In my kettlebell class, we warm up our shoulders with Indian Clubs. They have gotten my attention because of the flexible, pain-free range of motion I experience in preparation for a demanding kettlebell session. What are they? There must be a story…
Of course, I purchased a pair which came with a video. Indian Clubs are made of wood or plastic and resemble bowling or juggling pins. The video’s instructor, Dr. Ed Thomas, is a genteel, scholarly sort – not the hyperactive gym jock or jockette I normally see on YouTube! I was impressed by his educated description of the shoulder girdle and its structure and function. After following along and learning as much as I could in the first session, I eagerly conscripted my son, Sam, to give it a try. He quickly realized that his right shoulder was not as strong or as coordinated as the left, his dominant one. Next, I went to indianclubs.net.
Below is an excerpt from the history chronicled by Dr. Thomas:
Club swinging is believed to have originated in India by soldiers as a method of improving strength, agility, balance and physical ability. During the annexation of India, British officers witnessed the graceful motions and essential property of expanding the chest and exercising every muscle of the body. The British brought the Indian Clubs to Europe where the Germans and Czechs adopted club swinging into their physical training systems. German immigrants brought the clubs to the United States in the mid-1800s, where they were soon introduced into both American school physical education programs and military physical readiness training. Indian Club Exercises lost popularity in the 1920s in exchange for sports and games.
Here is Dr. Thomas’ description of the clubs’ applicability to shoulder movement:
The shoulder girdle is probably the most movable area of the body, but it is also one of the most fragile. Strength of the shoulders should be complemented by flexibility, and the clubs can contribute to both. When the ball and socket joint of the shoulder works in harmony with the elbow and wrist joints, an almost infinite number of circular patterns is possible. The basic club patterns are the foundation of all shoulder girdle movements, including those applicable to martial arts. The key to effective use of the clubs is concentration, precision, and practice.
and their relevance in modern culture:
Many if not most Americans do not fully develop their natural shoulder girdle mobility and muscular balance. Ill fitting furniture, poor posture, and our tragically inadequate system of physical education in our nation’s schools are among the many cultural factors that keep us from realizing our highest potential. Basic club skills offer a safe and very effective means to regain essential shoulder girdle mobility. More advanced club movements include complicated arm and footwork that contribute to overall agility, timing, and dexterity.
I am faced daily with shoulder issues in my clients, and I am thrilled to have such a powerful tool within reach. I have ordered a variety of clubs, from 8oz to 22oz in weight and I can’t wait to help people get reaching and stretching! The movements are harmonious and graceful, enjoyable to learn and perform. Take a look at this example of Indian club training (not sure I would have anyone squat as seen later in the video).