An Ancient Tool For The Modern Athlete
Scott Sonnon: As the USA Police Team Coach of the most brutal form of martial art created in the former Soviet Union - SAMBO, I took our national team to Lithuania for World Championships, and there we met the team from Tajikistan. Their wrestlers were incredibly well conditioned, and literally throwing their opponents off the mats.
Knowing that there was more than meets the eye, I investigated. They shared with me their strength training methods transliterated as zurhkane or zoorkhane - which means “The House of Power.”
One of the methods of this millennia old tradition originating in ancient Persia was “club swinging.” This confirmed research I had been conducting since the beginning of the 1990s into alternative conditioning methods of Russia, India and turn of the century North America.
But before I tell you more, let’s wind back the clock a few years to when the need for the ultimate combat fitness tool first appeared...
In 1993, I was in the fight of my life against my Russian counter-part in the final match at the Olympics for University athletes, the Universiade, also known as World University Games, held in Montreal, Quebec. Unfortunately, my opponent was the better athlete that day, and landed me in an arm-bar. I refused to tap out, since submitting would have cost the USA Sambo Team more team points. In his grip, my arm shattered under the precision force of his technique, as a squelched my pain since making any noise while in a joint lock means that you submit. [That rule was for obvious reasons: with so many different languages, they had to make a rule that would allow the referees to know if a fighter was truly submitting. Even a grunt equals forfeit.]
I managed to fight the final minutes hiding my broken limb from the referees to avoid injury disqualification; since if your opponent breaks your limb during a legitimate technique, you lose.
That silver medal was the most important victory of my career, because it reminded me of the value of connective tissue strength. I was no stranger to these type of injuries, being born with a disease called osteochondrosis, I’ve had many more broken bones, dislocations and tears as a child than I care to remember.
But in this case, my concealment of the injury led to avascular necrosis - or “bone death” - a condition that locked my hand in vice-like pain unable to hold anything. When your sport involves being able to grip a man and throw him to the ground, the inability to hold anything is career ending.
I had no intention of quitting martial art. In fact, I won Grand National Championships the very next year, and the international championships of the Americas on the following.
And to prove my methods, 12 years later, I came out of retirement and won the International Chinese Kickboxing Championships - called Sanshou - at the age of 36, with only 6 weeks to prepare for a fighting sport I had never competed in.
How did I go from a genetically-inferior, broken child to international champion in two different forms of martial arts?
Well, all of the conventional training approaches failed.
Cardio, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and cross-training each were created within the past 100 years. None of these conventional methods are appropriate for combat sports - which are the ultimate test of physical fitness. As the USA National Coach, I sought out forging a conditioning program that was specifically designed to increase the safety, performance, health and career longevity of myself and my athletes.
With my academic background in physical education, I infused modern sport science into this montage of scattered ancient physical disciplines to create a systematic proprietary system to combative preparation.
And based upon what I had been exposed to in “the House of Power” and what I had studied from the origins of yogic science, Clubbell® training evolved. The Clubbell® resurrects the centuries proven tradition of swinging weight in three dimensions rather than lifting it in only one or two.
Starting in 1996, I was exposed to kettlebells in the 6 years of training that I did back and forth throughout Russia with the national and Olympic coaches of various combat sports such as Sambo, Boxing, Kickboxing and Bayonet Fencing. Kettlebells were a middle ground between conventional training and Circular Strength Training®. The kettlebell displaces its center of mass, but not to the extent of the Clubbell®. They complement each other beautifully, if you like multiple modalities.
But for simplicity and economy, the superiorly displaced center of mass of the Clubbell® creates an extreme leverage challenge unrivaled by any other. This leverage challenge produces enormous neurological force without injury to connective tissue caused by conventional weights. When you lift weights, to increase force production you must add weight. And the greater the actual weight lifted, the more damaging compression to soft, connective tissue. This is the reason that conventional weightlifters are riddled with soft tissue, joint and spinal injuries.
The displaced center of mass of the Clubbell® (and to a lesser extent, the kettlebell) allows less actual weight while eliciting superior force production; thus allowing greater heights of strength conditioning, but without the problematic injuries associated with conventional weight-training.
I had done them all, and nothing made me so strong, so quickly and so injury free as the Clubbell!
The kettlebell has a conventional handle which rests on the skeletal structure (pulls against the fingers like a dumbbell or barbell), unlike the Clubbell® which distracts (pulls through the grip like a rope swung around one's head, so it must be held with muscular strength alone). The more the actual weight rests on the skeletal structure, and the greater that actual weight is, the more that soft connective tissue (such as around the joints and the spine itself) accumulates trauma. Therefore, since the unique club-like handle pulls through the grip, only muscular contraction can hold the Clubbell®, and thus eliminates the injuries so rampant in conventional weight-lifting.
Unlike conventional weight-lifting, where you must increase the weight lifted, the Clubbell® is swung. Swinging weight increases torque. Increasing torque increases force production. Conventional weight lifting is restricted to linear increases of force by adding weight. Clubbell® training increases force exponentially: swinging them twice as fast produces four times the torque. Superior force production means superior strength conditioning in a fraction of the time and without the litany of injuries associated with conventional weight training. Traction pulls apart the joints, rather than compressing them, which is why you’re put in traction in order to mend: it increases connective tissue strength.
How Can Swinging Weight Increase Joint Strength?
Finally, and most importantly, conventional weight training can only be moved in one or two dimensions. This limited range of motion attempts to isolate particular muscles. Isolation, however, is a myth long since debunked. The body is composed of an interconnected web: a double-bag system. The "inner bag" contains bone and cartilage, and where it 'cling wraps' the bone it's called "periosteum," and over the joints, it's called "joint capsule." The "outer bag" contains an electric jelly we refer to as "muscle" and covering it we call it "fascia" (and other names, but let's keep this simple.) Where that outer bag is tacked down to the inner bag, we call those "muscle attachments" or "insertion points." You see, our bones and joints 'float' in a sea of continuous tension, and our bones act as compressive struts pushing outwards while this web pulls inward in a unique balance which Dr. Steven Levin named Biotensegrity.
Clubbell® training is tri-planar: moving through the sagittal, coronal and frontal planes. By moving tri-planar, the Clubbell® strengthens the fascial chains across the web in their full range of motion. This increases soft tissue elasticity rather than traumatizing it like one or two dimensional movements in conventional weight-lifting.
Soft tissue elasticity diminishes as we age and is primarily responsible for most injuries for athletes and the aging: which is why these apparently disparate groups are the Clubbell®'s largest advocates. Moving in three dimension washing the joint capsules with nutrition and lubrication, breaks up adhesions, smoothes off boney profiles (abating osteoarthritis), and distracts the bones (abating osteoporosis). Conventional weight-lifting equipment cannot do this. But the Clubbell®, with its protective outer coating and smooth profile, was specifically designed for swinging around the body.
What Benefits Can You Expect from Clubbell® Training?
Yes, you see the obvious development of the arms, shoulders, upper back and chest of Clubbell® training enthusiasts. However, the most misunderstood difference between Circular Strength Training® and conventional weight-lifting is that the Clubbell® is specifically designed to connect the superior force production of torque to one's core. The Clubbell® is truly a mere extension of the body. Every exercise in the CST repertoire is a core activation exercise, which is why you see such incredibly powerful abs, obliques and strong lower backs of Clubbell® users. Furthermore, all exercises are full bodily intensive: creating incredibly powerful glutes, hams, quads and calves from the leg drive.
The age of use for Clubbell® training has been from age 4 to 87. Many of my workshops are full of "baby boomers" who are looking to become pain free, agile and graceful, as well as strong, powerful and fit. However, my seminars are filled to sold out capacity with doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, strength coaches, professional athletes, fitness models and personal trainers. There's just no particular "target market" for Circular Strength Training®. It can benefit everyone.
Clubbells Are The Ultimate Fitness Tool
Linear vs. Circular Strength Training®: Most strength training programs focus on enhancing performance and decreasing injury by focusing upon exercises such as squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, etc. These may improve general performance, but execute essentially in a one dimensional plane, which can be understood as Linear Strength Training. Linear Strength transfers to athletes hitting harder, running faster & jumping higher. However, during practice or competition, every sport and physical activity demands movement in one, two and three planes.
Circular Strength Training comprises three dimensional strength (tri-planar movements) which develop rotary and angular/diagonal strength to assist the prime movers. More importantly, prime movers can act with rotary and angular/diagonal strength though most people fail to develop this capacity! Developing tri-planar strength of the prime movers increases stability, enhances injury prevention, multiplies force production abilities and most importantly, stimulates the neuromuscular patterns required of athletes.
The patented Clubbell® was specifically researched, engineered and implemented to target the rotary and angular/diagonal strength. Athletes need Circular Strength Training® in order to develop these motor recruitment patterns so that they are both strong and functional. Otherwise, their performance suffers greatly and injury likelihood significantly increases.
The Clubbell® is the ORIGINAL COMBAT FITNESS TOOL specifically researched, engineered and implemented to target the rotary and angular/diagonal muscles, to target the grip, wrist and forearm strength, and to target enhancing shoulder synergy, to be used in sophisticating your movement as a conservative injury prevention, prehabilitation and post-rehabilitation tool, as well as sports-specific performance enhancement.
Displaced Center of Gravity: With dumbbells, the weight can be supported by your skeletal structure, as if sitting on top of a column. With dumbbells your grip is located directly upon the center of gravity which remains constant throughout the exercise for the entire range of motion; a more gross action, power without coordination. The Unique Balance Scheme of Clubbells® forces athletes to use proper technique and concentrate on complex skills during the movement. The Displaced Center of Gravity forces you to keep the weight inside of its proper groove throughout the entire lift. At times having the weight pull away from you is desirable. For example, many people do not have the shoulder flexibility to do overhead squats. The Clubbell® will pull your arm into the proper position and keep it there.
Leverage Lifting Principle: The unique benefits of leverage challenge include a superior training effect. Decreased leverage of the Displaced Center of Gravity translates force more effectively to develop superior grip strength, as well as lower arm, upper arm and shoulder synergy, stabilization and dynamic flexibility. Additionally, Clubbells have specially engineered grip and knob design to provide a perfect purchase for the grip to facilitate easy of utility and maximize your ability to produce force. No other apparatus translates this amount of leveraged force!
Pendulum Swinging Principle: With Clubbells, your grip is at the end of an extension attached to the weighted center of gravity. As you go through the range of motion the weight moves in relation to the fixed point of your grip much the same as a pendulum swings from a fixed point. The leverage and the force constantly change position along with the strength of the pull throughout the range of motion creating resistance and stressing your muscles from varying angles. This gives a totally different dynamic effect to the exercise which is impossible to obtain with any other piece of equipment. This Pendulum Swinging Principle, used for centuries but lost to conventional training, has been reborn through the legendary Clubbell®, a patended breakthrough in combat sport specific training.
Micro-Loading Adjustable Grip: Clubbells® are a means of Incremental Progression. The special design of the handle allows minor increases in weight, never overloading your muscles but always challenging them. Micro-Loading Adjustable Grip is a special design function that uniquely promotes constant progress and strength gains. No other piece of equipment has this versatility!
How Clubbells Will Enhance Your Performance
Complex Training Effect: A Combination Routine is a series of two or more basic exercises woven smoothly together after having mastered each basic component. Combination Routines combine strength and speed/power in the same workout. The Complex Training Effect involves a grinding exercise followed by a similar, but ballistic exercise, or utilizing a ballistic followed by a similar, but grinding exercise. Athletes increase the high tension of the grind or the power of the ballistic exercise or both, and the increases will be greater than if the exercises were performed consecutively. The performance of a grinding exercise followed by a ballistic exercise elicits a neurological response that enables increased power, thereby creating a greater training effect. The Complex Training Effect augments your neuromuscular system by teaching it to fire at a faster rate. It develops strength, speed and technique simultaneously. What this allows is for the Combination Routines to be constructed in the ideal way to improve Specific Physical Preparedness for any particular sport.
Grip Strength & Endurance: One of the single most defining characteristics of athletic performance in sports especially contact sports and tool-using sports, is grip strength & endurance which elite coaches consider the measuring stick of one’s total functional strength. The ability to boldly adhere to an opponent or the strength and proficiency with which one wields the implements of one’s sport generally determines victory. This is certainly true in contact sports such as wrestling, football, and rugby, but also in tool-using sports such as hockey, baseball, and lacrosse. However, most strength programs overlook hand, wrist and forearm conditioning. Furthermore, medical studies have proven than poor mid-life grip strength predicts old-age disability (Journal of the American Medical Association Vol.281 No.6).
Extreme Range Strength: In order to prevent injury and perform at extreme ranges of motion, athletes need to train slightly outside the range and depth of "expected" movements. Circular Strength Training conditions athletes slightly outside the range and depth of the movements of their sport so when (not if) movements deviate from the expected a “safety valve” prevents injury and restores normal work capacity without performance interference. The competitive athlete needs to have these motor recruitment patterns in place to facilitate shoulder synergy for both performance and injury prevention.
Shoulder synergy: The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body, but unfortunately, great mobility comes at the expense of stability. It is a complex arrangement of structures working together to provide the movement necessary for almost all athletic activities. Contact, throwing and racquet/stick sports place great demands upon the shoulder. Injury can occur when athletes overload these movement limits, often resulting in rotator cuff tears.
Conservative Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation: Forceful, repetitive, or sustained static activities occurring over time with insufficient recovery periods may cause or aggravate Cumulative Trauma Disorders, affecting soft tissue of both musculoskeletal and peripheral nervous systems. Any sport or job using the arms can be associated with Cumulative Trauma Disorders. The most commonly described and diagnosed disorders are Rotator Cuff Impingement, Tennis Elbow, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Circular Strength Training may be a conservative injury prevention method for those at risk as well as an important prehabilitative and post-rehabilitative tool to those suffering such common sport-related injuries.
Kettlebells and Clubbells?
The kettlebell is the current fitness industry sensation. As the official Advisor to the World Kettlebell Club, and co-designer of their Kettlebell Fitness Trainer Course, I can tell you the merits of kettlebell training. The design features which make a kettlebell superior to a dumbbell are based upon some (but not all) of the design features which make a Clubbell® superior to a kettlebell.
Why Do you NEED a Clubbell?
Firstly, clubs are the original, the oldest, and the most widely used form of strength training in history, and now my programs are in 68 countries around the world. Can you really afford to be left behind the curve? Do you remember when the kettlebell exploded across the fitness world, and everyone was scrambling to find out where to get one? Don’t let lightening strike you standing still twice!
Why does lifting heavy things make you stronger?
How does the body adapt?
Specifically to the imposed demand.
If one adapts strength specifically, then what is the most effective method of transferring strength to an activity?
The tool which moves in the range and depth most closely approximating real-world activities. The strength adapted from using this tool would have the greatest transferability; that is, if you accept the premise that strength can be transfered at all.
If you do not accept that strength can be transferred at all, then which tool would have the least deleterious impact upon mobility?
The one with the greatest variation in movement - multi-planar movement.
Which tool uses multi-planar movement and can be used to approximate the range and depth of real-world activities, as well as stimulating the physiological profile of those activities?
The only tool which can do this is the Clubbell® - for which it was specifically designed.
Won't heavier weighted tools produce greater strength than the light weight Clubbell®?
What is light and what is heavy is merely a perception of the Central Nervous System. Anyone who has just picked a Clubbell® off the ground knows that the Leverage Principle caused by the Displaced Center of Mass multiplies the actual effort by 3-4X its "true" weight. Furthermore, the Pendulum Principle caused by the Torque Production of swinging weight rather than merely lifting it, multiplies the force production exponentially (i.e. to move the Clubbell® twice as fast requires four times the force.)
If the Clubbell® can produce such incredible force of effort taxing the CNS, then why is it used primarily as a "performance enhancement" tool rather than a power lifting tool?
Because real-world challenges rarely involve problems of strength deficits, but rather poor ability to absorb and retranslate force. The Clubbell® is unique in that within all three planes, one must absorb and retranslate the weight (despite the Displaced Center of Mass and the Torque Production.)
Wouldn't the Clubbell® be better designed like a dumbbell so that you could swing more weight without the grip failing?
Not without lessening the unique challenge the Clubbell® presents. The unique Lateral Grip Distraction (a 'neck' instead of a 'bar') removes the weakest link in all real-world strength - the grip.
With the 'bar' grip of dumbbell, barbell and kettlebell, the finger bones create a 'structural' purchase for the weight pulling against them. However, with the 'neck' grip of the Clubbell®, the fingers only have a muscular purchase for the weight against them. In other words, with a dumbbell, barbell or kettlebell, the weight pull against the fingers, whereas with the Clubbell® the weight pulls through the fingers.
Therefore, the neck grip of the Clubbell® creates the greatest demand on grip strength. For real-world activities, since force is primarily transmitted through and by the hands, and since the brain allocates the greatest amount of grey matter to the hands, the training of effect of the Clubbell® is superior. Real-world strength must begin there, and no other tool does this better and more comprehensively than the Clubbell®.
Why would a tool designed with "lighter" actual weight, but high perceived effort (Torque, Leverage, Traction) be more effective than heavy "true" weight?
Heavy actual weight at worst leads to injuries, immediate or cumulative; at best can be done only infrequently and not into old age. Heavy actual weight cannot be used to rehabilitate an injured or recovering area. Heavy actual weight cannot be moved for multi-planar mobility, and cannot be used to approximate the range and depth of real-world activities.