Gitchy Gitchy Gada Ya-Ya!

When it comes to training, I like old stuff, oftentimes the older the better. The reason why? I can trust exercises, movements and systems which have stood the test of time. My training ideas have always been based upon performance. It’s not about the look, but what you can do with it. When good health and functionality are combined, the aesthetics will be there. I don’t trust modern training because you often find it’s not the training technique, or the implements, which have produced the reported results but performance-enhancing drugs. I’ve said this many times before: The information prior to the 1960s is the best resource out there because it pre-dates the entire drug issue. Most of my performance-based training has always been geared towards the martial arts, grappling in particular. There were plenty mighty men of old capable of feats even modern, drug-using athletes are unable to perform–and all this in the early 20th century– for example: Arthur Saxon and his 370+lb. Bent Press; Herman Gorner’s One-Handed Deadlift of 734.5 lbs. and the Hindu Wrestler, the “Great” Gama, who walked through all the great European wrestling champions of his day unscored upon, remaining undefeated throughout his 50-year career.

The training methods used by these old-school, old-world, athletes worked then and they work today. One exercise device which has always caught my imagination was used by Middle-Asian wrestlers. It’s called a mace and in northern India, where wrestlers go at the sport with a religious fervor, it’s called a gada. The gada has its origins in weapons training for young warriors but because of the physical attributes it provides, the exercise was continued in times of peace to train athletes and has survived, in one form or another, to this day–because it works! Mace swinging was an integral part of the “Great” Gama’s routine, as you can see here, he is pictured with his mace. The mace, or gada, is a long stick with a stone ball attached to one end. There are several exercises it can be used for but the main one is a big circular swinging motion behind the back and head. Although the gada isn’t heavy, the leverage force created by the long handle tremendously increases the resistance so that a relatively light weight is producing high levels of force. The gada is pushed upwards, then, as it pendulums behind the body, you must suddenly pull it to the front starting (or order) position. The elbows must remain tight to the body and a significant amount of work is supplied to the fingers; hands; wrists; forearms; elbows; shoulders; lats, and core stabilizers. It very much simulates the stresses applied to those body parts during combat. But even if you’re not a combat athlete, grappler, wrestler, or jiujitsu practitioner, very favorable results can be obtained from the ancient art of mace swinging. Hey, if mace swinging can provide the strength and stamina necessary for warriors of old, it can certainly provide all the fitness benefits needed by todays’ office warrior!

You can buy a mace bell for approximately $170 + shipping or you can do what I did and make your own out of a peewee basketball, Quikrete, and a shovel handle. With a sharp knife, I cut a hole in the top of the basketball big enough to spoon in the Quikrete into the form of the ball. I mixed the Quikrete right in its own little bucket with a jug of water into a nice pudding-like consistency and ladled it right in there, taking care to shake it around so it filled all the parts of the ball. The shovel handle I’d bought had some holes pre-drilled into it for bolting on a shovel head, so I stuck a couple nails through the holes before inserting that end into the wet Quikrete, in order to give the Quikrete something to grab and hold. Next, I carefully set up the gada so the bottom of the ball would flatten out a bit, so I could set the gada upon the ground with the handle upright. Then I left it to sit overnight.

The next morning I had my delightful gada to include in my toybox! I put it through its paces and I’m satisfied with it as a highly functional training tool. All this for under $30 at Home Depot and Toys-R-Us. I actually found the basketball, partially deflated in a dumpster. Be careful in your selection of ball size! This is the third gada I’ve made, the first time, in San Francisco, I chose a full-size basketball and it was shockingly difficult to swing. I repeated my mistake in New Hampshire, in Joe Egan’s backyard. The peewee/kid-sized ball I used this time is just about perfect. It comes in a little under 15#, which is a nice starting weight for most people. I never weighed the full-size basketball version, but I assure you, it was a handful. For strength-endurance, the lighter implement swung many times is the superior methodology.

A secondary benefit to mace swinging is the profound cardio effect. The cardio system and breathing are pronounced as you pick up the speed and hit higher reps. It’s interesting how these whole-body movements used by the ancients thoroughly work a body from head to toe, including the cardio-respiratory system. Unlike the modern isolation techniques used by so many of today’s athletes, these types of training modalities preclude a separate cardio program since you’re getting it all.

My interest was to perform a high-intensity, strength-endurance, interval cardio workout using whole-body movements with an emphasis on upper body strength-endurance. I chose four exercises:

1) Lifeline USA Heavy Speed Rope
2) Hindu Push-Ups on the Push-Up Board
3) Mace Swinging
4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge

The Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope is an amazing device that totally engages the upper body while performing the rope skipping. the rope weighs about 1kg (2.2 lbs) which is light enough to turn quickly but heavy enough to work the heck out of the wrists, forearms and shoulders. It’s a major butt-kicking rope.

The Hindu Push-Up Board is a 2000 year old exercise device allowing a much deeper spinal stretch and shoulder opening than traditional push-ups done on the floor. The connecting of the two hands together via the wood implement permit better shoulder/elbow alignment and while providing more work, is less stresfull on the joints.

The workout went like this:

A1) 100 jumps on the Heavy Speed Rope
as fast as possible
A2) Hindu Push-Ups x 10
A3) Mace Swings
10 R/10 L
A4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge
5 L/5 R

A1-A3 are a circuit. Repeat 10 rounds. No rest–the Cossack Lunges are your rest!

This is a phenomenal workout and my hands, grip and upper body were feeling it. I felt like I’d just gotten off the mat with a live opponent.

Your old Coach is currently outside of Cleveland OH in a most picturesque little town near Chagrin Falls. I taught a wonderful group of people for a four hour kettlebell seminar last weekend, assisted by my crazy strong friend, Jane Easly. (Enjoy the slide show to the right.) I also presented two Gracie jiujitsu workshops at the local Fight Gym where I gave four blue belt promotions to the well-deserving students. If you’re in the area, come train with Jason, Scott and Jane, it’s a fantastic facility.

The next formal seminar is Portland OR Sunday 9 November. This is a MaxBells Kettlebell Teacher Training Certification. The event is near capacity, there are only twelve spaces total, so if you’d like to be there, definitely contact Nathan Jeffers by email:
or phone: 503-243-5644

The MaxBell Teacher Training is quickly being recognized as the very best of its type. Many of the participants come in with an RKC and/or AKC certification and assure us our training is worth every penny. We cover topics not covered by the other certifying bodies. These topics are unique to those wishing to teach kettlebells in group classes or personal training.

I’m proud to announce a new DVD from the Gladiator Seminar last summer with Zach Even-Esh. This was a fantastic seminar in which Zach and I pulled out all the stops–as you can see from the highlight video below–while sharing our conditioning secrets with the participants. It was all documented by Shawn Rubin, a film student, and will soon be available for sale to everyone who wishes they could have been there. This DVD is like having Coaches Steve and Zach in your own living room! Lots of cool ideas to intensify your workouts, unusual exercises and their variations, and some great workouts. I know you’ll find this DVD well worth the time and money and I can’t wait to release it for sale. It’s at the duplicating house now.

So that’s the latest news! Let me know how your DIY gadas come out.

In Strength & Health,