Old World Strength — Cutting Edge Sport Science

by Adam Steer

What exercise tool most vividly provokes images of strength and power?  Throughout the ages, what have men used most often to express or develop strength?  From our caveman forebears all the way to the modern warrior, the tool of choice has been the club.

Whether for the hunt or for defending turf, the image of the club wielding caveman is almost archetypal.  It immediately calls up impressions of strength and vitality.  But the story does not stop there.

“Perhaps the most well known modern expression of club swinging comes to us from the physical cultures of the Indian peninsula.”

Perhaps the most well known modern expression of club swinging comes to us from the physical cultures of the Indian peninsula.  But even this well know tradition grew from cultural exchanges with the middle east during the time of Mongol invasion and empire.  This pre-existing Iranian club swinging tradition used a tool which they called the meel to develop their strength for combat and wrestling.

Once again through conquest and Empire building, the art of club training was discovered by British soldiers in India in the 19th century.  They admired the usefulness of the club so much for its effects on physical strength and coordination that it was adopted into general use by much of the military and was brought home to Britain in the guise of what we now know as the Indian Club.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Indian Clubs lined the walls of gymnasia throughout North America and Europe.  They were an integral part of the physical culture of the era, but fell out of vogue along with other tools of vital strength; only to be replaced ultimately by Ab Rollers and Chest Press machines.

In a risk averse and sterile physical culture, where machines are designed to take all the guesswork out of exercise and keep you “safe,”  there is no room for the methods of the old-time strongman.

Climbing ropes, leverage bars, gymnastics rings, pommel horses, kettlebells and of course Indian Clubs were no longer welcome.  Puffy, muscle-bound physiques replaced the rugged, dense and useful muscularity of previous generations of physical culturists.

But thankfully a new groundswell of interest in the old ways is already surging.  Although only slowly breaching the cracks of the mainstream fitness industry, traditional training methods have secured solid footing in alternative training facilities and home gyms throughout the West.

Systems like Circular Strength Training have done wonders in bringing these methods and tools to light. And perhaps the most fascinating resurgence of a traditional tool for modern use is Scott Sonnon’s Clubbell.

By applying all the methods of modern construction and design, Coach Sonnon truly managed to bring an ancient tool into the modern era.  Although these big black clubs still look decidedly primal, features like a slip resistant grip and urethane coated club head make for an obviously high-tech tool.

Michael December 16, 2009 at 12:38 am

Hey Coach Steer, Great description of clubbell fundametals. Keep on fighting the good fight! UV

Lauran December 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm

This is great, it’s just what I needed. I made a small lightweight set of clubbells from PVC as a way to introduce myself to the art via a less expensive means as well as lighter weight. I filled the PVC with sand. I’m guessing them to be around 2lbs. They are fun to play with but I didn’t know how to start to use them correctly. This video is just the tool to get me started. Thank you!

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