Club and Mace Training Renaissance
When the term “club training” or the words mace or macebell are put in front of people (and surprisingly, many professional trainers), their faces get that blank look as if someone had just spoken to them in a language they don’t understand.
Say “Bosu Ball” and everyone in the fitness game knows what it is. Say “Macebell” and watch their eyes glaze over.
I have been training with clubs for the better part of a decade, and maces not as long, but with just as much passion. This article is written from the unadulterated view of an industry insider with the unique vantage of being a product developer, manufacturer, promoter, educator, trainer, and athlete.
What are Clubs?
Let’s begin with the very basic of basics, the tools themselves. Clubs, Indian Clubs, Leverage Clubs, Adex Clubs®, Clubbells®, Steel Clubs, whatever their traditional name is, whatever their trademarked name is, all of them are basically weighted bats, usually not much longer than 25 inches, but can weigh up to 100 pounds.
The more common have to be the traditional wooden Indian Club variety, more commonly known among lay people as juggler’s pins or clubs. Most people have seen a juggler with these and can relate to them, but only as far as throwing tricks and never correlate them to fitness (but it’s a start).
Then there are a few trainers and therapists who have seen or heard of clubs for rehabilitation purposes, again never fathoming their use for strength and conditioning exercise. The next group has seen them in videos or at fitness expos, yet don’t understand the value of the tool. Finally, there are those who use clubs in their training and are reaping their many benefits.
Clubs have been around for the better part of 3,000 years… think about that for a second. They are a direct predecessor of the sword, and coincidently, the moves for club training are very similar to swordplay. Prior to man discovering metals, he had wood.
A fallen tree branch most likely served as the very first club, the next logical weapon for defense or hunting after the rock. Primitive humans knew of its value as a weapon, but as tribes grew into cities and societies, warriors discovered its value as a battle training tool.
Early fitness was being developed, and the drills recorded into a system that is still in use today, yet the tools have gone through a change.
The early clubs were undoubtedly made from wood, and held their highest popularity in the early 1900’s when they were utilized in almost every fitness center throughout the world, used in the United States, British, Indian, and Australian militaries, and appeared in the 1904 and 1932 Olympic Games. Their decline came when the loadable barbell was invented and exercise began its slow 50 year shift from health to aesthetics, a topic best left for another article.
Back to the tools; the Mace, Macebell, Steel Mace, or Gada (the traditional name) are longer handled versions of the club with lengths beginning around 30 inches and reaching to 7 feet! Setting the weight out further creates a different and more powerful swing which is especially useful in battle.
The feature that clubs and maces have over dumbbells or kettlebells is the leverage factor.
A kettlebell’s or dumbbell’s weight is “in the hand,” with the kettlebell being slightly more useful for ballistic training than a dumbbell. The weight distribution of a club or a mace puts it at a disadvantage for the user; its weight mass is far from the hand creating a lever, requiring the user to engage his/her whole body to control it from gravity.
Now add in 360 degrees of rotation and the torque that comes with it, and a 15lb club/mace becomes 700+ foot pounds of torque in the hands of an avid club/mace trainer.
Why the Resurgence in this type of Training?
Indian Clubs remained in fitness relatively quietly, finding users in dojos and fight schools and the occasional single modality trainee searching for a unique way to train. Paul Taras Wolkowinski and Dr. Ed Thomas were, and still are, the top go to people in the traditional Indian Club training world. Then, as with everything, there came change, and in the 1990’s, Scott Sonnon, a Sambo athlete who trained with kettlebells, saw the need to breathe new life into club training.
He began developing and marketing “heavy” clubs made from metal called the Clubbell® and the modernized training system to go with it, yet they still remained an underground training tool with the hardest of hardcore trainees using them.
They silently grew in cult popularity until 2013 when a few other manufacturers began promoting and developing clubs and exposing them to athletes and trainers involved in functional fitness.
Mace training enjoyed a similar beginning when in 2006 Jake Shannon developed and brought out Macebells and their training in California, catching the eye of none other than the future Mr. Maceman himself, Rik Brown. Rik began training with Jake, and as the story goes the rest is history! He is highly responsible for the growth of the mace’s popularity today and has an extensive lineage of trainers who learned from him, including myself.
So, where does that leave Club and Mace training today? With the rise of Crossfit and the term “functional fitness” moving into the limelight, clubs and maces have become accepted training modalities in a few more circles but still lack awareness. Simply for the rehabilitation of shoulder aches and pains they are invaluable and should be in every and any type of fitness facility.
There are a number of manufacturers of maces and clubs, each with their own special offerings. Fitness equipment distributors are carrying them more readily and different organizations are offering educational training for both clubs and maces.
A sport league spawned out of the American Kettlebell Alliance called The Vintage Strength Games and has been holding Mace Competitions using the 10-to-2 movement since December 2015. Last year, VSG added clubs and fat handled dumbbell events to the league after seeing the increase in performance that clubs have given their KB Sport athletes.
Five minute flights are held to see who can get the most reps which are judged for different weighted maces and clubs. A very exciting sport to compete in and watch.
This is an easy, low impact sport for anyone (including masters 40+ and juniors under 18) to compete in since it takes only a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
Many first time VSG athletes held a mace or club only 15 minutes prior to their first flight – and have done fairly well! Texas Kettlebell Academy has a Gada Sport League running 10 minute mace flights.
There you have it – a bit of history, some insight into the hardware used, a little enticement to compete, and a reason to get fit and healthy doing a fun and challenging modality (plus it looks really cool). It harkens us back to a much more primitive time and harnesses the power of movement.
Look into educational certification for professional trainers for both the club and mace, as well as workshops that offer some hands on training to learn the basics of this always-challenging modality.