Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Dec

Clubbells

080331 indianclubswingingAs you know by now, inefficient equipment can lead to great workouts. It’s why we prefer free weights to machines, and it’s why kettlebells, slosh tubes, and sandbags have gotten so much attention from us recently. The more work the equipment does for you, whether it’s a bench press machine keeping your press perfectly aligned or even a symmetrical dumbbell with perfect balance, the less work you’re actually performing. And a workout’s effectiveness depends exactly on that: the amount of work performed. Using symmetrical free weights like a barbell or a dumbbell is great and allows you to focus purely on moving tons of weight (a form of work); using machines that guide and assist you is actually counterproductive (don’t be a slacker) and ineffective.

Enter the clubbell. Like the kettlebell, slosh tube, and sandbag, the clubbell is an awkward, unwieldy tool that hits muscles – to use a cliché that actually works in this case – you never knew you had. It’s essentially a really heavy baseball bat. Just like with a baseball bat, you hold it by the slim handle. Unlike a baseball bat, the “hittin’ end” of the clubbell is significantly weightier. It’s not hollow, or filled with wood; the clubbell is solid and dense. But don’t use it as a baseball bat (on second thought, going out to the batting cages with a clubbell could be really, really satisfying and result in a pretty good workout; just don’t try to sneak one into your company softball game, unless you’re the CEO). Instead, you’ll get a lot more out of it by using the clubbell in a series of targeted, specific exercises designed for it.

You can buy a clubbell – they’re becoming quite the popular workout tool – along with accompanying workout DVDs from a number of places online, but it’s infinitely more satisfying (and far cheaper) to make your own. I’m a big fan of dirt cheap do-it-yourself options, so my personal favorite is the quick and dirty clubbell made from cheapo plastic baseball bats.

Simply cut a circle in the top of the handle and fill it with anything you want. Whatever material you choose will determine the weight. You can add sand, cement, ball bearings, or anything that will fit in the hole and conform to the shape. Because it’s a five dollar bat, you’ll need to fill it completely to maintain the shape. Seal the hole and wrap the handle in tape for grip.

You could do the same with a more expensive, more durable aluminum bat. Just drill a hole in the top or bottom and funnel in some filler, making sure to seal the hole when you’re done.

Or, try this:

A word of caution, though: like any unconventional piece of workout equipment (slosh tube, kettlebell), the clubbell requires a certain level of expertise and focus. Because the clubbell is so unbalanced and heavy (a potentially lethal combination), just picking one up and going wild with it is akin to that moment in every kung-fu movie fan’s life where he picks up a pair of nunchuks and promptly hits his own testicles. Be careful! Twenty-five pounds of dumbbell is a joke, but twenty-five pounds of clubbell is serious business. For beginners, start with fifteen pounds. Don’t laugh – the weight is really quite remarkable. Any more and you’ll throw out a shoulder or crack a bone (or neuter/spay yourself) if you’re not careful. And if, by some small chance, the clubbell isn’t heavy enough, just change your grip location.

Used in the right way, though, a clubbell workout is a beautiful and intense experience. Make sure you have enough space around you (about six feet in all directions to be safe) and make sure you have a weight you can handle. Also, have two clubbells. Instead of swinging between your legs (like with a kettlebell), with clubbells you swing outside of your legs. Doing otherwise would be a bit awkward and mostly incompatible with human physiology.

The actual workouts are difficult to describe. Just keep in mind the same fundamentals that guide your other workouts. Taking from our kettlebell post a couple months back, here’s the correct form for the basic, standard clubbell swing (from which you can transition into any number of exercises):

“Maintain proper squat position – feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly out, slight curve in lower back, weight on your heels, chest out, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead – with the [clubbell(s)] resting [outside] your legs. Grab the bell and, as if in a deadlift, rise up while pushing your hips out. Drive the [clubbell] up primarily with your lower body and core; your shoulders will help, of course, but they shouldn’t be the main agent of movement.”

At this point, the clubbell should be pointing directly upwards. Let it continue its circular path so that it touches your shoulder blades, and then bring it back. This will hit your wrists, forearms, triceps, shoulders, core, legs – pretty much everything.

For more, just watch the following videos. The thing about clubbell exercises is they’re all very fluid, and textual explication is difficult to convey. Watching videos is far more effective. And besides, the best part about a workout tool like the clubbell is discovering your own personal exercises. Experiment! Try weird movements, while maintaining form and being mindful of how the body moves (to avoid injury; you don’t, for example, want to swing a twenty-five pound clubbell with one hand like you’re trying to swat a fly), to see what works best for you.

And a few more videos:

Clubbell Lever Press

Outdoor Clubbell Training

Clubbell Barbarian Squat

Of course, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend making clubbells a staple of your workout regimen, but it can be a fun, periodic addition to your routine. Also, one last cautionary note: due to the unwieldy nature of clubbells and the range of motion required for their use, we want to impress the importance of starting with light weight and taking care to master moves before advancing.

What about you, readers? What’s your take on clubbells? Got any interesting homemade options?

Photo Courtesy of Straight to the Bar

Further Reading:

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

Dear Mark: Do You Ever Take a Rest Day?

Medicine Ball Workout

My Daily Near Death Experience: Kettlebells, Clubbells, Hammers and More

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have always wanted to try some of these but I have never wanted to pony up the dough for them. I love the DIY idea and don’t know why I did not think of it myself. It is SO easy. I am going to buy some plastic bats this weekend lol!

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  2. The first paragraph threw me for a loop with this line “It’s why we prefer machines over free weights,”. Fairly certain that’s just a misprint though!

    I might have a heart attack if all of sudden a wonderful, smart, well researched site such as this started advocating the seated bicep curl machine! haha…

    Jocelyn wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  3. Whoops! Typo alert. Thanks, Jocelyn.

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  4. I’ll definitely be adding this in once a week or once every other week. Its variety that keeps me working out consistently 6 to 7 days a week, which I couldn’t do without your great posts and ideas!

    Jane wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  5. Mark,

    As a former college baseball player, we used weighted baseball bats to do the same types of exercises, and they are really effective. I have a few spare ones in the basement that I might have to break out and dust off thanks to this post!

    Thanks for the reminder both of glory days gone by, and a tool for an excellent workout.

    Ben

    Benjamin Teal wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  6. Hey Mark,

    I like this idea because a club bell is a lot easier to store than a slosh tube. See you later, I’m off to Home Depot!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  7. Wow, these exercises are getting hard core. Exercises to improve the ability to swing a large bashing club around… perfect for a soccer club hooligan. I’m waiting for the Primal knife jab, the Primal brick slam, or the Primal Molotov cocktail toss!

    Stevo wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  8. At first I thought this was a joke…

    However, watching the videos reminded me of a workout routine we used to do when I was on my high school wrestling team (go ahead and flame if this has been mentioned before) where we would take a barbell plate (different size plates for different size guys- I was wrestling 189 lbs so used a 45 lb plate) and do an intense circuit using nothing but the plates. For example we might hug the plate to our chest and do squats or lunges, do overhead presses with the plate or presses away from our chest or curls. Sometimes we do sprints holding the plate as well.

    In my mind this is another workout in the same spirit as the clubbell and is a very effective, intense way to get some resistance training in.

    Derek wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  9. Haha. Good comment Stevo. They have already done a post on the Prison Workout. Now they’re just giving us the information we need to make it to prison :-)

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  10. Wondering if any of my clients are ready for this. I think I might have one . . . If nothing else, I’m bringing a clubbell to the gym with me to show off to the other trainers!

    Jamie wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  11. Glad you finally got around to highlighting the benefits of the Clubbell. What could be more Primal a tool than the club!

    If you want some more ideas on how to use the tool, I’ve scoured the web for relevant clips and they are all assembled here.

    And for a bit of history you can check this post out.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Adam Steer, Better Is Better wrote on December 4th, 2008
  12. I could see someone being knocked out in the gym, because of that.

    Fitness Blogger wrote on December 4th, 2008
  13. “I could see someone being knocked out in the gym, because of that.”

    Hi,

    I train people in a gym environment every day using Clubbells and have never had an incident. It is like anything; used properly with good technique and adequate safety measures and you won’t have a problem. And the rewards on the other end are awesome.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Adam Steer, Better Is Better wrote on December 5th, 2008
  14. I went to Walmart this morning and they didn’t have 1 single plastic bat in stock! Which one of you all beat me there?

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 6th, 2008
  15. Love clubbells. Tried a lot of homemade designs, but finally settled on the high-priced real thing just because I use them so much as a personal trainer now.

    Therma wrote on December 21st, 2008
  16. All that swinging looks like a great way to injure yourself. Mass times velocity equals momentum. Momentum is what tears muscles and messes up joints. I can see how this would totally bring a ton of auxiliary muscles into play, giving you an extraordinary workout. I am just wary of any exercise that could cause an injury. Other than that I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure it’s just a matter of practicing and getting the form of the exercises correct.

    way2 wrote on February 4th, 2009
  17. That’s actually not true. Tractional force has been proven to create stronger connective tissue and bone than compressional forces. That’s why the creator, Scott Sonnon, is now the keynote for organizations like the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Active Aging Conference and MENSA International.

    Therma wrote on February 4th, 2009
  18. I love my clubbells. I started with a pair of 5’s, then graduated to 10’s, 15’s, and am now focusing on two-handed training with a single 45 lber. They don’t call it the “Bruiser” for nothing.

    I will also stress Mark’s suggestion above to start out with very light clubbells – I spent almost a year practicing with the 5’s before I felt competent enough to add additional load. They are very difficult to wield. Incremental progression is a major key to ensuring you stay injury free and able to continue training. Besides, all training should have the goal of longevity anyways.

    Be strong and be well.

    John Sifferman NSCA-CPT
    Fitness Professional and Clubbell Athlete

    John Sifferman - Clubbell Athlete wrote on February 5th, 2009
    • I agree with John — I’ve been training with the 5’s for some time now and think they are more than appropriate. The article recommends starting with 15’s; however, for most people, I would argue that’s too much.

      Jacob wrote on January 27th, 2014
  19. 1) What is the heaviest material you can put into a plastic bat? I filled mine with sand . . . got only 12 lbs.

    2) has anyone seen a design for a home made clubbell that weighs at least 25 lbs?

    Thanks

    John wrote on April 17th, 2009
  20. Thanks Therma. Amazing how creative people can be.

    I found a terrific article a few days ago where someone had actually measured the weight of using flour, versus sand, versus other filler.

    Unfortunately, I did not save the link but if I find it again, I will post it here.

    John wrote on April 18th, 2009
  21. OK . . . here’s a good post on home-made Clubbell filler material and their approximate weight:

    http://www.geocities.com/fightraining/klub.html

    John wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  22. QUESTION:

    Does anyone know where you can buy a big plastic bat (as in a Walmart, Kmart, Dicks, etc)?

    I’ve seen of some that are 42″ long but only on-line. I’m looking for a local source.

    John wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  23. John, I would start at Toys R Us for a big plastic bat.

    John Sifferman wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  24. I came across Clubbells two years ago, after working with Kettlebells for a few years. And I loved the KB’s.

    But the variety of exercises, coupled with the greater range of motion you could work with using the Clubbells, I was hooked.

    Not to mention, 2 years ago I encountered a pretty severe back injury. One that wouldn’t let me use the KB’s without bringing about pain. Whereas I was able to use the Clubbells (following proper bio-mechanics).

    My back is great now and I use the Clubbells extensively for my own training and with clients, garnering great results and remaining injury free.

    Thanks for sharing this Mark! A great tool to connect with that primal instinct AND stay healthy:).

    Shane Heins wrote on January 19th, 2010
  25. That being said, you definitely want to work with someone who knows what they’re doing, from the in depth DVD resources out there or better yet a certified Clubbell trainer.

    Because working with them is unlike anything most of us are used to. And our first “trained” instincts in working with them (as I’ve seen many times) often scream OUCH! Takes a little getting used to. But once you do, look out, ’cause there are going to be some instincts jumping out from way back….:)

    Shane Heins wrote on January 19th, 2010
  26. Here’s a video on another great unconventional workout tool.
    Bulgarian Bag!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il8rU0H-9ps

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNLpCR_bw38&feature=related

    Trainer Rueben
    trainerrueben@gmail.com

    Rueben wrote on January 19th, 2010
  27. I have had a pair of 15 pound clubbells since last June and I love them. I am constantly learning new exercises to do with them. They really work a lot of muscles. During and after a workout it is apparent my core and legs were involved.

    Bob Tracey wrote on January 20th, 2010
  28. I am lucky enough to train at a gym that has a 15lbs clubbell. As a competitive powerlifter and kettlebell enthusiast I find it pretty light. But it is great for warming and loosening up my shoudlers. Plus my forearms and grip have gotten a but stronger from it. Scott Sonnon seems to be the authority on this tool and has some great videos demonstrating it’s use.

    nathan wrote on May 30th, 2010
  29. Spot on article. You certainly won’t find any of the weight loss and exercise Gurus pushing this – it’s too cheap…

    Actually, I first made my own clubbell to strengthen my golf swing (it’s a long story – and this article is not about golf, as such).

    But in order to warm up (you can’t just start swinging the thing like a golf club immediately, unless you still want to walk the next day) I developed some other routines.
    Before I knew it I was burning more calories like this in 10 minutes than I would sometimes in a half hour Gym session (yes, I’m lazy at gym).

    Anyway, good share. This exercise method and smoothies are my best ways to burn fat.

    Timothy wrote on December 8th, 2010
  30. Konuyu begendim ;)

    vibratör wrote on April 23rd, 2011
  31. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all people you actually understand what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also consult with my website =). We will have a hyperlink change agreement between us

  32. I can’t believe I didn’t think about filling a plastic baseball bat with sand before. My mission tomorrow!

    Leon wrote on January 1st, 2012
    • The sand-filled plastic baseball bat is pretty wimpy. I’m going to fill it up with cement tomorrow

      Leon wrote on January 9th, 2012

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