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3 Essential Movements for Steel Clubs

3 Essential Movements for Steel Club Training

December 12, 2014
Updated April 11, 2018

This article will highlight Steel Club movements as they relate to various steel club sizes and weights. The most common question that usually comes up concerns the weight of the steel club and what the best size is to start off with. My answer is simple: start light.

If a person is just starting a physical fitness routine and has done little or no training, I suggest they start with the smaller steel club. These steel clubs are readily available just about anywhere and are easy to find. If a person is fit and possesses natural coordination, then I typically suggest starting with the slightly heavier pair of steel clubs, or Indian Clubs.

Steel Clubs or Indian were twice an Olympic event in 1904 and again in 1932. The last year this Olympic competition was held, Americans won the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals. The exercises were referred to as “gymnastic movements” and there was a lot of emphasis on twirling, juggling, and complex routines.

I spent several years researching volumes of information that pertained to using Steel Clubs and the exercises. I went to the Library of Congress many times and looked up everything that I could about this old Asian style of exercise.

I found that one of the most confusing ways to learn the Steel Clubs was from the older books that were written by both British and American authors around the turn of the 19th century.

These old texts were full of diagrams and many of them included complicated coded sequences using either letters or numbers to teach both the simple and complex movements. To quote Winston Churchill:

“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.”

For the heavy clubs, Steel Clubs or  “meels,” I break the club swings down into three movements. I then chain or connect the movements into a flow to create a smoother pattern once the strength and confidence has been gained. Here are the top 3 essential movements for Steel Clubs.

Essential Steel Club Training Movement #1: Push

To start, I suggest lifting the club to the “ready” or starting position (where the club is in a forward up right position). Then the student can practice pushing the club upward and back over the shoulder and return it back to the starting position once again. A student should do this many times to learn how to control the balance of the club.

There is also a tipping point with clubs. When a club is not held upright properly, the large club can easily get away from our control. Once it has fallen out of position, the heavy club cannot be recovered. Specifically, I am referring to the heavier clubs that are at least 10 to 30 pounds and 30 inches long.

Essential Steel Club Training Movement #2: Drop

The second movement is the drop position. This movement is to simply hang or drop the large club over the shoulder and between the shoulder blades. The purpose of this is so the person can extend the range of motion and stretch the muscles of the arms and rotator cuff.

Once in this position, the club should be swung side to side so the student can get a feel of the weight. The student needs to be able to learn to manage the club in this awkward position and develop the proprioception needed so they do not hit or harm themselves when swinging the clubs.

Essential Steel Club Training Movement #3: Swing

The last stage of the movement is to swing and recover by bringing the club back over the shoulder to the starting position again. When swinging the club behind the back, we must take care not to go too far to the outside of the shoulder. When the arm is bent at the elbow and the weight of the club travels to the outside of the shoulder we put the shoulder at risk of hyperextending the shoulder joint. I bring the weight of the clubs just outside the shoulder so I have complete control of the recovery of the club.

After these three movements are executed and understood with both the left and right side, the three simple movements should flow together and become one. The movement will then flow from the start position, push over the shoulder, drop behind the back, swing and pull the weight over the shoulder to recover. You can use the mantra, “push, drop, swing, and recover” while putting it all together.

Final Thoughts of Steel Club Training

My suggestion is to always stretch the shoulders before and after any steel club swinging. I hold each static stretch for 30 seconds each. I stretch the shoulders in five different positions to hit the top, bottom, front, back, and sides of the rotator cuff.

Always start light and move progressively to the heavier weighted clubs. A typical routine could be doing 200-300 repetitions with a light 2 pound club, another 200 repetitions with an 8-10 pound club and finally moving on to 100-200 hundred repetitions with a 20 pound club.

In conclusion, weight matters but only as far as it is comfortable and safe for the participant lifting the clubs. This form of exercise is meant to be performed throughout a person’s entire life. The emphasis is concentrated more on fluid, safe, and controlled movements.

The aspect of competition with practitioners is based more on numbers of repetitions and not simply a single heavy lift. It is important to remember that this implement of exercise was born out of warfare. A military soldier or warrior did this form of exercise to learn the skills that could help him defeat his enemy. He needed endurance most of all as well as mobility and strength.

Richard "Army" Maguire of Ageless Strength in Redondo Beach, CA is one of the foremost experts in America on utilizing Indian Clubs for fitness training. He is also an accomplished martial artist, and has over 40 years experience in the art of combatives.
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