The unexpected benefits of training with Indian clubs
Thousands of years back, swinging clubs was a part of the training of warriors. The clubs allowed them to train strength, flexibility, coordination and mindfulness at the same time. Fast forward to the late 1800's, and club swinging was the biggest fitness craze of the Victorian era. Indian clubs were used as an early form of physiotherapy, to palliate the problems of a recent shift to a sedentary lifestyle. Today, most people associate Indian clubs with visual performances or girls’ gymnastics, and sadly the benefits of this restorative art are long forgotten.
Luckily, some trainers keep the tradition alive, and Indian clubs are slowly making a comeback. See the video below for a quick demonstration of what an Indian club routine looks like:
While we all know the impact of a sedentary lifestyle on physical health, we are only starting to become aware of the impact on mental health, mood and wellbeing. Even with all the known positive effects of exercise, many people are still resistant to lift weights or join a gym. Yet, these are the people we really need to activate. In my opinion, the playful and meditative aspect of Indian clubs can help in this specific case.
It does not feel like exercise, and yet it delivers results.
For me, the fascinating side of Indian clubs is how we can use them to improve learning capacity and increase focus. The complex cross-lateral patterns and relaxed breathing calm the nervous system. We switch from the all-too-typical "fight or flight" response to the "rest and digest" response, where the body can optimally repair itself.
The current fitness trends have people push themselves harder and harder, piling up more stress on top of the demands of job and family. No wonder people get run down, sick or injured so often.
There is no conscious thought of providing some sort of balance. In essence, although you can choose to train hard or gently, Indian club swinging is a skill practice more akin to Tai Chi and martial arts than what we call fitness. I call it mindfulness in motion.
The people at our club have seen us perform complex routines at events, and they want to be able move in the same fluid way. In the process they experience centring, creating inner silence and harmony. It’s like nothing they have experienced before during a conventional fitness class. And it's not only the mature students that report this.
There are many opportunities to incorporate Indian clubs in your training, or use them as a stand alone discipline. People working in an office environment report that swinging clubs for only a couple of minutes gives them a kind of reboot. They are no longer reaching for an afternoon coffee or candy bars, and do not feel as stiff at the end of the day.
I started swinging metal clubs in 2008, but soon found drawbacks. The metal clubs were too heavy to assist with recovery, and the lighter ones were too short to swing properly. Also, most of the moves are done with a single club, removing the cross-lateral benefits of swinging Indian clubs.
My experience with light wooden Indian clubs assured me that they were ideal to balance the intense training, and improve shoulder health required for lifting weights overhead. The feedback I got from workshops participants was very encouraging.
One of our ambassadors is Tom Gossling, an Olympic swimmer. He swings clubs for his warm ups and for dry land training. He told us it's the only form of training that makes him feel as if he just had a swimming session.
In 2013, I had the perfect opportunity to truly put Indian clubs to the test. I wanted custom made Indian clubs, and the person I was advised to contact, Ron Bader, turned to be the perfect candidate. Ron fell off a scaffolding in 2009, resulting in a broken skull and spine, coma, short term memory loss, loss of muscle mass and pain, lots of pain. He had been through all sort of therapies, none of which helped him long term. At that stage, he had given up hope of a full recovery, and was resigned to only work a few hours at a time.
After reading so much about the restorative effects of Indian clubs, I offered to show him how to use the clubs and take it from there. He became hooked after the first session, and he went from being able to sleep 20 minutes at a time to sleep hours, and then the whole night through. The pain eventually went away. His range of motion came back, muscle mass improved, and he returned to work. All that with clubs that weighed 1kg a piece!
We went on create a local "swinger" club in our town in February 2014. Ron turned our clubs and I taught our members. I studied all that I could find on club swinging, and started systematising my teaching process. Teaching others is a fantastic way to learn more about a subject. It really forces you to practice your skills, think, experiment, and assess.
After his recovery, Ron thought about how to spread the message to more people. He came up to training one day with his first prototype of a plastic handle that could screw on to a soda bottle. You could regulate the weight, travel with it and it was affordable for anyone. The Pahlavandle gave you a whole range of Indian clubs, with the same swing feeling as a wooden club. I loved the fact I could pack all my gear for workshops in a small bag!
We wanted to reach and teach more people, in a format that was clear and easy to follow along. From all the research we did, online teaching material varied greatly and a lot of it was random stuff or showing off. After teaching at our club for over 3 years, I can say that most people cannot learn complex skills in this way. Exercises should be learned in a specific order. Skills have to be taught in a progressive manner. All the volunteer teaching I did at our club allowed me to test and refine my methodology.
Learning new skills is what attracts many people to club swinging. It's not just about doing more reps or swinging heavier clubs all the time, it's also about the satisfaction of mastering challenging movements. I believe strength trainers also must start thinking in terms of neuromuscular control and locomotive skills development.
I hope this article shone a new light on the ageless discipline of club swinging, and has made you curious to learn more about it.