In 2013, my wife and I moved from Melbourne to Moffat Beach on the Sunshine Coast for a few years of chill out time and warm weather. I started working at my mate’s clinic and he soon introduced me to a friend of his, Stuart Harrison, who had some great ideas on strength and fitness training. An ex-gymnast and British Royal Marines Commando, Stuart’s body had been through a fair bit over the years, and he’d gained a great understanding of movement and strength along the way.

In the British Army he trained with Indian Clubs, which are based on those used in Persia over 2000 years ago, sparking in him an interest in the ancient arts of conditioning and strengthening. Back then they were used to strengthen for wrestling and to prepare for the battlefield, but Stuart recognised the benefits of this “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Day Warriors”, as he puts it, and began using them in his own training.

The clubs are usually rounded in wood or steel, weighted with a bigger head section at one end and a
thinner handle section at the other. There’s a couple of main reasons why they’re so good:

Upper limb and neck function – the technical neuroscience stuff

The impact of the club begins in the hand, for which our brain has reserved an enormous amount of real
estate for sensory feedback and motor control, more than any other part of our upper limb. There’s
absolutely heaps of nerve activity in there that’s ready to go.

All of that nerve activity goes to and from the cervical part of the spinal cord, which is in our neck. As we grip onto the handle of the club we send loads of raw data back up through our arm and into our neck, waking up the vast support network of tiny muscles that wrap around our cervical vertebrae.

Because the clubs are top heavy, they’re relatively unstable, so keeping them perfectly steady and controlled during movement requires lots of tiny corrections, constant monitoring and even more signalling through the neck. The neck muscles become more alert, more able, and more adaptable, for better protection of the bones, joints and discs on the inside.

Whole body choreography and middle strength

I say the clubs are good for shoulders, but the reason they’re good for shoulders is less about what happens in the shoulder itself, and more about how everything else spreads the load of that upper limb movement throughout the whole body. It’s about building efficient and effective patterns of movement, muscle
choreography or sequencing if you like, to boost performance and reduce mechanical stress on any one part.

Take a javelin thrower. They use power and support from every square inch of their body to send that javelin as far as they can, right down to a final push from their big toe. If they just stood there and piffed it, they’d barely throw it half as far and probably injure something in the process. Our shoulder is far more capable, and far more protected, when the rest of our body gets involved.

Movement of the clubs is mostly smooth, gradual and continuous, and explores all three planes – front to back, side to side, and all around. This means we’re reaching, bending and twisting, often at the same time, using the legs, hips and torso for support along the way. As the weight of the club head moves in these
various directions, so does our centre of gravity. The muscles around our middle are activated to help brace our body against this moving centre of gravity, whether it be in a static posture or a more dynamic way. It’s functional core strengthening, practicing the support we need when we’re doing that reaching, bending and twisting in our daily activities.

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I trained with Stuart each week for the three years I was up in Queensland, and my body has never felt
better. My postures and legs are stronger, and the demands of my job on my hands, shoulders, back and neck no longer give me any pain. I’ve spoken to Stuart a lot about the clubs over time and when we decided to move he was really supportive of me bringing what I’d learnt from him and the benefits of Indian Clubs down to Bendigo. If you’d like more information or think the clubs might be helpful for you, feel free to drop us a line.