Today’s Problem With Shoulder Pain and Poor Posture

With today’s western society continuing to battle chronic shoulder pain, injuries and postural problems, sometimes you must look to the past for for the answers to the future for health and longevity. What’s old is new again, and damn do we need that now more than ever.

While it’s clear that the rise of handheld technologies, desk bound daily work stations, and highly sedentary populations overall play a factor in shoulder health and (a lack of) performance, these challenges cannot be solely blamed on the iPhone and Netflix.

Simply put, we’ve lost our ability to BOTH mobilize and stabilize our shoulders, leading to a host of potential problems with pain, posture and performance. But in the history of worldwide physical culture, the rapidly increased incidence of shoulder pain and injuries that we’re currently seeing today is extremely novel.

So what’s the fix (in addition to better managing lifestyle factors and daily positions)? Rediscovering how to train the shoulder complex for functional strength and transference into daily life. Enter one of the oldest and most widely regarded functional training tools in history, the Indian Club…

The History of Indian Clubs

Indian Club swinging dates back thousands of years to Hindu traditions. Clubs were considered a gift from divinity in those traditions. The British brought Indian Clubs from India where they were used primarily used as training tools by soldiers and police. In fact, British Marine Physical Instructors are still known as the Clubs.

They were introduced in America in the 19th century, and were especially popular during the fitness movement of the Victorian Era. The clubs were widely used, from physical education programs in American schools to military training. Dr. Ed Thomas, is one of the foremost experts on club swinging, having studied and practiced the art since the 1950’s. He describes the evolution of club swinging as such:

“Imported European functional physical training systems dominated American physical culture throughout the late-1800s until around 1920. “Working out” was not the goal in those earlier systems (1)

Practical Application and Benefits of Indian Club Training

I was first introduced to Indian Clubs through Functional Movement Systems. I watched all of their educational videos with Brett Jones, Gray Cook and Dr. Ed Thomas. I’ve seen Gray Cook and Brett Jones teach them in person. This is when my personal exploration with the tool began.

I noticed immediate improvement in my range of motion throughout my thoracic spine and shoulders. I noticed an increase in proprioception and kinesthetic awareness to my upper extremities. I noticed my static posture was improving with less upper trap tension. What I really liked about these tools is the athlete or client can feel the asymmetry or discrepancy.

As a clinician, this is important for creating autonomy. Now I don’t have to “point out” their compensation or “dysfunction” … they feel it. This is incredibly powerful because no person or athlete wants to be “bad” at doing something. Indian Clubs, depending on the size (1-5lbs) and material (wood/steel), takes an incredible amount of the movement awareness, intent, and breathing. This expedites people’s experience to tap into the “flow state.”

“You can not touch them, you can not lift them for the simplest exercise, without causing strength to flow into every member of your body as naturally and irresistibly as water into the conduit . . . New systems of muscles seem to shoot out from your shoulder-blades, enabling you to do, almost without effort, what you could not dream of doing before.“(2)

But starting up with this ancient tool can sometimes be as hard as it is humbling. So before we jump into the top 10 Indian Club exercises to get started with for shoulder health and performance, here’s WHY we love to utilize this all but forgotten tool in the first place.

10 Key Principles of Intelligent Indian Club Training

  1. Range of Motion

It helps improve the coupled motion of the entire shoulder blade, thoracic spine, ribcage, and upper extremity.

  1. Proprioception & Working Memory

Due to the complete range of motion that the joints and extremities go through while swinging the clubs. Moreover, Dr. Tracy Alloway, also found that proprioceptive dynamic tasks increase working memory.

  1. Coordination

The rhythmic nature coupled with a breath allow better postural position and improves coordinated movement.

  1. MOVEment Awareness

Indian clubs because of the weight and shape innately cause you to pay more attention to the movement and be present.

  1. Wrist Stability

This is typically where we see a disconnect in the upper extremity. We need strong wrists for upper extremity health.

  1. MOVEment Meditation

Brett Jones considers Indian Club swinging a form of “moving mediation.”

  1. Strength and Power

Gray Cook considers the Indian Club a Power source vs a Strength Source.

  1. Reactive Stability & Balance

We want our Client to be able to react to the stability not force it or be rigid.

  1. Critical Thinking

Dr. Ed Thomas calls it brain training. Performing opposing, alternating and symmetrical patterns lights up neural space & creates learning opportunities.

10. Flow State

The tool is so fun to pick up and swing. It expedites the Flow State; allow the creative imagination to explore movement.

For many clients and athletes (especially the average gym goer or lifter) the Indian Club allows for the ying to many of the hard and heavy lifting that is a cornerstone of functional strength training. And when it comes to dynamic stability of the shoulder complex, I’ve yet to find a tool that targets the synergistic coupling of these muscle groups together like the Indian Club.

Top 1o Indian Club Exercises

Getting started with Indian Club exercises doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does have to be implemented correctly from both an executional and educational perspective. Lets keep in mind these key coaching points for beginning with Indian Club training strong from the start.

Key Coaching Points For Indian Clubs:

  • Be aware of your surroundings (spatial awareness)
  • Setup is everything
  • Start off by using only 1 Indian Club (1lb)
  • Master the motion in your right and left hand
  • Start off slow & control the club through each range of motion (Quality over Quantity)
  • Once basic movements are mastered, progress to heavier clubs and different motions

#1 Overhead Circles

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright
  • Small Circles vertical and to your comfort
  • Move with Intent and focus on control
  • Work on Clockwise and Counterclockwise movement
  • Progress to increased weight and speed

#2 Lateral Circles

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright
  • Small Circles in Scaption (30-45 degree angle)
  • Move with Intent and focus on control
  • Work on Clockwise and Counterclockwise movement
  • Progress to increased weight and speed

#3 Half Front Circles (Motion 1)

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright and transition to a Punch Grip
  • Start with One Arm in a “Y” position
  • Swing the arm like a pendulum and then defend your chin
  • Punch over your shoulder and allow the elbow to open up (make a circle)
  • Return your arm to the starting “Y” position
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed
  • Progress to Two arms once mastered with One arm

#4 Half Back Circle (Motion 2)

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright and transition to a Punch Grip
  • Start with One Arm in a “Y” position
  • Bend the elbows and create a “field goal”
  • Pull the hand forward to defend your chin
  • Pendulum the arm across your body and return your arm to the starting “Y” position
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed
  • Progress to Two arms once mastered with One arm

#5 Opposing Motion 1

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright and transition to a Punch Grip
  • Start with One Arm in a “Y” position and the other at your Punch Grip
  • Swing one arm like a pendulum and then defend your chin while the other arm punches over your shoulder and returns to the starting “Y” position
  • Start Slow, Move with Intent, Focus on Control and Coordination
  • Progress to increased Weight and Speed

#6 Motion 1 with Sissy Squat

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright and transition to a Punch Grip
  • Feet together on a 45 degree angle
  • Start with One Arm in a “Y” position
  • Swing the arm like a pendulum to defend your chin as your concurrently sissy squat (this is all about timing and coordination)
  • Punch over your shoulder and allow the elbow to open up (make a circle)
  • Return your arm to the starting “Y” position as your concurrently stand back up from your squat
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed
  • Progress to Two arms once mastered with One arm

#7 Air Traffic Controller

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip with Thumb upright and transition to a Punch Grip
  • Start with both arms to the right on a 30-45 degree position laterally
  • Bend both elbows taking one arm in front of the head and the other behind your head
  • Rotate the arms to the left side
  • Extend the elbows to the 30-45 degree position laterally
  • Swing the arms across your body like a pendulum and return your arms to the original starting position
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed
  • Work on right to left and left to right movements

#8 Wrist Circles

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Grab the Knobs of the Clubs
  • Light Pincher Grip
  • Start with Arms in front and Elbows Bent
  • Think Big Circles
  • Work on Clockwise and Counterclockwise Movement
  • Progress to Arms in Front and Elbows Straight
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed

#9 Gray Cook’s

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip and start with your arms in a “T” position
  • Head looking forward
  • Swing your left arm across your body and concurrently swing your right arm behind your body
  • Return your arms to the starting “T” position
  • Alternate your right arm across your body and concurrently swing your left arm behind your body
  • Develop a rhythm with the swing
  • Progress your head rotations to the arm side that crosses in front of your body
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed

#10 Gray Cook’s Progression

  • Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility
  • Firm Grip and start with your arms in a “T” position
  • Develop a rhythm with the swing and rotate the body and head
  • Swing your left arm across your body and concurrently swing your right arm behind your body (Get long through your arms)
  • Return your arms to the starting “T” position
  • Alternate your right arm across your body and concurrently swing your left arm behind your body
  • Move with Intent and Focus on Control
  • Progress to increased weight and speed

Putting Together All Together With Indian Clubs

I have to give credit to Brett Jones and Gray Cook for opening up my mind to how beneficial Indian Clubs can be be for long term shoulder health and performance once you start to learn how build the skill, strength and stability utilizing this ancient tool. And almost a decade later, the results with my clients and patience speak for themselves.

So my advice for you all? Learn the skills, build your skill set, and convert this ancient tool into a lifelong skill set that pays off dividends for decades. Start slow and sustain shoulder health and performance for a lifetime. Here’s to healthier, stronger and more stable shoulders.

About The Author

dr james spencer

Based in South Florida, Dr. James Spencer is a Sports Performance Chiropractor, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture. He has formal training in Active Release Techniques, Graston Technique, Kinetacore Functional Dry Needling, SpiderTech Kinesiology Tape, RockTape Fascial Movement Taping, Postural Restoration Institute, Y-Balance Test, FMS, SFMA, Mike Boyle’s Certified Functional Strength Coach and the Onnit Academy of Unconventional Training

References:

  1. https://www.functionalmovement.com/articles/Fitness/736/indian_clubs_history_and_application
  2. https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/eastern-sports-and-western-bodies
  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2466/22.PMS.120v18x1