Steel clubs are a modern variation on an age old piece of fitness equipment originating in ancient Persia. The steel club’s earliest predecessor from a fitness perspective would be the meel. This wooden club, that varied greatly in weight, size, and shape, was used in a few traditional exercises and to successfully condition combative athletes such as wrestlers and soldiers in ancient Persia, Egypt, and the rest of the Middle East.
The practice of heavy club swinging for strength endures in pockets of the Middle East that continue traditional strength training. The most notable is in the Iranian Zurkhaneh, literally translated as the “house of strength,” a traditional gymnasium where participants continue the tradition of swinging heavy clubs and maces. In the early 20000s, a newer and more modern design of club hit the market.
It was more compact than its predecessors and incorporated more consistent materials than the wood traditionally used in the manufacture of clubs. This modern design offered the ability to manufacture clubs with relative consistency and a slimmer profile. These two factors led to the development of more steel club exercises and a more systematized approach to teaching these skills.
Steel club training offers the ability to develop a particular combination of grip strength and dexterity that is unique to this implement. Unlike barbells and dumbbells, which pull against the fingers consistently through any swings or pulling motions, the relationship of the club in your hand is dynamic. At various points in a swing or a pullover exercise, the stress the exercise places on the hand can be distributed by an experienced club swinger to minimize fatigue and maximize efficiency.
This ability to redistribute the loading of the hands is a major differentiator between someone who can do twenty continuous repetitions of a steel club exercise, and someone who can do one hundred. To some degree, this ability to substitute hand dexterity for maximal grip strength is also available to experienced kettlebell practitioners; but not quite to the same degree as what the club offers.
Due to the design of the steel club and the many exercises that incorporate swinging motions, the grip is challenged to hold on to the club as it is literally tryng to pull through your grip. This forces the user to rely on muscular exertion to create enough friction against the handle to stabilize the tool.
Do to this unique feature, even those with well developed hands can find steel clubs very taxing on their grip when they start to incorporate them. This is especially true when utilizing single handed or double steel club exercises, since each club must be controlled through the friction created against the relatively small surface area of a single hand.
Strength Training Benefit #2: Connective Tissue & Joint Health
Swinging weight through large ranges of motion creates a tractional force that decompresses the joints and requires the lengthening of various connective tissues. Every step taken, and every loaded squat, press, or deadlift introduces more and more compressive force.
Excessive compressive forces can theoretically contribute to the accelerated degeneration of the spinal discs and vertebrae. Introducing strength training with tractional forces is a great counteractive measure to the constant compressive forces being introduced to our bodies every day.
Another benefit to swinging clubs is the ability to introduce deceleration strength training to the body. By swinging a club in one direction, then slowing the momentum of the swing to a stop and redirecting the line of force, you will effectively develop decelerative strength. This type of strength is very useful to minimize the risk of injury in real world scenarios, as many non-contact injuries are the result of a deficit in the ability to decelerate and change direction.
Strength Training Benefit #3: Shoulder Mobility & Stability
Though joint health was already mentioned, the use of steel clubs really does shine in the ability to balance the development of the shoulders. Due to the fact that the shoulders have so much potential for movement, and because the stabilization of the shoulder joints requires so many smaller and often underdeveloped muscles to play a role, many people suffer from shoulder pain.
Some people lack the prerequisite shoulder mobility to keep this joint complex healthy. The incorporation of the variety of pullover drills in multiple planes of motion can be a game changer for those lacking range of motion. Other people lack scapular stability, which is a BIG determining factor for many that experience chronic shoulder pain. The addition of the many steel club swinging drills helps develop the ability to stabilize the shoulder. This is due to the weight literally trying to pull the arm out of its socket with every repetition.
Strength Training Benefit #4: Multi-Planar Strength Development
The slim profile of the steel club allows you to swing through various planes of motion with relative safety in comparison to other fitness tools. It is pretty hard to swing a loaded barbell around your body without causing yourself injury. The kettlebell can be used for such drills, but once the bell is swung across the front of your shins there will understandably be some fear that you might clip yourself, as it is likely to happen. The steel mace is a great tool to utilize in exploration of multi-planar drills, but the relatively long lever limits the potential for backswings or single arm work.
The steel club really shines in the development of multi-planar and rotational strength development. Lateral swinging motions are introduced as part of the foundational skill set with this tool rather than an afterthought, this alone allows for a greater potential to explore new movements. By adding the lateral swinging motions with rotated presses or pullover drills you will introduce compound movement skills that no other tool can replicate with the same strength training effect.
Steel Club Strength Training Exercise Guide
Steel Clubs offer nearly limitless exercise variety, but gaining a fundamental level of proficiency with the tool is a prerequisite to opening the doors to their true potential. Utilizing 2-Handed drills to gain familiarity with club strength training is a great way to start since clubs can prove very challenging to wield at first. Being able to use two hands on one club increases the rate of success and reduces the chance of injury during the learning process.
The following list of Steel Club exercises is far from comprehensive, but will prove to be a good starting point for anyone interested in developing skill with this awesome tool!
High Amplitude Steel Club Swings
- 2-Hand Front Swing
- 2-Hand Side Swing
Steel Club Squats
- 2-Hand Shouldered Squat
- 2-Hand Ready Position Squat
- 2-Hand Front Press Squat
Steel Club Presses
- 2-Hand Front Press
- 2-Hand Angled Press
- 2-Hand Side Press
- 2-Hand Alternating Side
Low AmplitudeSteel Club Swings
- 2-Hand Sit & Drive
- 2-Hand Lateral Sit & Drive
Steel Club Snatches
- 2-Hand Angled Snatch
- 2-Hand Side Angled Snatch
Steel Club Pullovers
- 2-Hand Front Pullover
- 2-Hand Alternating Front Pullover
- 2-Hand Side Pullover
- 2-Hand Angled Pullover