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Can Steel Mace Flow Build Muscle? Unveiling the Truth


Steel Mace Flow uppercut in forest
Many muscles are stimulated during Steel Mace flow, but is it enough?

Steel Mace flow training is undeniably cool but can it serve as an alternative to standard muscle growth training modalities? With a few years mace flow experience and UK record holder of the largest Steel Mace flow class in the UK (at time of writing) as well as fully booked Personal Trainer I'll try to blend an answer for you. Technically yes, Steel Mace flow can induce a muscle growth response. As usual it's a fair bit more complicated than a simple yes.


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Brief overview of muscle growth adaptations

We need to cover what we mean by muscle growth. Going from sedentary to active will make your muscles respond and grow in size, strength and stamina. If you're someone looking for a way to get moving then going with whatever you enjoy will be your best option. If slinging around a lump of steel sounds like your version of fun, then go for it.


If you're looking for maximum, optimal muscle growth stimulus there's a few more steps (broadly) to consider:

  • Mechanical tension - simply speaking the heavier you lift, the more stress it places on your musculoskeletal system which in turn forces a response from the body. Some sources say it comes from micro-tears that are healed. The growth can also come from the central nervous system needing a stronger input which brings about adaptations too. Generally, the closer you get to not being able to move the weight (failure), the bigger the mechanical tension response will be.

  • Metabolic responses - that burning sensation when you move repetitively and the bruised aching feeling a few days later comes from the chemical build up in your blood and muscles. Like wood, oxygen and heat make fire, it leaves behind ash. When your body uses up energy sources to power your movements it leaves behind a waste product. That waste product is a chemical that interacts with other chemicals in your body to make a merry cocktail of hormones that instruct your muscles to adapt for the next time.

  • Volume - taking the two factors above, the more you do each one, the more response you can build up. This isn't the gift that keeps on giving though, you need enough rest. However, volume is loosely the weight you lift multiplied by the number of times you lift it. A 10 kg weight picked up 10 times is a 100 kg volume: a 100 kg weight lifted once is also a 100 kg volume. The former would be considered low intensity whereas the later is high intensity. Loosely a high intensity has better response for muscle growth and strength within 3 - 30 pick ups (reps).

The above doesn't factor in the alterations that nutrition can have on muscle growth. However, nutrition is a massive can of worms on its own. All we need to know here is that if you eat AND train appropriately you'll see the muscle size adaptations.


Thus, if you want to be a competitive bodybuilder you'll need to maximise mechanical tension, metabolic response and volume with progressive overload, all the while using your nutrition to drive the direction of your body transformation. On the other hand, we have any positive change in muscle mass can also be classified as muscle growth. Let's say that body building style growth is "optimal growth" whereas any growth is simply "muscle growth".


Muscle building with alternative training modalities

Steel Mace training falls under a bracket of exercise called 'Alternative Training Modalities'. Within this category you'll also see a bunch of stuff most people would call functional training. Think kettlebells, clubbells, Bulgarian water bags, battle ropes, sleds, medicine balls, etc etc. Basically, anything that isn't your stereotypical dumbbell, barbell and machine workout.


You don't need to look too far to find well built people using alternative training modalities; though often these are social media representatives. The social media scene isn't praised for it's open and honest approach to displaying content so we don't know how much conventional training they use to support the more unconventional alternative training including steel mace flow.

medicine ball alternative training modality
Alternative exercises haven't been featured in studies as thoroughly as other conventional forms of exercise

In theory, alternative exercises can also build build muscle. The movement of weight will incur mechanical tension, metabolic build up and can be managed with volume. I say in theory because most studies on measuring muscle response are done with conventional exercise systems. Partly because the 'conventional' equipment is far more available but also because the variables can be minimised. Alternative training systems have more variation and skill which makes getting close to form failure more risky for injury. Increased risk of injury is a bit of an ethical no go for scientific assessment.


Just because alternative exercise isn't studied as much doesn't mean it's ineffective or that it lacks other benefits. Kettlebell programmes often have more power inducing advantages than standard dumbbell workouts. Clubbells bring about improvements in hand eye coordination that a barbell would struggle with. Medicine balls bring more functional specific patterns than most machines can dream of.


What is Steel Mace training good at?

Electromyographic analysis from a study by Icon (2019) goes as proof to show muscles are stimulated during at least some macebell exercises. We need to extrapolate a bit further from experience with other training modalities and theoretical understanding of anatomy and muscle response.


Looking at Steel Mace flow specifically we can definitely see it has aerobic potential. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature. Steel Mace flow uses large muscle groups nearly to the point of being total body and is choreographed for repeated movements for a duration of time. I personally haven't seen any studies on Steel Mace flow and it's effects on the cardiovascular system but experience and knowledge are all pointing towards positive outcomes. Other training styles can bring cardio benefits too but are they as interesting as Steel Mace flow training?


Alongside potential cardiovascular benefits we have the adaptation to strength in extreme ranges of motion. Our total strength of any movement is always limited by its weakest link. Usually the farthest point of joint flexion or extension. Take a bench press, be it dumbbell or barbell, your weakest point is the deepest point of the press and you can only load up the weight to the point that this position can handle. The mace has a habit of working you in these deeper ranges of motion, especially in the shoulders and elbows. Which is also why you find you don't need much weight with most macebell selections. Your ability to control your end range of motion gives you improved mobility. That knack to get into a deep movement,which most people can do, then get back out of it, which most people struggle to do without training and exercise.


As we get older we lose balance, coordination, muscle mass and proprioception. That's the general school of thought to blame the degeneration on the passage of time. I put to you this is partially true though we lose a lot of these skills because we stop practicing them. Steel Mace flow brings you the opportunity to practice your mastery of your own body despite the toll time takes. The way the mace needs to move in flow really forces you to use your dexterity, balance and coordination which simultaneously keeps your nervous system active to keep proprioception on point. Thus, training the little things we fall away from as we age.


Your body will be kept sharp with a mace. So will your mind. Using your memory to learn choreographed sequences is like exercise for the brain. All exercise is great for mental health from the hormone releases. Discipline and adversity also keeps life in perspective to make those life's little challenges less of a burden, keeping your stress levels lower. With the mace, it can feel like meditation. Because our mind is on the balance and movement of the mace at any one moment, you're not thinking about work, rent or any past conversations. Your instinct to protect yourself from a few kilos of cold steel making a dent in your skeleton and pride, forces your mind to focus on the here and now. Even a few minutes respite from the pressure of life can help us to take a break, even recuperate a little.



Can you build muscle and use the mace?

What you will likely notice among the benefits of steel mace training, as good as it is for mobility to mental health. I didn't specifically say muscle mass was a benefit. That doesn't mean you can't still build mass the traditional way in tandem with using a mace. You have to work your splits in a clever fashion though. Also factor in how better mobility will help your muscle building training days. Deeper squats from better hip mobility will strengthen and grow your legs more with the same weight. Better shoulder mobility can help you to get deeper pulls and presses, again increasing size and strength for the same weight.


Take a look at my own workout splits. Granted I'm not training specifically for muscle size and strength but the mace fits into the schedule between heavy lifting days.

Lower

Steel Mace Flow

Upper

Martial Arts

Power

There are a few figures out there that use the mace and have undeniably impressive physiques such as Ross Edgely, Josh Montes, Scott Viala, Lloyd Kenwright, Kristin O'Brian and many more. They all factor in some form of macebell training with varying degrees of Steel Mace Flow. Then we have the likes of Herbert Harte Egberts who portrays most of his training with mace and clubs. You can't deny each of these people has a muscle density that comes with some increase in muscle mass from exercise.


Muscel mass example with steel mace training
Muscle mass yes. Bodybuilding standard, perhaps not.

Granted none of the examples are world class bodybuilders or anywhere near it. Each example clearly trains hard, likely eats well enough to sustain mass and has been consistent enough to maintain progressive overload. However, none of the examples solely use the mace as their training method Which brings us back around to the burning question at hand.


Can Steel Mace Flow build muscle mass?

If you want IFBB class, inhuman muscle size, just no. Steel Mace flow will not build that insane amount of mass bodybuilders show off. Mace flows just have too much instability to adequately resist enough weight. Likewise there comes a point where the mass of a mace with momentum becomes greater than the mass of your body and downward force of gravity, which will pull you over or lift you off the floor. That special, irresistible weight is surprisingly low. When I tried a 30 kg mace swing, I weighed around 80 kg and I could feel I was on the limit of how well gravity could hold me down. That was doing one of the most stable movements in Steel Mace let alone the more dynamic and purposefully unstable flow movements.


However, building some increase in muscle size is achievable with Steel Mace flow. After all, you are moving a mass which induces mechanical tension, over a large number of reps which brings about a metabolic response, in a way that can be volume controlled with more weight or reps. It's by no means optimal and unfortunately very under studied to give scientific proof. Extrapolating the theory and using what anecdotal evidence we have available all do suggest that Steel Mace Flow can indeed help bring about a muscular physique when practiced alongside good nutrition and consistency. Throw in the added bonuses of defence against ageing and cardiovascular improvements, it's a well rounded training style.


Let's face it, you could do the most optimal workout once then scrap the idea because you don't like the training style. It won't build you any muscle mass, optimal or not. Doing something fun, more often and consistently will yield better, longer lasting results with muscle mass overall than any short term 'optimal' method.


Training without a mace Vs training with a mace incorporated
Training without a mace Vs training with a mace incorporated

What has your experience been with training in the Steel Mace disciplines?It would be great to hear your experineces in the comments to help us build a better picture and more evidence for or against the theory.

 
STRENGTH - RESILIENCE - CONSISTENCY

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