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No one was hunched over computers yet when Indian clubs were in their heyday, but perhaps we need them now more than ever.

The Indian club as we use it today in the West harks back to the Victorian era. This bowling pin with a pommel provides gentle traction to the shoulder joint. No matter how you swing these light weights, as a single or within a pair, from simple circles to intricate patterns, multiple benefits accrue: impeccable posture, shoulder mobility and endurance…not to mention neuroplasticity!

What’s the Point of These Things, Anyway?

The biggest payoff is shoulder health. Mobility-wise, they support rotator cuff stability and help us to maintain a good overhead reach. Endurance is another plus. (When they appeared as an Olympic event, competitors swung pairs of 3 lb clubs for 5:00 at a time.)

Two-handed club work in particular both challenges and demands impeccable posture.

Enter neuroplasticity. One nice bonus, once you begin learning some of the classical patterns, is brain training. Besides the fact that it can (eventually) look pretty darn cool, it’s fun to play around and enjoy the learning process.

Maybe even esthetics 😉  (…because who doesn’t want nice-looking shoulders?)

How to Integrate Clubs Within Your Own Routine

The clubs shine in a few ways:

  • They provide a restorative counterbalance to heavy training
  • They’re a wonderful pre-workout warmup, particularly for heavier overhead work. Personally, I’ve used them as preparation for some of my newer ventures: double-kettlebell overhead work / SFG2, steel mace work, and Olympic lifting classes.
  • They support rehab for the elbows and shoulders, and even wrists
  • Tendons and ligaments are conditioned as well as lesser-used stabilizing muscles

Prep-Up Principles

Start light. A pair of 1 to maybe even 2-pound clubs is usually plenty to start with, perhaps even 3 pounds for a very strong person. With so many repetitive circular patterns, movement demands build up surprisingly quickly! Particularly when emphasizing the wrists, be ready to go to a lighter club, or even switch out from a club to something even lighter yet such as a bubble wand (yes, it’s a thing) or maybe even a chopstick to retain the arm’s lengthening feel without that extra weight at the end of the lever.

Posture, posture, posture! (No big surprises there.) People who work at sedentary jobs and/or who are very tight may require additional warm-up for the neck and t-spine. Additionally, people with pronounced kyphosis (and its close cousin, rib flare) are probably best sticking with single clubs only, at least to start with, and/or only swinging to shoulder height.

Get a Grip

The grip is relaxed yet firm. The most compelling description I’ve heard (with permission) is to “hold the club as if you’re holding your pet hamster” – as in, be gentle, but don’t let it escape either.”

The fourth, or “ring” finger rests on the pommel, and the pinkie wraps around the pommel to close it. The two main grips are the hammer grip, with the club at 90 degrees to the forearm, and sabre grip, in which the club is parallel to the forearm.

Rhythm and Flow (Non Classical Patterns)

Here’s a follow-along introductory-level club flow that I’ve put together, along with a more explanatory video to recap what’s written below.

Remember to keep it light until it’s familiar – a screwdriver, a bubble wand or even a chopstick can be an amazing starting point for more fragile shoulders or spines. Perhaps you’ll wish to do it twice in a row, successively increasing the resistance/weight.

First order of business is the (hopefully relaxing) reset to come back to if things get weird: just march in place while holding both clubs in a sabre grip. FMS calls this “the best mental defrag,” and it’s a way to naturally glide into a t-spine-and-hip-initiated rotation, especially if your gaze follows the back club. It brings us back to a foundational reciprocal pattern that was established way back when we began crawling, and which can get compromised in people, say, with Parkinson’s.

Next we’ll expand to moving with a “cast” (which is essentially a controlled throw). Arms stay in the back and forth / sagittal plane, but the trunk starts to move. For now, clubs are always moving in the same direction.

  • Start with arms parallel and elbows tucked up toward the head (like an Olympic lifting position, but even more so – and no low back arch!), hip hinging back to cast down beneath the knees. (Grip transitions from hammer grip during the tuck to sabre grip at the bottom of the cast.)
  • The half pivot cast now sends clubs in front of the body as the body rotates with it, alternating which way they travel (similar to a mace “10s and 2s,” but completing the full circle). As with boxing, gym exercises such as barbell landmines, or even in the game of golf, please initiate this from your hips so that the spine can stay relatively neutral throughout. This means that your back heel will leave the ground.
  • 360’s involve catching the clubs behind the shoulder with them and pivoting to then re-cast in the same direction as before. Of course, by now, both heels are alternatively lifting off of the ground. There’s no accompanying mill or moulinet (…yet).
  • Then, a nice chest/back opener, which is basically an eternity loop. (Usually the top-down direction is easy enough, but getting the hang of reversing it to bottom-up often takes a moment to integrate.)

Now arms start moving separately, still within the sagittal plane:

  • Side swipes: initiate with both clubs out front in a hammer grip to the front, staying strong and tall, as the other moves back and forth, only to shoulder height. Next, arms will alternate directions, and then begin rotating, again from the hips, and you’ll begin to follow the behind club with your gaze…and we mesh back with that initial reset, only now we’re more, say, upper-body-active with it.
  • Next, not only opening the shoulder range, but providing a little mental challenge, we expand into full opposing circles.

Let’s branch into some side-to-side trajectories (i.e. in the frontal, or coronal plane).

  • Another relaxing variant on the reset is to start in a capital “T” for the easy swings, still floating only to shoulder height. This one tends to tie in breath very nicely, especially accessing the exhale portion.
  • One single club starts in the tucked or sheathed position to pull the elbow down across the chest, then outside the same shoulder. This is a great preparatory move for the classical mills soon to come.

Finally, a bit of love for the wrists, if they’re ready for it. I highly suggest downgrading the weight the first time through at least; the wrist is a smaller joint. Start with an initial rendition of the moulinet, or windmill, using both hands. Progress it to one leg forward and only one actively swinging, and grow yourself taller by tucking the back-leg arm up and above your shoulder. To keep your low back from hyperextending, remember to squeeze the glute on your back leg. (Whoops, please note that the single-arm variant missed making it into the video version.) Finish with single-arm figure 8s as tolerated.

Once you’ve done the above routine, check in with your neck and mid back (t-spine). You may well be raring to shift to something else, you may decide to repeat the routine with a heavier weight, or – particularly if you work at a desk and/or if your posture is only so-so – you may feel that you need a bit of extra range of motion in those two areas. If so, click here.

Classical Patterns

Now the coordination and neurological component really comes in! If the patterns are ever feeling like too much, don’t rush it and don’t worry. Just reset or stick with what felt good, and chip away at it over time. (Reminders are always handy in this playlist.)

Similarly, don’t feel you need to jump too soon into the double-club patterns – or exclusively, because there is greater range of motion with a single club.

At some point, I hope to improve enough to put out some classical flows. For now, what’s below will provide you with a good basic vocabulary, as it were.

For what follows below, a (moving) picture really is worth a thousand words. I can corroborate this folksy axiom after having pored over a number of printed copies dating from around 1890 – 1910, and I am extremely grateful for YouTube and on-line learning! (Speaking of which, see below for a resource list.) All videos are in my Indian clubs playlist — including yesterday’s personal triumph moment, which only took 5 tries to get!

  • “The semaphore one”
  • Single club, inside mill
  • Single club, outside mill
  • Double clubs, simultaneous mills ( = “heart shape”)
  • Double clubs, simultaneous inside/outside mills
  • Double clubs, alternating inside mills
  • Double clubs, alternating outside mills

If You’re Really Into Them

Plastic 1-pound clubs are readily available. For the beautiful, hand-crafted ones (new or vintage), I would suggest searching Etsy – and make sure to check if the seller has provided measurements in pounds or kilos. (0.5 kg is approximately 1 lb.)

Consider your space requirements. (Personally, I can essentially manage a pair of 1-pounders inside, but the 2 lb are long enough that I need to go outside or elsewhere.)

Please do contact me if you’d like more personalized input.

And finally, have fun!

Free Resources

  • Nourishing Moves moves at a good, slow pace for methodical learners. More specifically, he breaks down the mill here and, here, yet even more slowly.
  • From the inventor of one of the coolest items I have seen in a long time, and a way to travel easily and practice, scroll down for the “best exercises to combat sitting”
  • Here’s one with a bit more of a martial arts vibe; please be aware that many bodies may not appreciate the scorpion, so be sure to keep your glutes on if you do it!
  • I haven’t actually road-tested any of the three that follow.

On-Line Courses for Purchase

Both of the following are one-time payments.

This “Level 1.5” has become my main resource for learning. Nicely sequenced, with great pacing and clarity of instruction.

This offering is the odd guy out, and works best as a standalone, in my opinion. FMS is all about movement principles, and for some reason they decided to use the classical movements but change the terminology, which made it confusing to cross-compare. It may work well for your needs, though, especially if you’re a “movement geek,” because there is an interesting additional emphasis on helping the body to create stability from within rather than relying on coaching – particularly from a half-kneeling or tall kneeling position.

A Few Deeper Dives into the History of the Clubs

Something to read in our copious amount of free time:

  • Indian clubs in Victorian Britain
  • “The definitive guide to history”
  • An intro to club training