Coach Caleb’s Corner
The Big Benefits of Going “Clubbing”
Did you think I was talking about “clubbing” in the sense of going to a “night club?” Oops! I actually meant going out for a night of practicing “Indian Club Swings.” Sorry if I mislead you. But now you ask, what is that and why would I want to do it? Aha! Well now that I’ve got your attention….
We have a little joke in our training community that comes out at certifications or workshops, and it goes a little something like this: “Raise your hand if you have ever had a shoulder injury.” [Instructor waits to see a show of hands from the group] “Those of you who didn’t raise your hands probably can’t… because you have a shoulder injury.”
Unfortunately, the odds are that if you participate in athletic endeavors, you are likely to experience some kind of problem with your hard working shoulders at some point. Statistically speaking, more than 1 in 3 people who participate in resistance training sustain a shoulder injury. Along with rotator cuff and glenohumeral issues, elbows, wrists and hands (grip) are also long suffering players on the active lifestyle team. As such, we are always on the lookout for training methods that can help to “armor-up” or “bullet-proof” these joints. Oddly enough, there was a highly effective method for doing exactly that, and it was in use for hundreds of years all over the world, but it somehow suddenly fell out of fashion in the second half of the 20th century. Call it “progress.” This method was club swinging.
Across many generations and in many cultures, especially those in India, the Middle East and the Far East , the swinging of weighted clubs has been part of martial arts training tradition. The natural carryover in skill and strength for the wielding of hand weapons and empty-handed combat made it an obvious choice for our warrior ancestors. The Gada, famously carried by deities such as Hanuman and Vishnu was not only a symbol of power and strength, but an actual training tool; created to enable us mere mortals to become more like our gods. We’re talking about an activity that mashes up physical training and spirituality and mythology here, folks, and that’s definitely my kind of party! (Nightclubs aren’t my thing.)
The more modern (light) club swinging exercises that exploded in popularity during the 1800’s can be traced back to the British colonial presence in India and their appreciation for the indigenous warrior culture’s physical prowess and training. The Brits appropriated these methods and shrank the club design down to a size and shape that made them easy to pack up and transport in large numbers. They were then introduced back in Europe as a means for performing large group calisthenic training in a “follow-the-leader” format for military personnel. Soon after that, this style of training was added to physical education programs for school children. Unfortunately I don’t know of any studies that might compare the incidence of shoulder, elbow and wrists problems for this 19th to early 20th century generation as opposed to our current population. I do know, however, that issues with these joints continue to be on the rise today so…
Why did we stop swinging clubs?
Well, some of us didn’t, fortunately. Otherwise we wouldn’t have anyone around to teach us today. As far as the rest, we can’t say for sure, but a variety of obvious answers spring to mind. The training landscape changed as old methods gave way to knew ones, and the rise of the self-service, big box gyms made club swinging a little less practical. Imagine walking into a Planet Fitness today and seeing a group of beginner trainees picking up a pair of weighted bludgeons and trying to teach themselves how to swing them around their heads. It’s an insurance nightmare to say the least! Perhaps the biggest change occurred when our Physical Education priorities changed in school. The Indian Club methods were traditionally associated with preparing a population for war and our collective stomach for that type of training changed quite a bit after the 1940’s in the western world. We might have “thrown out the baby with the bathwater” as the expression goes.
So how does this type of exercise actually benefit me?
Simply put, the primary benefit of club swinging drills is:
The development a stronger and more resilient shoulder with greater muscular endurance.
Other benefits include:
A stronger and more dexterous grip.
Increased range of motion in the shoulder, elbow and wrist.
Improvement in connective tissue health for the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Increased skills in proprioceptive coordination and neural activation.
Increased blood flow and decreased inflammation.
Improved cardiovascular efficiency (as these drills can be performed as long-sustainable, low intensity aerobic exercise.)
Like any other skill, club swinging takes coaching and practice to develop proficiency, but as you can see, the benefits clearly outweigh the investment in time spent learning a few simple movements. Their connection to our ancestral martial past might increase the appeal and fun factor for some of us (like me!), but it certainly shouldn’t be a deterrent for others. Although these exercises can be used as a hard training session in and of themselves, they can also fit into a pre-training or movement prep regimen, and work especially well as resilience work to be performed between heavier training sessions. The “ballistic stretching” advantage of the light club patterns means that in one exercise we can practice mobility, stability and strength endurance for our shoulders, elbows and wrists all at once! The basic club swing can be broken down into just three simple positions (and a fourth to show how to transition between them):
Flowing between these positions is where the magic happens. As simple as it appears in the hands of a skilled practitioner, the nuances of proper pelvis, wrist, elbow, shoulder and grip positioning must be understood to minimize the risks of hitting yourself with the club or throwing it across the room! Slow practice under the watchful eye of a coach is best, but very slow and frequent practice while learning from videos and print material along with periodic self-assessment can work as well.
So what are you waiting for? That’s more than enough time spent reading this at the computer or on the phone. It’s time to go clubbing! A safe way to get the feel for it is to practice the three basic positions in front of a mirror, using your thumb to represent the club. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can get yourself a pair of your own clubs, or a ProBar (which can do many other healthy things for your shoulder too, btw) and take it to the next level. Just keep your practice SLOW, at first. I can’t emphasize this enough. Happy clubbing!
PS – If you’d like to learn some club technique, we’ll be sharing this at our Strong & Supple Shoulders Workshop TOMORROW!