Beginner Guide for Steel Clubs

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A big thing I’ve noticed amongst fitness enthusiasts/professionals like myself is the pattern of modalities one seeks to the next. A great example is many who are into kettlebells…eventually find steel maces in the process. Then a couple months later with steel mace training — it’ll be no surprise you’ll start noticing steel clubs. Why? Simple answer is we naturally gravitate toward challenging ourselves with different and yet similar tools that are alike with ones were experienced with. So if you’re into bottoms up kettlebell exercises; you’ll find ALOT of the same effects with steel clubs due to the elongated loaded shape being balanced over the wrist. Clubs also share the same characteristics of a steel mace with both being asymmetrically loaded to one side, but with a shorter handle. This in turn challenges your grip strength unlike any other tool.

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However, when I got into steel clubs 4 years ago — I was confused on where to start with weights, the best exercises, and the workout programming for it. This is why I wanted to type out this beginner guide for those with a increasing interest for steel clubs and answering these common questions. It’s also why I’ve made detailed educational videos to better explain how steel clubs can better integrated into your strength training — let’s get started.

What are steel clubs and what weights are best?

So when it comes to weight selection, all you need is THREE steel clubs. Having one heavier single steel club for two & one handed variations and two medium sized clubs for double variations is best. The typical steel club weight size should be no heavier than 10-15lbs for beginners. While it may not seem like a lot…do NOT assume it will “feel light.” Remember, all the weight goes up away from the main handle grip. So it will feel heavier than expected. We’re not lifting dumbbells, in which the weight is evenly distributed on both sides. So in the years of coaching many, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea what weight recommendation is best based on your sex, skill level, and weight with this short video below:

What are the best exercises to start out with?

When I first introduce steel clubs to a beginner, my automatic go to exercise are two handed (2H) pullovers to pressouts. The reason being is it’s the best exercise to teach how the steel club’s weight distribution works and teach the safety standard of the side stack position. While steel clubs are lot like maces, we do NOT want to vertically stack the club in the midline of the body like a steel mace. When the club’s short handle stacks in the midline of your body —  it’s weighted end is now near your face. So foundational movements like the pullover can turn into a serious bang in the head. So to simply prevent that from happening, we want to SIDE STACK the club to one side and then perform the next (top middle). 

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When set up in the 2H side stack position, you want think about keeping your body vertically planked and pack the shoulders down & back into the lats. Not many know about the lats, but they are the giant muscle wings of your back and can not only protect your shoulders, but give instant strength (if engaged right). This is extended into the pressout by keeping your elbow pits externally rotated up to keep the lats engaged. If the elbow pits rotate downward (bottom right in picture above), then the traps get more involved and impinge the shoulder girdle and result in poor strength output. So think you want to “break the bar” to emphasize this when the arms are fully locked out. If you have strong glutes, you’ll have a stronger low back — then in relation if the lats are strong…the shoulders are stronger. 

So what about the core? This is where the steel club pullover ties this together. Notice in the bottom left in the picture above, this is what we want to avoid in the pullover position. This is called rib flaring, and it’s a major sign that you’d rather use your low back instead of your core. This commonly done with those that press and snatch in overhead loaded position, and overtime can lead to a serious injury if not corrected. With the clubs elongated shape pulled over your back — you still want to keep your lats engaged by keeping the neck long and brace your stomach by “hiding your ribs down.” This cues to resist the rib flare action and to maintain your body’s vertical plank (top left). This abdominal brace action should feel like someone is about to punch you in the stomach. While the Steel Club 2H pullover to pressout is a dominant “upper body” exercise, the core and lower body are still a major part of this. The human body works as ONE kinetic piece, not like Frankenstien. Of course, you can go beyond just the two handed pressout to pullover variation. Watch this Steel Club Education 101 tutorial to see it in action with singles & double variations:

What’s a good beginner workout with the steel club?

Anytime I put together a beginner workout (for any tool), I always think back to how I felt with it when I knew nothing about it and what a experienced fitness coach COULD have shown me. Luckily, you get to learn from my mistakes over the years. First thing I need to clarify is you don't need to do 10-20 different exercises to get a “great workout” in. Since steel clubs test your grip and total body core strength…you only need 3-4 exercises to get the results you want. If you focus on quality, and not quantity with your steel club movements - you’ll be more consistent with your training. Versus the other way, working out with max reps until you injure yourself. It’s why in my ebook GADA Club: Guide for Indian & Steel Club Strength Training, the beginner program focuses only on two & one handed variations with a SINGLE club for 12 workouts. Then once experienced, I integrate double steel club exercises into the intermediate program for 12 workouts as well. Then the advanced workouts are so tough they only feature 2-3 exercises with double clubs complexes for 16 workouts (for a total of 40 workouts). So since building your experience up with the right education is key, checkout this Beginner Steel Club Workout focusing on just that:

So if you liked what you read and want to progress your skills with steel clubs — checkout my brand new ebook program GADA Club: Guide for Indian & Steel Club Strength Training on sale now and can be purchased HERE. It features 30 different indian club warm up drills before you get into the strength training with your 40 steel club workouts. If you’d like to know more about indian clubs, I also wrote another article on them HERE. I hope I gave you a better understanding about steel clubs and what they can offer for your fitness regimen. If you have ANY more questions about them — feel free to send a private email by contacting me HERE.

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Ian Vaughn