There’s one thing nerds and meatheads will always have in common—they both want to be superheroes.
Whether you’re a longtime gym rat or not, if you grew up reading comic books or watching action movies, you wished you could have had sleeve-ripping arms like Wolverine, the athleticism of Captain America, strength like Thor, etc.
Well, now you can. Or as close as you can get without undergoing genetic mutation, government experiments, or divine intervention.
Introducing our Superhero Workout series—fitness tips, exercises, and routines designed to transform you from a mere civilian into the defender of the planet you knew you were always meant to be.
Check back here all week for plans to acquire your favorite superhero’s particular skill or attribute, which we’ll bring you one at a time.
Today, we offer the blueprint for Thor’s other-worldly strength, using a steel club to simulate his hammer.
The Thor Workout
Most people only know one way to gain strength: add more weight to the exercise. That works, of course, but only up to a point. The limiting factor in your ability to get beastly strong is your ability to keep good form—maintaining the body position you need to use your muscles maximally and perform the lift in the most efficient manner possible.
“Strength is a function of position,” says Shane Heins, Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education. “If you can create a stronger position, then you have greater strength to lift whatever implement you’re using.”
You can build muscle and strength if that’s the only tool you use. “I put on 10 pounds in three months using clubs exclusively,” says Heins.
Heins recommends working with a steel club—not just because it’s analogous to Thor’s hammer, but because it helps correct all the muscle imbalances that hold back your ability to maintain good technique on any lift you attempt.
Men can use a 20-, 25-, or 35-pound club for the following exercises. Women may start with a 10-, 15-, or 20-pounder.
Call To Lightning
Hold a club with both hands, right over left, and stand with feet between hip and shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows 90 degrees so the top of the club is pointing vertically to the ceiling and is sitting right in front of your chest.
Think “proud chest,” drawing your shoulder blades back and down, and screw your feet into the floor to create tension in your hips.
Now extend your arms in front of your chest and point the club in front of you. Perform a swing as you would with a kettlebell—tilt your tailbone back and bend your hips backward to lower your torso until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
Allow the club to swing behind you between your legs. Keep your spine long throughout the movement so your head and hips are aligned.
Explosively extend your hips to return to the starting position, catching the club with hands at your belly button. From there, press the club overhead with wrists straight, keeping your core tight (think “ribs down”). Keep your elbows lined up under your wrists at lockout.
The call to lightning trains your ability to transfer load from the back of your body to the front without losing a strong body position—long spine, proud chest, and hips neutral.
It will improve your technique on any hip hinging exercise (think deadlifts, squats, and swings) as well as any overhead pressing you do.
“It works the glutes, hamstrings, core, and shoulders,” says Heins, as well as your upper back, which has to keep the club from yanking your shoulders forward and rounding your spine. “Having to fight that creates a better base of strength.”
But don’t think that club training only leads to gains down the line when you apply it to other lifts. You can build muscle and strength if that’s the only tool you use. “I put on 10 pounds in three months using clubs exclusively,” says Heins.
Side Swipe to Pullover
Hold the club with both hands, left over right, and stand with feet between hip and shoulder-width apart. Hinge at the hips while keeping your spine long and your chest proud. Swing the club a few degrees to the right to generate a stretch reflex and then rotate your shoulders to your left and swing the club up to shoulder level as you come up to a full standing position. Your torso should be turned nearly 90 degrees, shoulders perpendicular to your hips.
From there, reach the club over your head and back between your shoulder blades. Keep your ribs down and core engaged. Pull the club back over your head and down in front of you. Hinge at the hips again and repeat for reps. When you’ve completed all your reps on that side, switch sides and repeat.
“You can do the same movement with a kettlebell,” says Heins, “but the narrow structure of the club helps you keep it tight.” It’s easier to control a swinging club than a kettlebell with its bulbous weight. “You don’t have to displace your body to make room for the tool. That equals better form, which equals less risk for injury.”
The side swipe to pullover is a lateral movement, which most people rarely if ever train in their workouts. Moving laterally trains your body to stabilize itself in positions you’re often forced into in sports and other out-of-the-gym activities. Plus, “the club is huge for rotational core strength,” says Heins, which is needed for throwing a ball—or a punch—and absorbing external forces that are placed on you.
Lastly, finishing the lateral swing motion with a pullover opens up your shoulders and stretches your lats, which helps to offset the tightness that results from excess chest training and the hunched posture you get from sitting in front of a computer for hours.
Stand holding the club as described in the call to lightning above. Turn your shoulders as far as you can to the left and, keeping your proud chest, press the club straight out in front of you to lockout. Pull the club back to chest level, activating your upper back. Try to keep your hips facing forward the whole time.
“You’ll feel it in the core,” says Heins, as well as the upper back and shoulders. Unlike the call to lightning and side swipe to pullover, the twisting press isn’t done dynamically—there’s no momentum. So if you’re looking for a movement to act as an assistance exercise to fry your shoulders, back, or core, this is for you.
How to Use These Steel Club Exercises
You can perform the call to lightning and side swipe to pullover as part of your warmup to prepare your body for a major strength movement like an overhead press or clean and jerk, or a push/pull workout that consists of moves like the bench press and deadlift Perform reps for 30 seconds with one grip and then switch sides and repeat. Do 3 sets with each grip.
You could also do all three exercises in order for a 15-minute total-body blast. Perform a circuit of 10 reps of the call to lightning with each grip, 15 reps of the side swipe to pullover with each grip, and 5 reps each grip (and side) of the twisting press. Rest 30 seconds and repeat for 5 total rounds.
Another option: use the twisting press as an auxiliary exercise in a pressing or upper-body workout for sets of 10–12, or maximize strength on it with 5 sets of 3–5 reps. “Do the reps slowly,” says Heins, “press out with a four-count and take four seconds to bring the club back in.” Rest 90–120 seconds between sets.