Say Indian clubs, or club swinging, and most people will think of small bottled shaped wooden clubs, and twirly moves. But there is more to it than that, including a rich and ancient tradition of strength and skills by strongmen of the East. Club swinging is as old school as it gets!
Origins of club swinging
In the Eastern world, the original clubs used for training were big and heavy, with the goal of building strength for war or wrestling. Clubs were of course a weapon, and also a display of power and status, as seen in statues and bas reliefs.
Persian warriors and Indian wrestlers have been swinging their clubs for at the very least a thousand years. Tamil people have been swinging their Karlakattais for possibly even longer. Indeed Kalaripayattu, often described as the original martial art, comes from the Tamil culture.
Russian bogatyrs preferred the Palitsa or Bulava, a long wooden club, as their weapon of choice, above the spear and sword. Club swinging is still used in some Russian martial arts systems to this day.
Karate practitioners will relate Indian clubs to the Chi ishi used to develop forearms and striking power.
And of course , you will find club weapons in many cultures, but that is not to say there were used for physical training like in India and Persia,
British style Indian clubs
Indian clubs were brought back to Europe in the early 1800s by the Brits who had been trading in India.
The military were looking for a way to easily train the troops in large numbers and in ways that were relevant and effective, promoting health at the same time.
To achieve this, they changed the design of the clubs the Indian wrestlers used. They ended up with a smaller club, which was easier to mass produce and transport.
The 1850’s regulation weight was of 2kg pe club.
Clubs for the general public were even lighter, and ended up taking their spot in Rhythmic gymnastics.
With lighter and shorter clubs, it became possible to perform routines that placed a great emphasis on discipline using complex and graceful movements.
While light club swinging became the more popular style in the West, people like Professor Harrison, were proponents of heavy clubs. He was a well-known strongman and physical culture teacher who was honored by Queen Victoria for his physical prowess.
I’ll explain the difference between light and heavy clubs further down, as both styles complement each other.
Indian clubs were quickly adopted by other nations, especially by the Czech Sokol movement, and the Germans, who integrated them in their current physical training systems. The Germans went on to take the clubs to America, and created the Turners movement.
Those social movements, like the boy scouts movement, are very interesting as they defined ideals of physical and mental fitness, and civic responsability.
Not so long ago, physical culture was associated with the education of young people. Today’s fitness industry is mostly about how good we can look, so we could take some inspiration from history.
”Of the diverse physical education equipment developed in that era, one of the most ubiquitous elements of German American gymnastic work was the Indian club, an exercise tool first brought to European attention by British soldiers who adapted it from a war club used on the Asian subcontinent. As part of calisthenics and gymnastic exercises, the Indian club also had a long life in America from the Civil War era to the 1930s, and was an equipment mainstay not only in a standard physical education regimen, but also as a part of aesthetic demonstrations during ”turnfeste” and in the nation’s school gymnasia.”
Indian Clubs and German-American Health Promotion by Kevin Grace.
What are light Indian clubs good for?
The Victorian era books mention many attributes that can be improved by swinging Indian clubs. Indian clubs were used both for fitness and leisure, but also as a form of early physiotherapy.
Through the work we have done, we have had people report increased strength endurance, better mobility of the spine, hips and shoulders, better coordination and timing, and improved balance. People also notice better grip and posture.
The traction effect of the swings also helps lubricate and keep the joints healthy, and have helped many people recover full range of motion in their shoulders.
The rhythmic repetitive circular patterns help switch our nervous system from ”Fight or Flight” to ”Rest and Digest”. It’s like meditation in motion.
I hope you won’t disagree that we need more of that in our society…
Overall, you could say that light Indian clubs are especially geared towards health and longevity.
As such, they are suitable for everyone. They provide exercise for the sedentary populations, and hep athletes recover faster from training and stay pain free.
Basically we hear ”I am stronger, I feel and move better” a lot, even though when people swing clubs weighing only 1kg.
Enters Heroic Sport…
As the art is being rediscovered, and interest is growing these days, you can learn and buy Indian clubs from many sources.
We decided to break free from dogma that says you must do things in a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done.
Back in 2013, I met my partner Ron Bader while I was looking for someone to turn wooden clubs to my specifications.
The ones I had sourced from Germany were not well designed, and really expensive. Anyway, long story short, Ron fell off a scaffold in 2009, broke his skull and spine in several places, and 4 years later had fully given up on getting his old life back.
When I explained to him what Indian cubs were, he told me his story and we decided to train exclusively with the clubs to test the restorative aspects of club swinging you read about in the old books.
After 6 months of training, he had regained mobility and muscle mass, and could sleep a whole night through. He became such a strong believer that he started to think of a way of making Indian clubs available to the general public.
After a leaving a set of wooden clubs with his mother in Canada, he had an A-ha moment on the plane, and came up with the idea of a handle you could screw onto a plastic bottle.
The really cool thing is that the iconic Perrier bottle was inspired by the design of Indian clubs, and now you can actually make and swing Indian clubs with the plastic Perrier bottles!
A couple of years later, after many trials and errors, we were ready to present his invention, the Pahlavandle, to the rest of the world.
A game changer
We did not make it up, trainers have called our Pahlavandle™ a game changer.
Money is often a barrier when it comes to trying something new. While wooden clubs are beautiful, they are expensive.
Not until now was it possible to find affordable Indian clubs, which is one of the reasons they nearly disappeared from the public eye.
The advantages of the Pahlavandle™ over a wooden club are that you can switch bottle shape and volume, and increase the weight up to 3k per club if you fill the bottles with sand. Not only that, you can even screw the handles together to create more torque.
We did not stop here, we also created large clubs with similar thoughts.
By launching our website in 2017, we opened up new possibilities, and attracted a lot of interest from personal trainers and physiotherapists.
OK, having a product is great, but education is just as important, if not more. So we created video downloads to help spread knowledge of Indian clubs, and now we have now helped club swingers in over 75 countries!
The video below is an example of some of our teaching material:
Our focus is new beginners, getting them started on this journey, but even experienced club swingers have thanked us for the educational material we made. Some even rekindled their interested in swinging clubs that had been gathering dust in a corner.
But you guys are doing it wrong!
Traditions provide the canvas and primary colors. Haters are gonna hate 🙂
We do not feel that we have to be limited by what books written in the Victorian era say or were passed from generation to generation. We all know how a story changes the more it is told again and again…
We looked at the different traditional styles and fusioned many things into our unique blend.
One of the things was to simplify club swinging into ”open style” and ”closed style”. Non essential details were left out.
Swinging Indian clubs is actually intuitive. As long as you follow the key concepts and do not over reach your abilities, if it feels good, you’re probably going to be OK.
At the end of the day, circles are circles. Once you know the alphabet (the circles in the different planes of motion) you’re free to compose what you want.
At Heroic Sport, by keeping things simple, we empower people. From kids, to Parkinson’s patients to elite athlete and office people, we have seen the results of our approach to club swinging, and keep getting awesome feedback.
A lot of the current resources on Indian clubs teach the basic exercises, but you’re basically on your own as to how you can implement them into a training program. We have programs whether you’re into HEMA, kettlebells or racket sports.
Open style, closed style
Light clubs are generally swung in a open style, or basically using the full length of the lever arm, and minimal body movement.
Being small in size and lightweight, you can perform a wide variety of exercises with complex patterns requiring fine motor skills. Like a kettlebell swing, you can also increase forces by swinging faster.
The end of the light clubs spectrum would be rhythmic gymnastics, where athletes swing tear drop clubs weighing about 200-300g, making shapes you’d be hard pressed to replicate with a 1kg club.
Heavy and long clubs are generally swung in a closed style, putting the whole body into each swing. Here you must swing the clubs tightly against the body to minimize the injury risk, and shorten the lever arm. Heavy clubs are also swung at a slower tempo, and overall, you can perform less exercises.
And remember, heavy club swinging does not mean you should swing the heaviest club you can get your hands on! The aim is still high repetitions, or swinging for time.
What is best? 1 club or 2 clubs?
We prefer to get people started with single club to simplify the learning process.
With single club swinging, you can also better access the horizontal and diagonal lines.
Double club swinging is a fantastic way to introduce complex cross crawl patterns in your training.
At the end of the day, it’s like deadlifts and squats. Do both!
General guidelines for programming
The old Hindu texts recommend training until you work up a sweat on the forehead and call it a day.
If you’re new at this, treat club swinging as an extended warm up and skill practice. Stop before you get frustrated when learning new moves!
Remember that frequent, short, focused practice sessions is the way to learn and refine new skills, from playing the piano to speaking new languages.
Basically, train ”As often as possible, as fresh as possible”. Sounds familiar?
If you’re already doing strength training in any form, maybe start by using club swinging in your warm ups or cool down.
For the open style club swinging, start with a club around 1kg or just under.
For close style club swinging, a 2-3kg club is a good start.
Always swing in a slow and controlled manner, as if going through water.
If the moves are choppy, try a lighter weight.
Use your common sense and feedback from your technique and sensations in your body.
About Thierry Sanchez
I am a physical trainer from Denmark, and graduated in 2009 with the Danish Sport Confederation.
I have practiced, researched, and taught workshops and Indian club classes for over 10 years.
I took a gold medal at the IGSF Kettlebell Sport World Championship in 2010, and have an IKMF world record still standing for kettlebell marathon.
Image of Lord Vishnu in the banner: Suraj Belbase, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons