Thursday, September 26, 2013


Now, where were we? Ah yes, in the middle of a countdown. Last week was spent delving into the respective merits and demerits of two rather popular training methods for those looking for ways to become fit and fabulous. We are looking for methods that not only pump the body with feel good endorphins and sculpt it in pursuit of our own aesthetic ideals but also make us healthier and stronger…

This week we take the countdown further and start the ball, or rather in this case, the bell, rolling with the system that’s number eight on the list…

This one’s an old favourite. The sheer simplicity of this method and its effectiveness in terms of quickly sculpting the body and building strength makes it one of the most valuable training methods especially for those who are constantly on the move and haven’t the time or the opportunities of visiting a gymnasium. They call it isometrics…

It’s a forgotten jewel in the pantheon of physical culture. Once a rage, no one tries it anymore. Worse, no one seems to believe in it either. That’s rather sad if you ask me for a lot of fitness enthusiasts don’t know what they are missing.

Consisting of host of techniques which basically involve the muscles pushing against an immoveable resistance, one can work the whole body within half an hour. Research claims suggest that isometrics is also one of the quickest methods for building strength within a certain range of motion and definitely the best for sculpting the muscles in a hurry. As for the naysayers, let me remind them of a man called Alexander Zass.

Once a circus strongman, Zass fought against the Austrians in the first World War and was captured while attempting to escape while carrying his injured horse on his back. Put into jail with his arms and legs in shackles, Zass exercised his muscles everyday by pushing and pulling against his chains. This kind of training, imposed upon him by his constrained circumstances, pushed his strength levels through the stratosphere. The prisoner managed to eventually break his chains, bent the bars of his cell and escaped to freedom. Isometric training was also the reason behind the legendary Bruce Lee’s amazing strength. Both Zass and Lee were small in stature but their strength surpassed that of many much larger men.

Then why does it figure so low in the list? Well that is because isometrics only build strength through a partial range of motion, and it does not teach the body the mysteries of leverage. That is why, though phenomenally strong, and perhaps even stronger than the greatest weight lifters of his time, by his own admission Zass might not have been able to match their weight lifting feats.

More significantly for you and me and others like us who are just looking for a method to help us improve our quality of life, our levels of fitness and our generally sagging popularity ratings, isometrics do little to improve cardiovascular fitness. Blood circulation definitely benefits from a regimen of isometrics but incorrect breathing can adversely affect blood pressure.

Thus, though excellent for building strength and tone, even and especially in the elderly, isometric training figures where it does on the list because of its inherent limitations as a method for comprehensive physical development as well as for the rather serious risk associated with incorrect training methods.

Next on the list, is an ancient Indian in its modern avatar – the clubbell!

Clubbell training’s origins are a little obscure. The mace or club is perhaps the most ancient weapon known to man. Early humans would have dragged around bowling pin shaped clubs when out hunting or during tribal wars. Later the club became the weapon of choice for the biggest and strongest soldiers in ancient armies. Even today, tribal warriors from the Maasai to the Maori carry clubs to signify their warrior ranks and have been used by these cultures as weapons of war as much as in hunts.

But the credit for using the ancient club as a training tool must go to the pehelwans of ancient India and Persia. Some sources suggest that the pehelwani culture and the club was introduced by Mid eastern invaders or the Mughals. However that cannot explain India’s own wrestling heritage that flows like the Indus, from the times of the Mahabharata and beyond, and east to west. 

It is no coincidence that most of India’s mythological strong men, like Hanuman and Bheem have not only been accomplished wrestlers but also wielders of the mace or club. Of course, the fact remains that the cultures of ancient India and Persia, shared a common border in those days and a fair degree of cultural fusion and exchange must have taken place.

Wrestling is a tradition for Indians and Iranians today. Traditionally, they have always done the same exercises and practiced similar techniques and have always been regional and even global superpowers in the traditional mud/pit versions of the sport. So what has been their secret?

Well, if you were to believe a rather loud mouthed septuagenarian Iranian living in Georgia, USA, Iranian and Indian wrestlers owe their edge to the ancient practice of club swinging. Hossein khosrow Ali Vaziri, a professional wrestling champion from the 80s who wrestled with the likes of Hulk Hogan would oft en bring his clubs to the ring and challenge fellow wrestlers and fans to try their hand at swinging the behemoths. Needless to say, few could lift and none could match Hossein’s numbers.

That was the modern west’s introduction to the old clubbell. Today, from the akhadas of India to the sambo clubs of Russia and right up to celebrity trainers in Hollywood, everyone is using the Indian club as it is called now, to strengthen and tone their bodies.

Martial artists and grapplers love swinging the club because there perhaps isn’t another exercise in the world that is better for building grip strength. Secondly, club training adds a muscular fluidity that is tough to replicate through conventional weight training. And it’s fun, which is why it is standing on the cusp of becoming the next ‘hot new workout of the season’. Women love clubbell training for it tones all the little muscles of the upper body and can be used for both cardiovascular training as well as heavy strength training.

Lastly, Mensa member Scott Sonnon, the man who ‘reintroduced’ the West to clubbells has emphasized the unique manner in which training with a club activates muscle function, strengthens tendons and ligaments and heals battered joints. With so much going for it, you would wonder why the oldest implement in the list isn’t also the most relevant…

Hmmm, I thought long and hard about this one. For all its virtues, clubbells should figure at the very top of the list. And it would have too, but for one glaring omission – the lower body.

Clubbell enthusiasts would insist that few training tools work the core like clubs do and while that may be true, the legs are undeniably not equal beneficiaries of a club swinging regimen. True you can do squats while resting the clubbells on your shoulders but in a static state, it is just dead weight and has none of the dynamic and ballistic benefits that the upper body enjoys.

Isn’t that the reason why the undefeated wrestling champion of the world, the Great Gama would routinely do squats with a heavy cement ring placed around his neck even though he was amongst the best club swingers of his time.

So there you have it… two methods that are unique and less known than most others and are yet brilliant at what they do best. A complete workout? Perhaps not. But do they have a place in most people’s lives as a supplementary training component, for example isometrics are great if you are travelling when combined with a run. Clubbells are a great anyway and perhaps the best when it comes to upper body training. If you could just add pistols and bridges to them, you might not need anything else and have more fun than most gym rats with your workouts.

The list will be back next week. Meanwhile, you tell that mirror that it lies while you keep working hard on the truth. Swing on…


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