The Highland Clans – A Wee History
Highlanders were the peoples who lived in the Highlands of Scotland in kinships or groups known as Clans. The clans were originally extended networks of families who had loyalties to a particular chief and were the main political system in Scotland until the time of the battle of Culloden in 1746 and the Highland clearances which were effectively the end of the clan system.
The most important clan chiefs held power over the lands within their control, acting as king, protector and judge. If a clan chief expanded territory, the new peoples swearing him allegiance often took the clan name.
The history of clans is complex and interwoven, with clan names being usually associated with land or an area of Scotland where the particular clan lived. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth and, along with border disputes (the prime cause of inter-clan unrest). There were many bitter rivalries and feuds throughout Scottish history, indeed the violence meted out by Highland clans reached epic proportions as honour, power and territory were pursued and defended in often, barbaric measure.
The remoteness and ferocious reputation of the clans in the highlands lent them a kind of independence which made them for a time untouchable. Scottish history is rife with tales of jealousy, atrocity, and endless raiding of cattle, goods and women! Trust no-one, more treachery and skullduggery here than an episode of Game of Thrones!!!
Throughout history, Scottish shock troops and in particular the Highlanders became famous for their reputation in the ‘Highland Charge’ (a Berserker like fearless all-out frontal attack!!). Indeed, the English valued their ferocity so much that they incorporated them into their colonial armies and during various wars. The Highlanders were often sent in during difficult sieges because enemies knew that if they faced the Highlanders (or the Gurkhas) little quarter would be given.
The Scottish clans’ existence was a hardy one, exposed to harsh climates and rugged terrain, strength, skill, speed, mental toughness and physical endurance were prized attributes. The 3 workouts I have below are based on the pursuit of these. I hope you enjoy.
“Scottish by birth, British by law, Highlander by the grace of God.”
— Ancient Scottish saying.
Workout 1: Scathach’s Workout
The earliest references to physical (warrior) training in Scotland is found in the Celtic legends of the warrior, CúChulainn, who travelled in his youth to Alba (Scotland) to learn the arts of war from Scathach (“The Shadowy One” or “She Who Strikes Fear”) a fearsome female expert in the arts of war. Her training camp was believed to be based on the Isle of Skye.
The ‘student’ CúChulainn had to complete a combination of athletic training and fighting techniques described in the Tain Bo Chuailagne and Tochmarc Emire. These techniques he learned according to folklore are given colourful names such ‘the Salmon leap’ and ‘the binding of a noble hero’ hmm… There is no other explanation in the stories as to what they involve, so I have merely come up with my own exercises based on their description.
An equipment heavy workout this one, so if you don’t have access to equipment you will have to be extra inventive! (See section on home training equipment) You will need…kettlebells. A bench. barbell plate. Room to sprint, A battle rope. Cones. A sandbag. A tyre. A hill to run up. A stopwatch with a bleep function. Skipping ropes. Suspension cables and dumbbells.
Set and Reps
This entire circuit should take you roughly half an hour. Go easy if you are still new to workouts, regress some of the exercises if you need to. If you are more advanced you may consider doing 2X rounds!
Trial number 1
Kettlebell swings changing hands for 1 minute (Be careful!! If in doubt just do 30 seconds left hand, 30 seconds right!)
Bunny hops on a bench
for 1 minute.
Squat hold with a barbell plate
Hold the squat position with a barbell plate held at arm’s length for 1 minute. To make the exercise more difficult alternate rotation of the hands left and right throughout to work the obliques.
Sprints with inchworms
Sprint 1/4 of room. Perform an inchworm. Sprint the next 2/4 of room. Inchworm. Repeat for time (2 minutes).
(1 minute Total) 30 seconds of fast battle rope waves 1 minute, then 30 seconds of battle rope slams.
Press-up burpees non-stop for 1 minute.
Agility Drill. Run in and out of cones from one end of the room to the other. Then jump over cones on the way back. (1 minute total).
Big jumps with sandbag rested on your shoulders or in the ‘rack’ position (pinned to your chest by your forearms) X 10 reps.
Plank walk with sandbag drag
Plank walks to the end of the room with sandbag drag. Have sandbag on the floor underneath you at chest level. Walk forward on both hands, drag sandbag forward with one hand whilst maintaining plank with the other hand. Continue until the end of the room.
Jump rope or bench step ups
Skipping rope for 1 minute or alternating feet taps on a bench (if you have no skipping ropes).
Sprints with sandbag rows
Run across the room with a sandbag. Stop in middle and end of the room and undertake 10 sandbag rows. Repeat for time (1 minute).
Trial number 2
Plank with extra weight
Hold a plank position with a weight on your back (such as a barbell plate) for 60 Seconds.
Shuttle run sprints
Bleep test. 2 minute round. 15/20 seconds to do 2 X there and back sprints of room, if you fail to do that in 15/20 seconds, undertake 10 Burpees. 10 seconds rest then repeat. Total of 4 Sprints and 4 rest periods.
(As many as possible for 1 minute).
Bosu ball weighted goblet squats
Stand on an upturned Bosu ball and undertake weighted goblet squats for 1 minute, keeping balance and using core throughout.
TRX push ups/mountain climbers
TRX T-push ups X 4. Then immediately proceed to 10 X mountain climbers (both legs = 1 rep) and repeat for time. 1 minute.
All out assault on the punchbag for 1 minute. Maximum effort.
Kettlebell man makers
AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) for 2 minutes.
KB/DB lunge with rotation
for 1 minute.
Alternate side squats
for 1 minute.
Hill running with squat holds
(Treadmill hill running for 2 minutes with a squat hold for 1 minute at the end).
Farmers walk with bear crawls
Farmers walk with DB/KB/SB the length and back of a room. Bear crawls the length and back of a room. Alternate.
Workout 2 Highland Warrior Workout
In Scotland, warrior training schools referred to in Gaelic as ‘Taigh Suntais’, were schools that existed in the Highlands until the British government dismantled the clan system, after the battle of Culloden in 1746.
Training was just as tough as any Eastern martial system, students were not spared the rod and no doubt many suffered fractured skulls and broken bones. After becoming skilled in fighting with a stick this would be eventually be replaced with the broadsword Dirk (Dagger) and Targe (Shield). Furthermore, as the warrior became proficient in the fighting arts, he could be expected to test his skills by competing against the youth of rival clans in swordplay, wrestling, throwing the stone or tossing the caber.
This is a predominantly sandbag based workout with the incorporation of stability exercises and speed drills.
A sandbag, A BOSU ball, A punchbag. dumbbell or kettlebell and a plyo box.
Set and reps
We are aiming for 3 X rounds of this workout. 2 X rounds if a beginner. 4 X rounds if advanced.
1. Shield deadlifts
Stand on a Bosu ball and undertake single arm KB/DB deadlifts. 1 minute.
2. Bent over row:
Using SB/DB’s/KB’s Lean your torso forward and squeeze the shoulder blades together bringing the centre of the weight up towards your chest. 1 minute.
3. Front to back squat sandbag flow
Essentially you just repeat the following pattern, front squat – overhead press – back squat – overhead press. For 1 minute.
4. Sandbag good mornings
Start with the sandbag resting on the shoulders, with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the hips, moving them back until you are almost parallel to the ground. Stand back up straight by pushing through the glutes and hamstrings. 1 minute.
5. Cattle Raid
Sprint to the end of a room, pick up a sandbag, kettlebell, dumbbells and return at a jog, then immediately sprint back for the next item X 4 rounds.
6. Sandbag step ups
– Rest the SB across the back of your shoulders then step onto a plyometric box or platform and down again for 1 minute without rest. Alternate legs for the leading leg stepping up.
7. Lunges with rotation
– Hold the weight of choice in your hands (KB/SB/DB) Step forward on one leg. Lower your hips down until your trail knee almost touches the ground before pushing back off the lead leg to the standing position. At the same time rotate the trunk to the side on the same side as the forward leg. Keep the core tight and squeeze the obliques. Repeat, alternating the lunging leg and rotation side each time. 1-minute maximum reps.
8. Sandbag shouldering with overhead press
. – Simple and effective. Undertake the squat of your choice for 1 minute. Back squats, goblet squats, Zercher squats. the choice is yours!
9. Shield push-ups
– Use the Bosu ball for instability X 20 reps.
10.Superset: Sandbag tricep extensions/Biceps curls
– Hold the sandbag handles separately behind your head and let the bag hang down the line of your spine. Extend your triceps fully, keeping your elbows as close to your head as possible. Use the straps to curl the sandbag in a slow and controlled manner, pausing briefly to squeeze at top of the movement.
11. Highland charge
Sprint as fast as you can, twice from one end of the room to the other or around a room twice to a punchbag of your choosing. Hit the bag as hard as you can with any combination of strikes for 60 seconds. If you don’t have access to a bag undertake shadow boxing.
Workout 3: Highland Games Workout
The Highland games have their roots in the Scottish Heavy Games. Historians believe that some of the Scottish Heavy Events originated during Druid times and the events began as tests of strength and conditioning for Scottish troops. A tree trunk would be made into a caber and tossed by the strongest military men, smooth rocks from river beds would be heaved for distance and lead weights would be tossed underhand over a bar more than twice as high as the athlete. The competitor who accumulated the most points from the contests would be named the Heavy Events Champion.
Over the centuries, the Heavy Events evolved from military exercises into festivals for the Scottish public and with the addition of dancing, music, food and drink, the Highland Games as we know them today were born.
Since it is dangerous to throw weights or cabers around in a gym, or anywhere, I have made the workouts based on sandbags and kettlebells, it will be aimed at Strength building so challenge yourself and use the heaviest weights you are safe to use undertaking this workout.
A sandbag, dumbbell or kettlebells (various sizes if possible) and a plyo box.
Set and reps
We are aiming for 3X rounds of this workout. 2X rounds if a beginner. 4X rounds if advanced.
1. Heavy two-handed kettlebell swings
20 X reps
2. Kettlebell Turkish get-ups
with a medium kettlebell for 2 minutes (alternate sides).
3. Sandbag overhead squat
X 15 reps.
4. Kettlebell around the worlds
X 20 each side.
5. Kettlebell cleans
X 12 reps each side or uses two KB’s.
6. Sandbag burpee then 2 X sandbag row
7. Sandbag press up and drag through to the other side.
Repeat X 20 reps.
8. Double kettlebell shoulder press and push press
X 12 reps.
Whichever workout you undertake
Remember to cool down and drink water!