How to Use a Steel Club During Your Next Workout

Go Clubbing, Get Fit

onnit-clubs.jpg
Onnit Academy

Even if you tend to think of yourself as fairly well-versed on fitness equipment, you may not be familiar with using a steel club as a strength training tool.

Now obviously, almost anything of significant mass can be used as a strength equipment, but in the modern world, the perspective of what qualifies as "real" fitness equipment is fairly limited. Instead of viewing tree branches and rocks as legitimate weights, gyms stock dumbbells and medicine balls.

But with the rise in "primal" fitness, the perspective is changing, and more companies are developing strength equipment that feels more like old-school weapons than weights. Onnit is one such company that specializes in "primal" training equipment crafted to modern tastes. They've designed an entire movement-focused strength training system using products like steel maces, steel clubs, kettlebells, sandbags, steel bells, battle ropes, and more. And it was at the Onnit gym that I had the chance to try a steel club workout on my own.

Using a Steel Club for Exercise: A Review

I met with John Wolf, the Director of Fitness Education, to take me through a steel club workout. Because I'd never used a steel club before, the first half of our session was dedicated to warming up and mastering proper technique with the club before moving into the actual workout.

If you're familiar with kettlebells or steel maces, you can use their general properties as a reference point for the steel club.

Essentially, clubs are a piece of equipment with an unbalanced distribution of weight—less weight at the narrower end, with progressively more weight along the club's shaft as it widens toward the end. The difference is, that while kettlebells are short and compact, and maces are long and narrow, clubs fall somewhere in between—not excessively long, and not excessively narrow, but not exactly short and compact, either.

This makes the club an excellent tool for practically any type of training—strength, balance, rotational power, and even rehab. The uneven distribution of weight requires a greater muscle engagement during training, and the size and shape make the clubs appropriate for swinging, pulling, and pressing exercises. 

The Workout

I can't say enough good things about John Wolf. Rather than immediately throwing me into a workout, he took time during the warmup to analyze my movement patterns, and point out a few bad habits I've developed over the years.

This was a great lesson for me. It's easy for fitness professionals to assume they know it all, but to have another professional take the time to coach me kept me honest about where I might have blind spots. An excellent reason to advocate for personal training.

It was also incredibly important to break down these bad habits before picking up the clubs. Using a new piece of equipment incorrectly can lead to unnecessary injury, so I was grateful to have John there to set me up for success.

Simple Movements Create a Serious Challenge

What was interesting was to see how simple steel club exercises could be progressively added to and changed as individual movements were mastered.

For instance, I started by learning the 2-hand front swing. Once John thought I had sufficiently mastered the correct form, he had me change it slightly to the 2-hand clean. And from there, he had me add a 2-hand shouldered squat to the top of the movement. By the end of the class, he asked me to string them all together into a single, challenging exercise.

He also worked me through each phase of the flag press lunge before having me set the clubs aside to introduce me to a bodyweight exercise called the frog pushup.

Once every individual movement pattern was technically correct, I was ready to work.

John's 10-minute steel club AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) was much harder than I imagined possible. It involved as many successive rounds as I could complete of just three exercises over the course of 10 minutes:

  • 10 Front-swings to squats
  • 10 Flag press lunges
  • 8 Frog pushups

I'm no stranger to high intensity workouts, but I could barely complete this one... and it was just 10 minutes long. That just goes to show you how effective steel club training can be.

Buying and Using a Steel Club

You can purchase your own club for use at home for prices ranging from $40 to $120, depending on the weight of the club you purchase. If you do buy your own, I'd highly suggest working with a trained steel club trainer to master your form before diving into a full routine.

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