A staple in a traditional Indian wrestlers training program are two bodyweight exercises namely the dand or Hindu pushup and the baithak or deep-knee squat. The Great Gama (Ghulam Muhammad), known as the greatest of the Indian wrestlers, used the dand and the baithak as conditioning tools throughout his career spanning 50 years. He is the only wrestler in history to have died undefeated. The legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee also used the dand and the baithak. The drawings of these two exercises were included in Lee’s book Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
Unlike the simple up-and-down motion of the regular pushup, the dand is characterized by the arcing of the spine coordinated with the scooping movement of the body. It is generally an endurance exercise done in high-volume. The dand rhythmically stretches the spine, the spinal muscles and the abs. Since the spine is the major conduit of signals from the brain to the muscles, any exercise that promotes its health will result to improved performance.
Isometric dand – The isometric dand is a preparatory exercise for the regular dand. If you can’t perform a regular dand because of weakness in the shoulder joints and arms, you can perform the isometric dand first to strengthen these areas. Just like in regular pushup, begin on all fours with the hands shoulder-width apart. Lift your butt up and straighten your legs so when viewed from the side your body will resemble an inverted “V.” Inhale then push as hard as you can against the floor with both hands for six seconds, making the “sssss” sound as you exhale. Relax. Inhale then transition into the arched position looking upward and pressing your hands against the floor making the “sssss” sound as you exhale. Return to the butt-up position and repeat the exercise four to six times.
Regular dand – To perform the regular dand; begin on all fours with the hands shoulder-width apart. Lift your butt up and straighten your legs so when viewed from the side your body will resemble an inverted “V.” In sync with your inhalation, bend your arms as you execute a downward scooping motion that ends with your spine arched back, your head looking upward, your arms straight and your hips almost touching the floor. Return to the butt-up position.
There are strong similarities between the dand and the dive-bomber pushup commonly used in military training. The first segment of the two exercises is the same but in dive-bomber pushup; you follow the same movement path backward to return to the starting position. In Hindu pushup, you simply return to the butt-up position at the end of the arching motion.
Your initial goal should be to perform 25 reps of the dand in good form. Once you achieved that go high-volume every now and then. High-volume means you are only limited by the goals you set.
The baithak or Hindu squat is another popular exercise of Indian wrestlers. I prefer the baithak to other bodyweight squats because it better mimics athletic movements.
In most athletic movements, you push off with the ball of the foot; a motion that is refined by practicing the baithak. The baithak will complete your training program because you have to train the legs to reach your overall strength potential. The musculature of the legs and hips are the largest in the body and subjecting them to intense training would trigger the production of more testosterone (in men), which will result to bigger muscles and increased strength. This is why powerlifters go big on squats and traditional martial artists begin their training with prolonged horse stance practice. Practicing the baithak will also increase your lung power.
The baithak has two intertwined motions; the swinging of the arms and the bending of the knees. Begin in a natural posture with your hands on your side and your feet shoulder-width apart. As you bend your knees, swing your hands downward until the nails of your middle fingers are gently brushing the floor. Absorb the weight of your body as you go down by pushing off with the ball of the foot. Let your body follow the upward momentum of your arms as you rise. Matt Furey once wrote that if your breathing can’t be heard across the room while doing the baithak, you’re doing it wrong. Inhale through your nose as you go down and exhale through the mouth as you go up.