The total body conditioning workout.
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Today, the push up is used by military, athletes, trainers, physical fitness educators, law enforcement and individuals throughout the world as both a physical training exercise and a test of strength and endurance. This simple exercise, and it's variations, has been used for millenia. Along the way the ancients developed the push up board, a tool that increases the benefits of this age old exercise.
The original push up boards and their use have roots in ancient Media, now northern Iran. According to Herodotus, the 5th Century BC Greek historian, the Medes included physical training when instructing their youth, mainly for military purposes. By the time of the Parthian Empire (238 BC - 224 AD) this had developed into Varzesh-e Pahlavani (Persian, meaning the "Sport of the Heroes"), also known as Varzesh-e Bastani (meaning the "Sport of the Ancients") or simply as Pahlavani.
Eventually some of the Pahlavani traditions and instruments made there way into the Indo-Pakistan territories and merged with Hatha Yoga and the indigenous style of Indian wrestling, Malla-yuddha. Called Pehlwani, this mixture of Persia and India had a wider array of exercises which continued to develop during the British occupation of India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
In modern Iran, the Pahlavani (which translates literally as "hero") practice the more traditional Persian disciplines in the Zurkhaneh (house of power or strength). A covered structure lit by a single opening in the ceiling, having interior walls filled with images and photographs showing it's history, the Zurkhaneh has a small pit (gaud) in the floor where the Pahlavani follow the movements of the most senior athlete. Almost all Pahlavani exercises are accompanied by the rythmic drum beats of the Murshed while he chants traditional battle poetries.
The Pahlavani historically developed their skills and strength as preparation for invaders and the tools used all have their roots in ancient warfare instruments:
Meel (the Club) a pair of heavy wooden clubs weighing 5 to 40 kilograms that evolved from ancient iron maces.
Kabadeh (the Bow) a bow shaped iron rod with a chain attached between both ends, generally with sixteen links each containing six discs. The bows weighing between 10 to 50 kilograms are swung overhead and around the body.
Sang (the Shield) Made of solid wood in the shape of shields which weigh 60 to 120 kilograms, are 120 centimeters long and 70 centimeters wide. They are used in a rolling floor press manner, alternating the press of each one while combined with a twisting motion of the legs.
Takhteh Shena (the Bar) from which "Dands" or "Hindu pushups" derived. Performed on a push up board that is approximately 50 -75 cm length & 10 centimeters thick with two little legs, they included joint specific mobility exercises.
In addition, there were several bodyweight-only exercises included such as:
Spinning - for preparing to fight multiple attackers
Stomping - a dance of practicing kicks
Squatting - a specific style intertwined with the ritual dance as part of strengthening the legs for kicking. It is from this dance that Bethaks or "Hindu squats" derived, though they were not performed in very high volume, and only as part of the ritual dance.
Using the push up board (Takhteh Shena) the Pahlavani perform push ups (Shena Raftan) in as large a circle as the Zurkhaneh pit can hold and with their backs to the wall and their legs wide open, they bend down and support their weight on their hands which they have placed on the push up board. The traditional objectives of “Shena Raftan” are to improve moral & ethical behavior as well as for strength conditioning.
Push up boards are used by today's warriors the world over: from the average person trying to get in shape up to soldiers, world class athletes and their trainers. The push up itself uses nearly every muscle in the body: pecs, biceps, triceps, deltoids, lats, abs, glutes, quads, obliques, and many others. When combined with today's understanding of body mechanics, irradiation, compression breathing, high tension and other modern training techniques the push up board intensifies the workout, giving a total body conditioning in a brief period. A combination that spans millenia...ancient tools and modern warriors.