This is a comparison of fixed weight steel maces vs adjustable macebells (both filler and plate-loaded) by mace training enthusiast Jan Libourel. Jan compares different types of maces based on functionality, workout time, price, space-friendliness and more.
Almost as soon as I entered the world of “unconventional” fitness, I became aware of macebells (aka steel maces). There were a couple at the little gym where I was introduced to such useful tools as kettlebells, medicine and slam balls, exercise sandbags and other good things. However, they were utilized exclusively for tire slamming, and the proprietor seemed to have scant interest in mace exercises otherwise, erroneously believing them to be very high-risk when performed in proximity to other people. Thus it took me several years before I learned to “embrace the mace.”
At first, I was only aware of fixed-weight, solid macebells like those offered by SET FOR SET and their close competitors. Eventually, though, I learned of the existence of adjustable macebells. It stood to reason that such would come into being, given that adjustable forms of other resistance tools are readily available: The overwhelming majority of barbells sold are adjustable. Fixed-weight barbells are out there, but they seem to be available only in lighter weights and targeted for commercial gyms and other institutions. In my contribution to this blog, I have previously discussed the virtues of fixed-weight vs. adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable kettlebells are offered, but most do not seem to be held in high regard by kettlebell mavens. In any event, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what’s out there in the way of adjustable macebells, limiting myself to what’s offered in the USA, and then comparing how they stack up against fixed-weight maces in terms of economy, utility and convenience.
Adjustable macebells can be subdivided into two different types: plate-loading and filler-loading. Fillers can include shot in almost any size from #9 to 000, sand or coins. A bit of advice: if you opt for shot, use steel shot as mandated for waterfowl hunting. It’s non-toxic, unlike lead, and when you spill some (as you inevitably will), it can easily be gathered up with a magnet.
In some diligent web searching, I was able to find three American purveyors of plate-loading maces and three of “filler” maces. (If I have overlooked anyone, please be assured that the oversight was entirely unintentional!)
Starting off, there is the Adex system. This uses proprietary interlocking cylindrical weights with hollow centers. They are affixed to the front of the handle by means of a massive, hand-tightened locking screw. It offers 11 weight settings ranging from 6 to 30 pounds. Overall length is 40 inches. It presents a sleek, elegant appearance and seems to be very well made. Base price for the mace version is $269. (Adex and several other firms offer club-length versions and sets, but we will limit our discussion to the macebell versions here.)
The ShoulderRok (variously spelled) has an extra-long 48-inch handle to increase the leverage and challenge of macebell swings. One end of the handle has a hefty disk affixed to keep the plates in place. Behind it is a threaded portion over which Olympic plates are placed. These are secured by a locking nut, just as on a spinlock dumbbell handle. It has an empty weight of 8 pounds. Three finish options are offered, as is a takedown version. Price is $189.95 (Plates not included.)
The Stronger Grip Majestic Mace is the third and final of the plate-loading maces under consideration. Weight empty is 14 pounds, overall length 42 inches. It uses a locking screw similar to the Adex system to affix exercise plates to the handle. Five-pound plates are recommended as optimal. (For the benefit of the uninitiated, Olympic plates have two-inch holes, exercise plates a little over 1.1-inch.) Cost is $275. Club sets are also available.
Unlike plate-loaded macebells, those that use fillers resemble fixed-weight maces except that they have hollow heads into which filler materials can be inserted via a detachable cap. All are conceptually similar.
The Move Strong Sledgebells feature a bright blue finish that may be disconcerting to traditionalists. (Black can be had on special order.) They are offered in two sizes: One with a 5-inch globe weighs 9 pounds empty and can hold 16 pounds of lead shot. It costs $350. The larger version sports an 8-inch globe, weighs 12 pounds empty and can be loaded with up to 50 pounds of lead shot. The overall length is 46 inches. (If I may be permitted an aside, anyone who can perform traditional mace swings with a 62-pound macebell is an amazingly strong individual!) This one will set you back $399.
Rogue Fitness, noted for its huge range of exercise equipment and related gear, offers the Slater Slammer. This is a somewhat stubby mace, with a 30.5-inch handle and a 37.5-inch overall length. It has a starting weight of 25 pounds (which may be too heavy, for novice macebell swingers) and is loadable up to 50 pounds. It is offered by Rogue for $232.50.
Finally, there is the Titan Fitness offering. It has an overall length of 38 inches, an 8-inch globe, with a handle thickness of 2 inches. It has an empty weight of 15 pounds and is loadable up to 40 pounds. At a price of $54.99, it is hands-down the “best buy” of any of the adjustable maces, and it makes one wonder why very similar devices cost so much more.
Were I to acquire one of these devices, my strong inclination would be to go with one of the plate-loading varieties. Plate-loading barbells (and dumbbells) killed off the old-fashioned shot-loaded globe barbells quite rapidly over a century ago, and with good reason, I think! Adjusting the weight of shot-loaded maces requires emptying shot out of the globe, checking the weight at frequent intervals and/or putting shot into the globe. This will require a funnel, measuring scoops or something similar and a scale. Quick weight adjustments, as in circuit training, are all but impossible. As previously mentioned, spills are inevitable and a great nuisance. However, if you want to keep a single macebell loaded to a certain weight, as for tire bashing, and make weight adjustments only rarely, then perhaps a fillable macebell makes sense. Be aware that a supply of shot adds to the cost of the equipment. Shot is customarily sold in 25-pound bags. Prices seem to run from about $55 to $65, plus shipping.
Among the plate-loading maces, only the Adex comes with a complete complement of weights. With the others, you must have an appropriate assortment of barbell/dumbbell plates. Many trainees with a background working with free weights probably already will. Unfortunately, the cost of such plates is quite high at the moment and availability is often limited.
From what I can descry, most, perhaps all, of the adjustable macebells impress me as well made items, and some display considerable ingenuity in design. Nonetheless, all of them seem to be “a solution in search of a problem” or “an answer looking for a question.” (I borrowed these phrases from my late friend Col. Jeff Cooper, whose name may be familiar to some of you.) The simple and salient fact is that every macebell, by virtue of being a leverage bell, permits a wide latitude in adjusting the degree of resistance merely by where you position your hands in relation to the head of the mace. In this respect, it differs from most other exercise weights--the barbell, the dumbbell and the kettlebell.
Let’s look at costs. Will you effect a substantial savings by opting for an adjustable mace over a few fixed macebells? Well, if you chose the Titan Fitness offering at $54.99, you will. However, it uses filler, with the attendant disadvantages cited above, and a bag of shot will cost you as much or more than the mace itself. Finally, its empty weight of 15 pounds may be daunting to many beginners.
By way of comparison, at this time the pre-shipping prices for SET FOR SET maces are: 7lb for $27.95; 10lb for $39.95; 15lb for $54.95; 20lb for $72.95; 25lb for $87.95; 30lb for $99.95. I should surmise that the average male trainee will start off with a 10-pound mace and subsequently acquire 15-, 20-, and 25-pound maces. Total price for this assemblage would be just under $260, and, of course, the maces can be purchased separately at need.
Many women will want to start with a 7-pound mace, and few, I suspect, will wish to progress beyond 20 pounds. For them, the price for four maces would total a trifle less than $196. The only other adjustable macebell that costs appreciably less than a 10- to 25-pound progression of fixed-weight bells would be the ShoulderRok offering at $189.95, and you will need to purchase an assortment of Olympic plates if you don’t already have some.
Ease of transportation and storage are cited by some proponents of the adjustable macebell over the solid type. In point of fact, macebells take up very little room. I have a half-dozen SET FOR SET macebells. They occupy a little more than two feet of otherwise unused wall space in my bedroom and protrude at most about six inches onto the floor. I could equally well keep them under my bed or in a corner of a closet with scant inconvenience.
If I wished to transport my whole assortment of macebells somewhere (a most unlikely occurrence), I could fit the entire lot onto the floor of the cargo section of my old Grand Cherokee and have ample room for all manner of other gear. It has been a long time since I have travelled by bus or train, so I can’t comment on present realities there, but trying to take a mace aboard an airliner as cabin baggage is certain to get you some very unwelcome attention from the TSA. If it goes in the hold in your suitcase, you may be likely to incur a surcharge for the extra weight. My advice would be to forget about taking any sort of weights on your travels (except by car) and rely on resistance bands instead. Most useful pieces of exercise gear they are, can be crammed into a corner of your luggage and weigh next to nothing.
After studying these matters at some length, I remain pleased that I opted for solid macebells. Like many devotees of the macebell, I like to train in circuits. Typically, I’ll start with 100 360s with a 10-pound mace, followed by gravediggers, barbarian squats and uppercuts. Because I have an arthritic left shoulder, for the gravediggers and uppercuts, I use my 20-pound mace for my left side and my 25 pounder for my right. (See my article on training with an arthritic shoulder.) I then repeat the cycle three more times, performing 10-2s with the 10-pounder, then 360s and 10-2s with my 15-pounder with the other exercises remaining the same. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll finish up with some 360s with the 20 pounder (even if I’m not gripping the bottom of the handle). I typically complete this workout in about 45 minutes.
This is simple and easy with four solid macebells. Moving them to our high-ceilinged den, where I train in inclement weather, takes little effort and a few feet further into our backyard scarcely more.
I calculate that if I performed this same workout with a plate-loading macebell, I would have to stop and add or remove plates 20 times. With a shot-loaded mace it would be prohibitive, I’m sure. Need I say more?
I consider myself a very simple man, and I like simple, sturdy things. I’ll stick with my solid macebells from SET FOR SET!
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