Okay, so your gym has a big old tire on the big old turf section. Hooray! But only the super buff dudes who make lots of sounds while lifting go near it, and you don’t want to be ‘That Loser’ who goes up to the tire, picks up the accompanying sledgehammer, and…doesn’t know what to do with either of them.
Why Work With a Sledgehammer and Tire?
Tire and sledgehammer workouts—when performed correctly (so read on, reader!)—are great ways to improve your confidence, coordination, kinesthetic awareness, and control. They also go a long way toward building full body strength (including the ever-elusive forearm strength!) and endurance. Plus, you’ll kind of feel like Thor with a hammer in your hands. And who doesn’t want to feel like Thor every once in a while?
So, you’ve got your tire, your sledgehammer, and a raging desire to feel like a badass. Here’s how you get after it.
The Movements (and Requirements)
If you’re going to play with a tire and sledgehammer, there are some things you need to check out about your body first. With each movement, I’m also going to specify some of the things you should know about yourself and the way you move before attempting these movements. I want you to fulfill all your Thor: Ragnarok dreams, but I want you to do it safely.
The Tire: Prerequisites
Ahh, the famous tire flip. Part deadlift, part squat, part pure grit, you need to make sure before you attempt this move that you can both deadlift and squat with proper form.
Know How to Deadlift
- Keep back neutral
- Hinge at hips like you’ve been punched in the gut (push your butt back)
- Bend knees only once you start feeling a stretch in the hamstrings
- Ensure knees don’t cave inward
Most people flip tires like a narrow-ish sumo deadlift — read this complete guide and make sure you can complete some challenging reps with good form before touching a tire.
Warm Up Properly
Don’t underestimate the importance of calves and biceps. Pull from your legs, not your biceps. Warm up your biceps! Warm up your calves!
Please don’t tear your bicep. Make sure your entire body is fully warmed up before hitting (literally and metaphorically) any tires. That includes the smaller muscles! Your calves will be digging your feet hard into the ground and, though your bicep should not be doing the heaviest bit of the lifting, they will help just like they do in pullups: so make sure they’re nice and toasty (but ready to support, not lead) before getting after it.
The Tire: Flipping With the Right Technique
- Select an appropriate weight: Don’t go for the 1,000-pound tire, tempting as it may be. Always start on the smaller end of what you think you can do (below your deadlifting range to start), and work up to what you can deadlift. Only then should you try beyond that. If your gym only has massive tires, work on your deadlift and power cleans; they’ll help build you up! (For context: I can deadlift 305 pounds, so flipping a 404 pound tire was difficult but not a wild leap. Much as my ego hates it, I’ll be training hard and long before I even try to touch my gym’s 800-pounder.)
- Assume a low deadlift position: It’ll be modified, probably sumo (your feet a little wider than normal, your hands between your legs instead of outside them like in a conventional deadlift). Your knees might be bent more than normal for a deadlift, but that’s okay as long as you keep your back neutral and your core engaged.
- Protect those wrists: To keep your wrists protected, shift around until you find a spot where your hands are both firmly positioned on a thicker part of the tire tread. That symmetry will prevent one hand from slipping while the other is caught unawares doing all the work.
- Push the thing down: In the accompanying video above, you’ll see easier flips with a lighter, 155 pound tire for twelve reps. Technique is important, because when the tire hits the top, you want to direct it down in front of you so that it doesn’t land on either any toes or other people or random pieces of equipment. Unless you’re actually the God of Thunder, the tire won’t go flying, but sometimes it will land less cleanly than others. That’s okay.
The Sledgehammer: Warming Up
Here are some things you want to be able to do before picking up a sledgehammer:
Plate Halos: 3×10 reps per side
- Stance: Stand with your feet underneath your hips and your torso firmly aligned over your hips.
- Weight: Hold a five pound plate between your hands with your palms facing each other.
- Move: Starting with the plate in front of your face, keep your entire torso still and braced as you halo the plate around your head. (If this causes any kind of painful twinging, you want to rehab that shoulder and possibly strengthen your traps before you proceed.)
Standing Cable Chop: 3×10 reps per side
- Stance: Standing a foot or two out from a cable pulley, set your body up perpendicular to the cable machine. The handle should have tension but not be yanking you back toward the machine. Grasp the handle with both hands over one shoulder.
- Weight: Go light: you’re warming up your muscles here, not going for fatigue.
- Move: Keep your ankles open to unlock your hips. Rotating your ankle like you’re throwing a punch, bring the handle from over your shoulder down to the opposite hip. Repeat with steady control, and always keep your back neutral.
The Sledgehammer: Standing Side Slams
- Stance: Start with the side that feels most natural to you: you’ll want to build that confidence in the beginning. (When you’re more confident at the movement, you might actually want to start with your weaker side: it’ll help reduce training imbalances.) Say you’re doing a right-sided slams. Set your feet so that you’re looking over your left shoulder at the tire. For the slams, follow the torso, feet position, and general motion form protocol for chops, above.
- Move (lower body): Keep your ankles open to movement. You want your feet firmly planted, but when your body rotates, let your ankle open up with it, like you’re throwing a punch. Keeping your ankles open ensures that you’re not locking your hips: and, as with most if not all rotational movements, the power here comes from your hips!Your hips can only be open to safety- and power-producing movement if your feet turn slightly with the movement. Imagine that when your shoulders are chopping down with the sledgehammer, there’s an invisible string connecting your ankles to your hips to your torso to the top of the hammer. All pieces, starting from the bottom, have to move to ensure healthy form.
- Move (wrist/grip health): With a right-sided slam, grip the sledgehammer near the bottom with your left hand. With your right hand, start with your grip near the top/near the hammer itself. As you swing downward toward the tire, let your right hand come down toward your left. To reset the movement, bring your right hand back toward the top of the hammer. This shifting is key to ensuring that you don’t destroy your wrists. If you keep your hands close together through the entire chopping movement, your wrists will bear too much pressure, and the momentum will likely sheer right through them. So, just like you’re keeping your ankles loose, keep your wrists loose.
- Follow Through: As the sledgehammer comes down, hinge at your hips to complete the slam; your shoulders and forearms will definitely get built through this exercise, but your hips are, as ever, where that finishing power will come from.
- Remember: For everything, keep your core engaged and go through a full range of motion with no pain (if there’s pain, rehab and come back to it later! The tires will wait!). If that sounds too light, relax: it won’t be once you get going.
Always balance out the sides! So, when you’ve done fifteen reps (for example) slamming from your right side, reverse the directions and do fifteen from your left side. That symmetry is key!
[Like these workouts? Check out our exploration of competitive woodchopping.]
The Sledgehammer: Kneeling Side Slams
- Stance: Here, the same pre-requisite skills and form tips apply; except (for both pre-reqs and the actual movement), you’ll be kneeling.
- Move: Because you’re kneeling, there’s no need for ankle movement: this time, your torso is staying relatively still (so that halo-induced flexibility is especially important for this one).
- Follow Through: Don’t feel the need to really slam down hard; let momentum do the work and focus more on stability. You can’t generate as much force, here, because you’re eliminating all that hip power. So this one is really about your core, coordination and, frankly, confidence. Focus on letting the hammer drop exactly where you want it to each time, and make sure you let yourself laugh at yourself (see my video for amusing examples) when the hammer falls slightly off base.
The Sledgehammer: Overhead Slams
The same pre-requisites apply, and you’ll really want to have complete confidence that you’re strong enough to not let the sledgehammer out of your control; if it does, you’re going to hit yourself in the back of your head or your spine. We don’t want that. At all. So, again, this one is about control rather than aggression; Yoda rather than Anakin.
Technique-wise, this is the same as side-slams except for two crucial differences:
- Stance: You’re facing the tire head-on, not perpendicularly.
- Move: You’re bringing the hammer directly behind your head instead of over your side.
Again, this is not something you want to do just because you want to look cool. This is something to only attempt when you can easily shoulder press and tricep overhead press double or triple what the sledgehammer weighs, and when your self-control is going to be stronger than your ego.
Gentle, here, rather than aggro. And, again, hinge at your hips and keep that back neutral.
Okay. A lot of reading, a lot of preparing. Ready for the workout?
The Ultimate Tire and Sledgehammer Workout
Before beginning, make sure your entire body is warmed up. Think inch worms, pushups, jumping jacks, cable chops, butt kicks, and straight leg front kicks until you’ve broken a sweat. Don’t skip that part. That part is absolutely key.
You can do tire and sledgehammer workouts in many ways, but I’m going to give you an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) outline here. You know yourself and how you work best and where your weaknesses are, so choose your times accordingly. And, always feel free to modify anything and everything according to your own body’s needs and wants.
AMRAP For Time
Round 1 (4-8 minutes)
- Tire Flips – 30-60 seconds. Use a light-moderate tire, set a (loud) timer, and use proper technique to flip the tire for as many reps as you can through those seconds you’ve selected. When you feel your technique breaking, start your rest early.
- Rest – 30-60 seconds.
- Repeat circuit four times.
Round 2 (12 minutes)
- Standing Side Slams (both sides) – 30 seconds per side. Try to keep a consistent pace so that one side doesn’t get in more slams than the other.
- Rest – 60 seconds.
- Kneeling Side Slams (both sides) – 30 seconds per side. Again, try to keep that consistent pacing.
- Rest – 60 seconds.
- Overhead Slams (both sides) – 30 seconds per side. While you’re not switching sides with your body (i.e., your body and torso stays in the same orientation the whole time), I do encourage you to switch which hand is dominant in the exercise, just like you do with side slams.
- Rest – 60 seconds.
- Repeat circuit twice.
This workout, when done with proper warm-up, cool-down, and form, will give you a fast, effective full-body workout, improve both your strength and endurance, amp up your confidence, coordination, and control, and revolutionize your grip strength. You’re going to do an amazing job; get after it!
Featured image via Microgen/Shutterstock