When Not to Lift…A Small Detail in Indian Club Swinging

Written by Brett Jones Indian Clubs

“It’s the details that are vital. Little things make the big things happen.” John Wooden

Indian Club swinging is an ancient art. 5000+ years of history come with you when you swing your club(s). It was even an Olympic event (briefly) where 3# clubs were swung in a freestyle fashion for three minutes and judged. They can be a tremendous tool for building (as Dr. Ed Thomas noted) efficiently integrated mobile and stable shoulders in addition to building coordination.

As I have noted in the past, there is a difference between swinging a kettlebell and performing a proper kettlebell swing. And there is a difference between swinging Indian Clubs and performing Indian Club swinging where the details are represented. One such detail is making sure the detail of performing the elbow circle inside of the larger “arm” circle is maintained.

<== Video for ZHqoKCRn ==>

Prerequisite: Proper “rack” position
A proper rack or starting position is to have the club held with the little finger wrapped around the ball of the handle, upper arm against the ribs, forearm vertical with a neutral wrist so the knuckles point to the sky. The club will point directly out to the side. From this position (and returning to this position) the other details can be more easily performed.

The Elbow Circle
The elbow circle occurs as the first part of movement #1 when from the proper rack or starting position the elbow is circled towards the midline of the body continuing up and around (so the fist “stays below the ear”) to bring the arm/elbow into the retracted and “on plane” with the body position prior to extending the arm into the “V” for victory position. This horizontal adduction into circumduction of the arm is one of the keys to regaining full shoulder range of motion and control.

What do we see instead?
We see the Indian Club lifted up the face and then a horizontal abduction is performed. This literally cuts half to 2/3rds of the shoulder motion out of the movement. It also robs the scapula of necessary movement into the position where the scapula is fully “locked” into a position that is on plane with the body.

Be patient and work with your available range!
You may not have the available range of motion in the shoulder and scapula at first to have a “large” elbow circle. Be patient and develop the range over time. Making sure your base neck, t-spine and shoulder mobility support developing the inner circle with the elbow. This is where video or a mirror can be priceless and allow you to track improvements in form over time. Just don’t become addicted to the mirror. Use it to check form but then “get away from it” to check on how the improvements in form are transferring to the proprioceptive sense instead of relying on your visual feedback.

Bonus: Don’t cover the face!
Note that lifting the club up the face will cover the face during part of the movement and we do not want to cover the face during our Indian Club swinging. The other area where we see the face get covered is on Movement #2 when instead of returning to the proper “rack” position or starting position there is an overreaching across the body and across the face either as the starting position is skipped or there is simply overreaching across the body when initiating the movement.

Mea culpa
If you have watched or learned from the Indian Club Online course (and if you haven’t then why haven’t you??) then you will see that there are times where I lose the “perfect” rack position and have the forearm inclined in toward my midline. Mea culpa. We are all on the same journey towards “perfection” and while perfection may not be achievable it still takes us much further than accepting what is “good enough.”

Dial in on this detail and reap the benefits of greater shoulder range of motion and control.

To learn more, check out:

Introduction to Indian Clubs Online Course

Indian Clubs


Brett Jones, StrongFirst Director of Education, is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006 and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry.

He is available for consultations and distance coaching by e-mailing him at appliedstrength@gmail.com.


Please login to leave a comment


  • author

    Joseph Glostott 9/29/2020 2:47:20 PM

    Hello Brett - thanks for the insights. I've been wondering if you recommend only 1# clubs for your program, or if a 2# club would not be too heavy. It seems like all the movements have a quick and light quality to them. I have a pair of 5# clubs, but while these are good for some things, I find it difficult to perform the motions in your program. I've also done a couple of years' work with heavy club swinging, BTW. Thanks again. Joe


    Brett Jones 9/29/2020 4:00:06 PM

    Joseph, 1# clubs are great for getting started and long term work and 2# clubs can be great for this style of club swinging. It is heavier and is a "bigger" jump than it appears due to the momentum and forces generated swinging the club. 5# is getting very heavy for this style of swinging and I can understand the stress there.