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Indian Clubs - The Ultimate Calisthenic Workout

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Indian club training is a 5000 year old tradition that was originally used by Indian wrestlers and warriors as a preparation for battle. By continuously swinging these often very large and heavy clubs (or Gadas) in various motions, the ancient Indian warriors were conditioning the whole body and at the same time building upper body strength. This tradition continued down the millennia where it became common practice for the Indian Army, Police and others to use clubs in order to increase strength. It was said that practice with Indian Clubs ‘possess the essential property of expanding the chest and exercising every muscle in the body concurrently’.  The clubs of old came in various shapes and sizes; but were usually 2 feet 6 inches long, 6 or 7 inches in diameter at the base, varied in weight and made of wood. These included the Karela and the 6 feet 9 inches tall Ekka. Performers of Indian Club exercise were said to exhibit great muscular development and Herculian strength.

In the 1800’s the British Army played a vital role in expanding and protecting the hold of the British Sovereignty in India and it was at this time that many of the Military PT’s began obsessing with the idea of Indian club training. One British Army officer said “The wonderful club exercise is one of the most effectual kinds of athletic training known anywhere in common use throughout India”. After practicing and mastering the movements of this ancient tradition the British soldiers took these techniques back with them to Europe, where they became a part of physical culture tradition. Training using the clubs differed at this stage from the traditional Indian style and instead focused on the Swedish Core Extension movements. These movements were said to be more effective at opening up the chest and allowed the practitioner to become suppler, rather than developing strength.

In the mid 1800’s the Indian club phenomenon reached America after Sim D Kehoe watched a demonstration by English professor of gymnastics Prof Harrison; at that time Harrison was considered the strongest man in Britain. Kehoe developed his own unique style of club training which was used by many American athletes, including rowers, baseball players and wrestlers. It was said at the time “….by those who engage in pugilistic encounters, the club is an indispensable adjunct and more real benefit is derived from it than from any known exercise”.

In his book entitled The Indian Club Exercise, Kehoe writes ‘By no means of exercise has such remarkable development of muscle and strength been attained in such a short space of time, as by the Indian Club practice. We will cite a few examples of this fact and present portraitures of several celebrated athletes of New York City, who owe their immense physical power chiefly to the club exercise’ The author then goes on to list several athletes, including a well-known gymnast from New York; J Edward Russell and Charles A Quitzow, a gymnast from Brooklyn.

By the early 20th century Indian Clubs were being used by individuals outside of the professional sporting world and many American students began their day with a few minutes of club swinging to wake up body and mind. Unfortunately over the decades that followed, club swinging diminished and was replaced with modern techniques.

Naturally, training with clubs continued in India and one man in particular stands out from his countrymen as being the ‘king of the swingers’. Phanindra Krishra Gupta was a Major in the Indian Medical Service during World War II. As a young man he was frail and dyspeptic and was often referred to as ‘small mouse’ amongst his peers. In order to avoid ridicule Phanindra began a programme of physical exercise under the supervision of Ambu Babu; the grandson of world renowned Bengali wrestler Gobar Babu. Within 2 years Phanindra was strong enough to defeat most of the experienced members of his local wrestling club and wrestling soon became his number 1 passion.

Much later on, during his military career, Phanindra became known as the ‘Indian Sandow’ after the father of bodybuilding Eugene Sandow. Phanindra Krishra Gupta used Indian clubs throughout his training life and at his peak was swinging clubs that weighed 10kg each. This traditional way of training paid dividend by rewarding him with 18 inch biceps, a 47 inch chest, 20.5 inch neck and 14.5 inch forearms.

Today Indian Club training is making a comeback, as many athletes and fitness fanatics are starting to rediscover the benefits through Circular Strength Training (CST). CST gives you a balanced, strong and agile body; conditioning and building muscle through the graceful co-ordination of club swings, providing a mobility and neurological training programme. Incorporating Clubs into your routine will build size and strength of the hands, wrists and forearms. Using light clubs will develop hand speed co-ordination and therefore an essential addition to a boxers’ routine.

Applying resistance in a circular manner will promote joint integrity and is particularly beneficial to the shoulder girdle, which is one of the most fragile areas of the body. Indian Clubs help to open up the chest; increasing lung capacity and promoting much more efficient breathing. They have also proved to be effective at working the Thoracic Spine.

The Thoracic Spine is the area of the vertebral column commonly referred to as the mid and upper back and a lack of Thoracic Spine mobility will affect the body in many ways. For example an athletes’ ability to press and/or hold an object overhead is a direct reflection on their Thoracic Spine mobility. This area of the spine has an important relationship with the performance of the shoulder joint and mobility of the T-Spine is particularly important for athletes such as martial arts practitioners, tennis players and golfers.

For more information and detailed Club training techniques check out ‘Club Swinging Essentials’ By Gray Cook, Brett Jones and Dr. Ed Thomas

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