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    ProBar Blog

    Exercises for Spinal Conditions

    Exercises for Spinal Conditions

    As always, we start with a disclaimer that we are not physical therapists or spinal surgeons, but work with a variety of them and through explorative collaboration, as well as experimentation, we agree on the effectiveness of certain exercises to help with certain conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis, disc herniation (thoracic in my personal case, but also lumbar).

    Today, we explore a series of moves done with the ProBar in its long configuration.

    This was initially a "custom order" for someone with "spondy", though you will find that the exercises benefit just about anyone, as they help with relief of compression of the spine via either extension or contraction of muscles, even - and this may feel like a stretch, no pun intended - expansion (of the space between vertebrae).

    The video below is a little over 6 minutes if you don't want to read and see the follow along with explanations. Or you can scroll past the video and click on individual ones.

    The video for the T-Twist is also a better option than the one demonstrated in the longer video above, as kneeling positions tend to provide better correctives for compensation of the lumbar area. By kneeling, we take it away and focus on thoracic more properly. The standing option demonstrated above is more convenient, but requires more attention and cueing. So, if solo, get low!


    The Lat Press is an easy starter move here, with a modification: keep pushing the bar as high as you can at the top of the move. The activation provided by the ProBar allows for a better stretch, almost as effective as hanging, but without the grip limitation, a gentle stretch and decompression of the spine.

    Because over time, kyphosis can develop (forward curving of the spine), the Lat Press provides both an upward and backward extension that helps reset posture and strengthen the muscles.


    Because the spine can fuse and affect rotation from side to side, along with the forward curving/hunching posture, the T-Twist (Thoracic Spine Twist) still helps correct the upper posterior chain by engaging the back muscles and turning off the upper chest and shoulders (reciprocal inhibition), the tall kneeling demonstrated in the video below places more focus on the twisting of the spine on its axis. Standing, you risk a lumbar twist, which is akin to the lack of mobility addressed in Batman's suit (discussed by Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, visible in the original Batman by Tim Burton with full body turns to look right or left).


    Because people with Spondy can develop "referred pain" in the knee, front of the thighs, pain in the groin, which can be misleading. It is more easily detected in younger people affected with the condition. While shoulder involvement is mild, postural alignment remains important, hip stretching is relevant and core activation for stabilization is also key. The triple stretch targets all 3 at once.


    This last move has the individual working against gravity by pushing horizontally, vs gravity's vertical and downward pull. With the spine and shoulders primed for back extension from the previous exercises, the lead-up is for the more challenging exercise of the bunch, which will make you glad it's what you finish with :)

    Back extension, isometric contraction of the lumbar spine, with upper posterior chain active with the ProBar's patented "twist and pull" action, the spinal erectors work throughout the set. Having your buttocks squeezed inhibits the hips, allowing them to stretch as you raise your legs off the ground. Note: the hip extends only about 15º, enough to feel a stretch and not compensate.

    You're already on the ground, so you don't have to worry about falling, and you are not loading anything externally but for gravity and the tension strength you create from activating the ProBar.

    As always, consult with your physician.

    Other exercises can be performed with other configurations, as well as other tools, but none will have the portability and versatility of the ProBar when you need it.


    Start and end your day with this routine, or before any workout.

    Do about 1-2 sets of 8-12 reps of the Lat Press.

    About 3 Twists per side, holding at "max twist" without struggling with your breathing (only go as far as you feel relaxed in your breathing). Slowly exhale into the stretch and hold for about 10-15 seconds.

    Apply the same concept to the triple stretch.

    Do 3 sets of at first 5 reps, and work your way up to 10 reps over time. For an added challenge, load up the ProBar with the 500g slugs into the handles for a serious back builder!

    For more information on Ankylosing Spondylitis, here is a good article on possible complications, how it affects people and more.


    Indian Clubs Stance and Speed

    Indian Clubs Stance and Speed

    DISCLAIMER: the links to the source material are not affiliate links (not that there's anything wrong with that). Our intention is to credit the source material as everything about the Professional Bar-Based Mobility system, a.k.a ProBar, is an amalgamation and aggregation of existing, time-tested concepts and educational material infused into one tool. We invite you to explore and purchase their products as they are of high value and we gleaned our knowledge from those sources and the individuals that curated and organized them, such as Brett Jones and Gray Cook in the two sources cited.

    In the second part of our post from 2 weeks ago on how to swing Indian Clubs (or the ProBar as a (set of) club(s), we're continuing the reverse-engineering of now discussing the standing stance.

    Ideally, it is important to teach how to swing or turn (another word for it) your clubs from the ground up, by starting in a tall or half-kneeling stance. One of the main reasons for it is to ensure proper management of torque. As indicated in the CICS Manual and Club Swinging Essentials Copyright 2012 Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook and Brett Jones"once you are working in the standing posture, the full torque of Club swinging will be felt."

     Here is another excerpt from the manual.

    There are several key points to consider in this posture:

    1) From the ground up – Our connection to the ground is critical in whatever we choose to do, and Club Swinging is no different.  The narrow stance with toes out facilitates the pelvis position desired and “forces” stability.

    2) Pelvis Position – Once again, a neutral to slightly tilted back/upward pelvis is required. This will be challenging if you have not put in your work in Tall Kneeling and Open ½ Kneeling.  If you start into your standing work and notice you fail to achieve the correct pelvis position, I encourage you to step back and revisit not only the Tall Kneeling position but also the progressions in Kettlebells From the Ground Up – Kalos Sthenos.

    1. Tall Spine – The same visual of a string in the center of the head pulling you straight and tall applies here, but all the way from the feet up. 

    4) Grounded – You are now tall and must have a strong connection to the ground.  This was emphasized in the other postures but takes on special emphasis here since we have more body to stabilize from a narrow stance.  Note in the picture that while I am in “tall spine”, the shoulders and the “weight” of the body are also focused down into the ground.

    5) Squared off – The hips and shoulders remain squared off in standing as well.

    6) Relaxed neck and face

    7) Check and Re-check – Review the list frequently to ensure all key points are maintained.

     Stability and form are critical at this point, so pay attention to the Club swinging Speed progressions.

    When it comes to both speed and weight, "The Fast & the Heavy" is not a movie franchise you should be looking to start. I recall shortly after my early exploration of Indian Club patterns, exposed publicly on social media with a pair of 1-lb clubs, a friend of mine asked me if I'd had wielded a 15-lb club. The response was "no" and Brett Jones, who had taught me initially, interjected into the conversation about "the softer side of strength".

    Consider this: you life heavy barbells, kettlebells. Your strength is covered :) Is your technique at slow speed, crisp, sharp and can you freeze-frame at any moment and remain in that stance? With the clubs' offset center of mass, any weight exceeding 3-5lb will become a challenge. As a matter of fact, the ProBars in their dual weighted form weigh only at about 3-lb each, and their longer-than-average club dimensions make those 3-lb quite "torque-y", to quote Elastigirl from The Incredibles 2 (she was referring to the electric motorcycle she was riding).

    Here's how speed is addressed in the referenced manual:

    Club Swinging Speed

    Your speed of movement is a vital component of Club swinging (...).



    Start swinging the Clubs very slowly.  There is a saying that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast,” and that is very true with Club swinging.  The speeds that are possible during Club swinging exceed our ability to make adjustments during the movement unless our speed is slow enough to allow for feeling and adjustment.  You must therefore take advantage of any opportunity to groove a perfect motion, one that cannot be disrupted by speed or load.  Slow-motion patterning provides that opportunity.


    Just as we crawl before we walk and walk before we run, there is an intermediate step in Club swinging, as well.  The mid-range speed is where you begin to test the perfection of the groove you developed in the slow motion work. 


    Club swinging can be performed at a high rate of speed.  This potential for speed demands respect.  It’s important to keep in mind that weighted Clubs are being swung around your head.  By the time you are ready to increase your speed, you will have spent a significant amount of time practicing the lower levels of speed.  If there is one tip to keep in mind for perfecting fast fluid movement, it is to have a calm, stable center with relaxed arms.

    Do not try to move the Clubs quickly. Rather, let the clubs move quickly.

    Before you go, check out this video of the Royal Navy physical training instructors wielding Indian Clubs on their graduation day that ProBar Master Trainer James Neidlinger shared recently on social media.



    Rehabilitating a shoulder injury: personal experience

    Rehabilitating a shoulder injury: personal experience

    (Featured Image: Melody Schoenfeld, photographed by Antje Anders)

    Years ago, I suffered a shoulder injury a few weeks prior to going for my RKC level I certification. For those unfamiliar, it's a 3-day all-day event where you learn intensively how to perform the "deep six" most important kettlebell movements (swing, Turkish getup, clean, squat, snatch and military press).

    I was already operating with an injured wrist which had delayed my participation by a year (skateboarding accident where my wheels met an obstacle and I kept going, you know, thanks to that momentum thing), so I wasn't 100%. I tried to snatch a 32kg kettlebell and it was too ambitious, my hands were too sweaty and the kettlebell wasn't a high quality DragonDoor kettlebell.


    I was able to pass and work through the 3-day weekend workshop, "pumping the injury through" as *they* say and was fine.

    But, once injured, well, you're prone to reinsuring eventually. A statistic I read claimed that the $39M shoulder injury industry has a 40% recurrence rate within the year.

    Quite a few months ago, I felt pain in my left shoulder again. I couldn't hang for pull-ups and doing any kind of angle other than vertical pressing or horizontal pressing was causing a lot of pain. I could do a Windmill easy peasy on the right with 32kg+ routinely (occasional 36kg, but didn't push beyond). But on my left, the second I started to bend down, the torque on my shoulder with any load at or above 12kg/26lb would cause pain and unease to the point I wouldn't trust myself, my head being lined up directly below. 

    While the improvement to my face from a kettlebell crushing my high cheekbones and bumpy yet aquiline nose seemed appealing, the pain associated with it was not an element I was looking forward to.

    So I simply avoided the move, and switched to Indian Clubs, which would do a lot of good, improved and maintained my mobility, but loading was still an issue. I knew then I was compensating somewhere, but as any devoted, educated, seasoned and disciplined trainer, I ignored my own advice (of course).


    But, as luck and interest would have it, I started teaching more and more ProBar Mobility workshops, and started to revisit the triangle/windmill move illustrated here. And I noticed also, that hanging from a pull-up bar, or lifting heavier loads through kettlebell snatching or jerking, even pressing, felt pain-free on my left shoulder.

    So, a few days ago, I decided to test the move, first with a prep using the ProBar Mobility's tool, then switched directly to a respectable weight of 24kg, to then 32kg (respectively 53lb and 70.4lb). Successfully.

    What amazed me was not just that I did it pain free, but that I was able to perform the move having NOT touched it at all for over a year + (fear then avoidance), and with a starting weight of double the load of where the pain threshold was! And then add 33% more load on top (here's how the math works: 24kg being 100%, adding 8kg is adding 1/3. it's more impressive than working backwards from 32kg...)


    Here is the entire sequence, uncut, unedited, raw, vulnerable and satisfying to know the process works. Incidentally, I had noticed, which probably led me to want to revisit this move, that upon resuming surfing, my paddling was pain free as well..


    How to Swing an Indian Club: Pattern #1

    How to Swing an Indian Club: Pattern #1

    Original Source Material: 

    CICS Manual and Club Swinging Essentials Copyright 2012 Functional Movement Systems, Gray Cook and Brett Jones.

    A few years ago, in a start-up galaxy far, far away, the formidable Brett Jones and yours humbly taught an 8-hour ProBar workshop (it was called something else then, in November of 2013) and we incorporated a section from the above source material into the tool's instructor manual. Abridged since, the education revolving around Indian Clubs, which cemented the development and creation of the ProBar as an amalgamation of several tools, is still growing in the fitness industry, yet still eludes many on a large scale.

    Consequently, we decided to post proper Indian Club instruction as taught by some of our many eminent educators. Over time, we will share other's education and tips, such as from James Neidlinger, Ron Jones, Paul Taras Wolkowinski and more.



    Start with your classic "at attention" military stance. This sets your shoulders back and down as a primer for proper movement. Then, of the many stances one can adopt, let's begin with standing, heels together feet slightly apart. You can even have your feet parallel and slightly apart. Acceptable, less "classic" looking (and we are delving into Classical P.E. tools here!)

    Grip the non-weighted end of your "club" (short ProBar). For beginners or anyone lacking strength (notably grip strength), you may use an unweighted ProBar (other than the two ball ends, which way each around 1/2 pound. The weight will be symmetrical, although you will still benefit from its distal weight distribution.


    Always start with 1 club, don't hurry (and don't hurt yourself). Not only is it easier to coordinate, it will help you master and monitor your work.

    Use a mirror and when your arm is casting the ProBar to the side, pause and observe which way the top of the ProBar is pointing. It should remain in line with your body, as it you were sandwiched between two narrow walls. The tip should be neither forward nor back, the ProBar should form a straight vertical line, regardless of its angle of cast, as you look at it.

    Start super slow. Burns so good and also helps you focus on technique. Progress to slow before moving quickly. Speed hides your mistakes and now you're just weaving a stick randomly.


    Take a look at the video, watch a few times, then read the explanation as you watch again and begin to practice the motion. The ProBar being longer, than your average club, you will have adjust your grip, including not necessarily wrapping the pinky around the ball end. The ProBar is a gateway to Indian Clubs and an available multi-purpose tool when proper clubs are not available and still yield all the benefits of shoulder mobility and other "trickle down economics/benefits" of their practice.


    Begin the movement by extending the Club and arm overhead (Casted Grip).

    Drop/Swing” the Club out to the side in an arc, bringing it down toward the ground. Start to bend the elbow(s) and begin to bring it up the centerline of the body. As the elbow approaches parallel to the floor, the Club should flow into the neutral Grip and Wrist position. 

    Once the elbow reaches parallel to the floor (bent at 90 degrees - and the grip is switched), it shall remain locked in that position until the arm is extended overhead again. The motion at this point is performed at shoulder with a small circle being drawn by the point of the elbow.

    Continue to drive the elbow towards midline and up and around until the elbow is pointed as high as your range of motion will allow. Keep the elbow at 90 degrees and your grip/wrist neutral. Then extend the elbow to form a straight arm and cast the Club into the casted grip/wrist position. This will bring you back to the starting position.

    Key Points:

    • Perform on both sides equally unless one arm shows need for extra practice due to movement restriction or lack of skill. 
    • Overhead position is dictated by your range of motion and may be lower than full overhead.
    • Progress to Two Clubs but realize the elbow will not come as high due to making room for both arms. This is one reason practicing with one Club is essential to regaining full shoulder, elbow and wrist integration.
    • Once you are using Two Clubs, try to bring the elbows and forearms together in the front as you drive the elbows across and up in the smaller circle.
    • Keep the body stabile and centered. Your body anchors the motion of the Club.
    • Remember proper Speed progression and go slow initially.
    • Shifting the grip between neutral and casted requires focus and relaxation.
    • Driving the elbow in the smaller circle is the easiest motion to quit on and not fully complete. Commit to a full circle with the elbow in the smaller circle.
    • The goal is to move the Club overhead as fully as possible. Dropping the elbow or casting early will shorten the arc/motion.
    • Precise and mindful movement is the goal. Movement #1 is a foundational move, so mastery is essential.
    • For a very detailed breakdown of Movement #1, including a chart detailing joint positions and muscles involved, refer to Appendix A, Treasures in the Attic.
    • When performing a Club movement with one arm the other hand is placed on the hip with the shoulder blade in the down and back position. (the elbow will point behind you)  This facilitates good posture and can indicate when or if you twist or move out of position. 

    When you feel sufficiently proficient and confident in your single club variant, try your hands at 2 Indian Clubs or on our case, 2 short weighted ProBars like in the video below.


    Tabata this, ball player!

    Tabata this, ball player!

    Power. Ka-POW!

    When you throw a punch, you aim at punching through the target, not just at the target.

    That's only a portion of your power. The other portion comes from your ability to recoil, to pull back ready to strike again and not leave your arm vulnerable extended there.

    In this post's featured move, the Wood Chop, which can be a baseball bat swing, a lumberjack chop, a katana sideway slicing move or even a modified golf swing, you can apply a Tabata protocol of 20s on, 10s off, for 4 minutes.


    Now, before we go on a wild discussion of a proper Tabata protocol, here's a great article referencing Dr Izumi Tabata's actual types of moves applicable to a Tabata protocol and you will see that the 4th example lists a move like the one we are featuring here!

    Many times, we'd do Tabatas (it's become a word now, a verb even) that simply don't allow the person to reach that high VO2 max thresold of 170 of your VO2 Max, because the moves are either too complicated, too mellow, or simply too hard to push to maximal intensity (bodyweight squats, the most used form of Tabata, is not approved by Dr Tabata himself!).


    This exercise can be done with a single short ProBar, start first with the bar without any added custom 500g slug in it, as the 1/2lb ball ends already provide some torque. Strengthen and secure your grip also (you can apply chalk to the ProBar, tape it if you want, or ensure your grip is solid). After you've done this a few times, add the weight and keep it on the opposite end of where you grip the ProBar.

    Swing/Chop from top to bottom, recoiling the ProBar aggressively before any point of (imaginary) impact, like hitting a ball or a tree. In the video, we feature a diagonal angle across a mid-line, but you can do it from top to bottom, side to side, in a lunge position with a low ROM squat. Because it's a full body exercise (trust us, you'll feel the core and upper body a lot), it's a great exercise to properly include in your sessions a couple of times a week and yields great HIIT benefits!

    At first shown with squared off hips, you add power by adding hip rotation. Perform at max speed, like every chop is your last!

    Wood Chop from ProBar on Vimeo.