Kettlebells for MMA and BJJ Fighters

Training for sport combat is something more familiar to me than almost anything else in

Training for sport combat is something more familiar to me than almost anything else in my life. I started wrestling and learning judo at the age of 4. Shortly thereafter my dad had me squatting and pressing a broomstick. At the age of 7, I made my way into the romanticized gym dungeon, a playground of steel, iron, and rust. Since that moment, training to be a better athlete by cross-training has become a way of life…something I could never live without.

My methods have not been without an important evolution over time. I started, like most, with traditional bodybuilding type workouts in my youth. My strength and athletic performance soared when I switched over to more emphasis on compound grinding lifts such as squats and deadlifts. The introduction of explosive, power-oriented Olympic lifts in college just amplified my love for cross-training and seeing results on the mat.

After college, I made a natural transition from wrestling to BJJ and MMA. To my disappointment, I couldn’t use the physical assets and skills I had already honed over 18 years to my advantage against a skilled practitioner. I decided there wasn’t much satisfaction in pummeling white belts with my wrestling intensity and athletic prowess, while getting owned by a purple belt that resembled a spider monkey. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing.

As I started to understand BJJ, I began to re-think my cross-training methods. I realized I needed a method that maintained my strength and athleticism, but put more emphasis on mobility than traditional strength training. Also, if I am going to be able to fight without nagging injuries, I need to train without abusing my joints (a by-product of having to go too heavy with high impact exercises). Enter the Kettlebell.

Here is a short list of why combat athletes NEED to be training with kettlebells:

– Kettlebells develop strength and flexibility/mobility in equal proportions

– Kettlebells focus on full body movements, especially hip power (think punching/kicking/takedowns)

– Kettlebells stimulate the same energy systems used in competition (both aerobic and anaerobic)

– Kettlebell workouts are short and efficient which equals more time for your sport and less time feeling overtrained.

– Kettlebell training is low impact. Get the benefits of plyometrics and explosive strength without the wear on your joints.

– Kettlebells done properly = greater injury resistance. Nothing I have found helps you zero in on proper movement patterns while building strength through big ranges of motion.

– Effective martial arts movements stem from primitive movement patterns…so do kettlebell movements.

– Kettlebell workouts are fun, intense, and generally appeal well to combat athletes

– A Kettlebell is highly versatile and portable.

– Kettlebells can be used to focus on developing one asset, or multiple physical assets at a time (ex- strength, power, mobility, endurance, muscular fatigue resistance)

– Kettlebells are a great addition to your current workout routine if you have a program that is working for you.

For me, one of the biggest selling points was efficiency. Whether you are a fighter or a fitness enthusiast looking for real world strength, a kettlebell workout has a lot to offer in a short amount of time per week. Who has the time and money for long workouts at an “all-show, no-go” corporate gym? Why not train at home, the office, or right next to the mats?

Getting started:

1) Find a qualified kettlebell trainer and attend a workshop or work privately with him/her. Make sure the trainer has a kettlebell specific certification through a nationally recognized organization. Kettlebells practiced improperly will inevitably injury you.

2) Practice the main exercises you learn without any variations. Don’t try and get fancy until you’ve earned your “black belt” in kettlebells. Just like learning anything else…

3) Train with purpose. After you feel confident with the exercises, start tailoring programs with the goals you have in mind. For example, don’t spend tons of time pressing heavy if you need to develop an aerobic base. Spend more time swinging and snatching. There are tons of great resources that cover kettlebell program design online. Of course, be sure to check the credentials of your sources.

4) Be objective in your analysis of whether your cross-training is translating to increased performance. If not, train more of your weaknesses vs. enhancing assets you already have. Don’t make the mistake of substituting cross-training for actually practicing your sport.

Get the ball rolling and keep me posted on your kettlebell training experiences.