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.
In modern Iran, the Pahlavani 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 its 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.
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.
(adapted from www.pushupboard.com)