Shiny New Shoulders: Old Clubs, New Tricks Part 2

Yes! It’s time for our next installment of fun new drills you can practice with your good ole’ Indian Clubs. If you’d like to review Part 1, or in case you missed the previous article on this subject and want to catch up, here’s a link:

The first three drills in the series are presented in that order on purpose. On their own, they can be used as an effective but minimalist warm-up, or they can also be used as a complete training session in and of themselves. The progression is versatile enough that it can help us prepare for a heavier or harder training session, but it can also be used to help us recover from one! By using breath control, neural coordination and a little momentum within an effortlessly accessible range of motion, the Forward / Backward Swing helps us gently explore thoracic rotation and shoulder mobility. When we add the Reverse Lunge, we incorporate hip flexion and extension, single leg stance, and even an element of power development as we drive off the rear foot to come out of the lunge and get back to standing. Then, when we move on to the Forward Lunge, we get to combine rotation, balance and power work, all in one coordinated movement.

With all that training contained within these first three movements, what more could you ask for? Well… How about some more specific preparation and practice for the hip hinge and squat patterns? Oooh, now we’re talking.

Deadlifts are a hot topic at Breakthrough this season, as we just kicked off our Tactical Strength Challenge prep program. The deadlift is always one of the most exciting TSC events, and with our athletes already looking so strong in just the first week of training, this season will surely be no exception. This fourth drill in our Indian Club series might be just the thing to help us queue even more powerful hip hinge movements, so whether or not you’re prepping for the TSC or you just like to practice deadlifts, this Indian Club Swing corrective exercise is for you!


We’ll start in a more conventional deadlift stance for this one, even if you prefer to lift in Sumo. Inhale and raise the clubs at your sides into a “V” shape. Now, before we go any further, be forewarned! For the next move, our clubs will be “self-correcting” our technique in that we will be crossing them in front of our legs. Should there be a tendency to shoot the knees forward as we hinge at the hips, we might end up with injured knees for a variety of reasons!

As such, begin practicing this move slowly and with minimal range of motion at first. Once you know for sure that you are not at risk of “squatting your hip hinge” and hitting your knees, then you can speed things up. So, coming out of the “V” shape, swing the clubs down as you exhale. The clubs will cross in front of your legs and your arms will wrap around to hug your torso on opposite sides as you hinge at the hips. This should feel and look a lot like the loaded position of a kettlebell swing or the bottom of a conventional deadlift. The back is long and flat, the tailbone is reaching back, the shins are near vertical with a slight bend at the knees.


To reverse the move, drive the heels down, extend the hips and uncross the clubs to end up back in the “V” position as you inhale once again. You can choose to alternate which arm is in front with each repetition or not if it doesn’t feel comfortable to do so. The real magic in this move happens when we focus on using hip extension mechanics to drive the clubs out of the bottom position and back up into the “V” and not using the muscles in the arms.

To achieve a similar corrective treatment for the squat, we arrive at our fifth and most complex drill in the series. In this case, we’ll combine the lateral swing and thoracic rotation mechanics introduced in the earlier drills, and add some hip abduction and external rotation to the stance. Finally, the momentum of the clubs will assist with trunk rotation and serve as a counterbalance to improve mobility in the squat.


For the first time in this series. we’ll hold both clubs in one hand and take a comfortable squat stance with feet about shoulder width apart and toes pointed outwards up to 45 degrees. To start the move, hold the clubs across the body in front of the opposite shoulder and then swing them down like a pendulum. When the clubs continue their arc and begin to rise, take a breath in and allow your torso to rotate as you pull yourself down into a squat. Your unloaded hand should mimic the arc of the clubs on the other side and follow along to swing across your body as the clubs rise up and point to toward the sky. Exhale as you reverse the motion of the club swing and return to your starting position.


These last two additions to our new Indian Club series are a bit more complex than the first three from the previous article. Although it may seem obvious, it is important not to rush your progress with these movements as the risk of hitting yourself with the clubs is not insignificant! But a focus on specificity in the technique, and lots of attention to the coordination of breath are sure to keep you on the path to injury-free success. These dynamic, full body, loaded movements carry such surprising corrective properties that you will find improvements in stability, mobility and coordination without necessarily having to perform a set of targeted drills that isolate those skills individually. This can help to make our warm up and recovery strategy a bit more fast and fun without missing out on any important movement integrity work. A big thanks are owed once again to the amazing Gray Cook and Brett Jones of Functional Movement Systems who created these shiny new drills for us to practice with an ancient set of tools.

Cheers! Caleb

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