By now, you've all seen them somewhere. The first time I remember seeing anyone using hanging "balls" for training was Patxi Usobiaga in the BigUp film "Progression". While the way Patxi's training was portrayed struck me as not only uninformed but possibly dangerous, the image of those free hanging orbs stuck with me. Enter Atomik Climbing Holds and their series of "Atomic Bombs". I contacted the president of the company, Kenny, and he generously shipped out the entire line (which has now been expanded) for The Power Company to check out. For this review, we've got the Pipe Bombs, the Missiles, the Large and Extra Large Bombs, and the Cannon Bomb.
Upon opening the box I was immediately struck by the size of the Cannon Bomb. It's big, it's solid, and it looked like it might be harder to hang from than I'd anticipated. Picking the holds up, the texture felt a little rougher than I wanted in a training hold, but the reason for that would soon reveal itself. All of the Bombs are well built, symmetrical, and evenly textured, leaving you free to train on them with no concerns other than getting stronger.
I've now spent a few weeks experimenting with the lineup of Bombs, and I've gotten a good handle on their best individual uses and the pros and cons of each hold. First, I'd like to discuss the characteristics shared by the entire line, and then we can move on to taking a look at the individual Bombs themselves.
Frankly, there isn't a lot of room left for creativity in the pull up and deadhang arena. The apparatus itself, however, has remained largely unchanged. For years, bodybuilders have used the towel pull up as a harder version of the pull up that also works on grip and forearm strength. As climbers, we have to like that. Not only do the Bombs also work your pinch and sloper strength while doing whatever pull exercise you choose, but they have a few added bonuses as well.
First off, the Bombs allow your shoulders to rotate freely, so your delicate rotator cuffs are spared the damage caused by hanging on a bar for too long. This is a good thing for not only pull ups, but for any hanging core workout you're doing as well. Also, the free hanging nature of the bombs allows you to rotate from pronating (palms out) to supinating (palms in, like an undercling), without risking the over-supination that occurs when doing the classic chin up. Not only does this save the shoulders, as mentioned above, but it allows you to focus your workout more on the bicep if desired, and if pulling into underclings is a weakness of yours, you should desire. Along with rotator cuffs, I've heard many climbers complain about tender joints that feel fine when crimping but hurt when trying to grip a jug or bar. Holding any of the Bombs requires a safe open hand grip, allowing you to work around tendon and pulley injuries. The texture is gritty and rough, but when I chalked up and tried hanging progressively lower on the Cannon Bomb, I was thankful for that texture. Unlike a textured crimp, it isn't going to bite you or split your tips, and you'll wear out long before your skin does. Last but not least, they're a blast (pun intended). That alone may be reason enough.
Now let's take a look at the individual Bombs:
Stats: 2" Diameter, 8" Length, 2 per set.
At first glance, I thought the Pipe Bomb would best apply to leashless ice climbers who hang on their tools all day. After a bit of working with them, I realized that your grip is truly tested while hanging or doing pulling exercises. If you are headed to Spain anytime soon, and plan on doing a little tufa climbing, these things would be a sensible training device. The only negative I see to the Pipe Bombs is that they put your wrist into a fairly stressed position, exactly the position that if overused can cause a type of tendonitis called De Quervain's. However, that is also the exact position that your wrist is in when climbing vertical pinches, and we know that specificity in training is king. As long as you aren't focusing all your pinch training on the Pipe Bombs, it's doubtful that you'd be on them even close to long enough to cause any harm. They're simply hard enough to hang onto that you'd lose purchase before any overuse could occur. Use caution, mix it up, and these will be a great tool for your arsenal (can I consider that a pun as well?). Recently, Atomik added a pair of Pipe Bombs with a larger diameter that I imagine would cause even faster failure and more pump. The quick workout you get with these means that they'll spend a fair amount of time hanging in our training space.
Stats: 3 1/2" at the Base, 1 1/4" at the Top, 6 3/4" Length, 2 per set.
I initially thought the Missiles would be too easy to use. I was wrong. The taper allows for all sizes of hand, but keeps you squeezing to stay on them. They are something of a stepping stone to the Pipe Bombs, and in my opinion are much more useful for general workouts. You'll be able to stay on them longer, and while the wrist position is still somewhat compromised, it's less so. The Missiles feel surprisingly nice in the hands, and quickly became my choice of Bomb when doing front lever workouts. When in the position of a lever, with back to the ground and arms at about 45 degrees, the wrist position is an absolute non-issue. Also, for core drills that take place in a roof, using footholds with the Bombs gripped between waist and chest level (which puts you into a lever position), the Missiles really excel, again, at allowing you to rotate freely at the shoulder.
Stats: 9" diameter, 1 per set.
This guy is big and bad. The minute you hang it, a statement is made, and people will line up to give it a try. Pretty much any pull up or core workout you can imagine will be made exponentially more difficult while hanging from the Cannon Bomb, and depending how you grip it, your sloper and compression strength could explode (I'm getting good at these puns). An easy modification that I recommend, is to draw circles using a Sharpie, (I used silver, as my Bomb is black,) every half inch or so from the eye bolt to the halfway mark. This way you can more accurately measure how you're holding it. You can gauge progress. You can have competitions. You can have even more fun, in an OCD sort of way. As far as I'm concerned, this is the cadillac of the line, with the Extra Large Bombs coming in a very close second.
Stats: Large: 3.5" diameter, 2 per set.
Extra Large: 4.5" diameter, 2 per set.
Cost: $39.95 and $64.44
These were a very close second as my favorites in the line - for the money, these can't be beat. Not only do they offer the same benefits of free rotation that we've already discussed, making your pulling workouts even safer, but they possess the ability to make you a pinch monster. That part, however, is up to you. If you hold them with the eye bolt between your fingers, they are the most friendly jug on the planet. Hold them differently, and they can become shockingly hard to use. I personally prefer the Extra Large size, though folks with small hands will also love the Large size. While I first didn't think that the Large Bombs would offer much in the way of training (for me), I was overlooking the fact that not all pinches are created equal. I'm better at pinches as they get wider. Make them small, and I start to fall apart. Pinching the Large Bombs proved to be an effective way to simulate that same pump. Again, I'd recommend drawing circles from the eye bolt out to the halfway point for the sake of measurement. I promise if you hang these in your gym they'll become the most popular end of night workout station.
As a whole, the line is promising, and I look forward to spending more time on these this winter when I really get back into training mode. I'll be adding the Cannon Bomb and the Extra Large Bombs to my regular workouts, with a bit of the Pipe Bombs and Missiles thrown in as well. Expect that I'll let you know how it plays out over time. Also, look for a video or two in the future highlighting some of the interesting workouts that can be done with the Bombs.
Huge thanks to Taylor Frohmiller Photography for the images on this post!
**Note: Atomik also makes a Small Bomb that is 2.5" in diameter for a cost of $25.11 (set of 2), which was untested. Since this posting, the Large and Extra Large sizes tested have been renamed as Medium (3.5" diameter) and Large (4.5" diameter), with a bomb that is 6" in diameter now available as Extra Large .**
*Note: All pricing information is subject to change.*