
  • + 1
 I didn't mean max weight. I meant bodyweight/dumbbell/ Kettlebell. I did 90lbs deadlifts on balance board, seems legit too. Sorry about misundestanding Wink As to grip doing floor press with kettlebells held vertically is more than enough for me. James is out there quite often, yes, but I still love his training program. I think since his everyday bread is being a PT and obviously he has quite high levels of anxiety, he tries to find new things all the time, which are too far out there for most of us. So to some extent I agree with you. I still like to be stimulated by his ideas hahah Big Grin
  • + 1
 @double check this shit out.
  • + 1
 Interesting haha definitely one way to get your grip strength up. Holding anything with some weight to it for an extended period of time will help with dat grip
  • + 0
 love this dude
  • + 0
 Love me some ONNIT
  • - 1
 I just grip my dong for a good 5 minutes every few days
  • + 8
 Your index finger and thumb must be made of iron by now !

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