Sledge-hammer Therapy: A New Zen Workout

By Sona Mason

Volunteer sledgehammers rocks

Volunteer David Booth, of the Long Distance Trails Crew, does a sledge-hammer workout while building trail.

Move front hand to the head. Lift.  Slide hand back to the other hand. Smash.

As a life-long gym-hater, I don’t find many opportunities for an upper body workout. Hiking exercises only the largest muscles, situated on the body’s lower half, unless one is carrying a heavy tool like a rock bar or pick of course.

Wielding a tool in the glorious “outdoor gym” offers unparalleled opportunities to get more toned while getting some summer outside time.

Swinging a pick-mattock in our rocky soils requires some precision, but smashing down on some crush with a sledge-hammer, or “double-jack,” is pure pleasure. All it requires is lifting the sledge in an ergonomic manner and letting it fall, then witnessing instant gratification for your effort: crushed rock with which to fill holes in the ground, or set large rock on as stairs or step stones across a path.

Hefting the hammer’s heavy head engages the biceps; swinging it up awakens the triceps, which keep it from going overhead; the shoulders and abs help pull the sledge head forward, to smash down satisfactorily on the rock.

Not to be forgotten is the core workout: the abdominal wall automatically engaged to keep the body steady and the back straight. Deep knee bends, or “squats” as the gym rats like to call them, are excellent large muscle tune-ups, and very necessary to avoid bending and straining the back.

While women might imagine this is too hard for them, it’s actually a very doable movement, not requiring a lot of heavy muscle exertion, but more of a shoulder-joint loosening rhythm.

The mind benefits too: keeping the focus on one action at a time and entering a kind of zone free of inner distractions.

Not to mention the antidote it can be to a frustrating week behind a desk. Sledging lunch-breaks. What a thought.

So move over yoga, sledging is the new Zen.

And don’t forget to breathe.


In addition to being West Hudson Program Coordinator for the Trail Conference, Sona Mason volunteers on trails throughout the region. Most recently, she took a sledge-hammer therapy retreat on the Long Path project in the Catskill Mountains. Check our  Trail Crew Outings schedule to find similar opportunities for therapy on trail projects throughout our region. In particular, our Palisades Trail Crew offers after-work, body- and trail-building opportunities on Thursday evenings at Sterling Forest. Join us.

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
This entry was posted in Sterling Forest, Volunteering, West Hudson Trails. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Sledge-hammer Therapy: A New Zen Workout

  1. Ron Schopperth says:

    And most importantly, if you value your eye sight, be sure to wear safety glasses when sledging rock.

What do you think?