Could Clubbing Protect Your Shoulders?

Updated: October 3, 2013


By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)

Tactical Athlete’s shoulders take a beating, years of carrying heavy loads and lifting and pressing objects at sometimes awkward angles takes a toll. That is why it is no surprise that in 2007 the injury rate for Soldiers in the Army was 2,500 for every 1,000 Soldiers and shoulder injuries was one of the common culprits. It has also been found that shoulder instability is more prevalent in the military at a rate of 1.69/1,000 as compared to the civilian populace of 0.8/1,000.

Although there are many different factors contributing to these injuries, some of which we cannot control, I’m going to offer a restorative technique that has been utilized for centuries…clubbing.

Now before you get your best Jersey shore fist pump going I’m talking about Indian clubs.

A very brief history

As the name states, the practice began in India was picked-up by the British who then took it to Europe where it was adopted by the Germans who took to the US in the mid-1800s.

Indian clubs became so popular in the US that they were part of physical education curriculum taught to school children as this video from 1904 demonstrates:

Heck, even President Teddy Roosevelt was known to get his “club on” as demonstrated by this political cartoon from the early 1900s.

Sim D. Kehoe was the first to manufacture Indian clubs in the US around 1862 and provided a set to then Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant. This might have been the first introduction of Indian Clubs to the US military as they were specifically mentioned in the 1914 Military Fitness Manual:

“The effect of these exercises, when performed with light clubs, is chiefly a neural one, hence they are primary factors in the development of grace, coordination and rhythm. As they tend supple the muscles and articulation of the shoulders and to the upper and forearms and wrist, they are indicated in cases where there is a tendency toward what is ordinarily known as ‘muscle bound.’” (p. 113)

In other words, all you big guys who cannot scratch your back, better start swinging some clubs.

Modern Day Club Swinging

Dr. Ed Thomas re-introduced Indian Clubs to the military in the 90s. Here is a video of Soldiers at Benning doing Indian Club work.

pat m clubsMMA legend Pat Miletich has also lauded the benefits of Indian clubs to help restore his shoulder mobility from damage caused by a lifetime of combat sports. In this 2007 article about Miletich’s gym you can even see Spencer Fisher wielding some pretty sweet clubs.

Now that I have peaked your interest on the ancient art of Indian Club swinging, you are probably thinking:

Indian Clubs: How do I get started?

1. Get a book and/or video of some basic patterns and most importantly how to execute the patterns properly. I recommend Dr. Thomas’s video and book as it can be found at several online retailers. However there are also many free resources such as this Indian Clubs book by Cobbet and Jenkin from 1905.

2. Get some clubs. I intentionally put that second because you can practice the movements without the clubs while you are waiting on your clubs to arrive. You can get plastic or wooden whatever you prefer. Although you will find some monster clubs weighing 20lbs and up, I recommend staying at 3lbs or less per club starting off. Remember it is supposed to be a restorative art so if you get really heavy clubs and injure yourself you are doing it wrong. Again if you are frugal and have some wood working skills the free book I listed above actually has Indian Club designs laid out in the beginning.

3. Get your swing-on. You can incorporate the club work into your training on recovery days or my favorite is to use them as a dynamic warm-up before training upper body. Enjoy!

I would like to thank Dr. Ed Thomas for both inspiring this article and providing the references Club Swinging: An Ancient Restorative Art for the Modern Martial Artist from taekwondotimes November 1995 and Treasures in the attic from taekwondotimes March 2002.



One Comment

  1. Dan Markert

    October 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I have been training with clubs for the last 2 years since I got back from Afghanistan. They are a great tool to add to the tactical athlete’s tool box. With the lighter weights you can work on restoring full mobility and strengthening the connective tissues around the joints. As you develop you can go heavier. You can even incorporate light clubs into yoga. I highly recommend Scott Sonnon’s club bell coaching products> and club bells, especially the TACFIT club bells. A little more expensive, but the lower profile makes for great swinging.

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