Kettlebell Training for Martial Arts

Kettlebell Training for Martial Arts

There is nothing worse than seeing an out-of-shape martial artist. No matter how good your martial arts moves are, they are of little benefit if you do not have the stamina or strength to execute them in a self-defense situation or a combat sport competition. For maximum performance in traditional and mixed martial arts, it is important to have a high level of physical fitness. Balance, stamina, strength, and explosiveness are key attributes for modern-day warriors, whether in the ring or on the streets.  

When most people think of training with weights, what typically comes to mind are barbells, dumbbells, and weight machines. However, an old-school Russian weightlifting tool known as the kettlebell is enjoying a strong resurgence. A kettlebell looks like a cannonball with a handle and they come in all weights so they are adaptable no matter what your strength level is. Keep in mind that as a martial artist you do not want to become muscle-bound like a bodybuilder, your goal is to develop functional muscle and strength. Therefore, exercise with some light-to-moderate weight depending on the exercise -- not the most weight you can lift. 

Remember, you are not training to be a powerlifter.

To follow the workout routine outlined below, you will need at least one kettlebell. Two or three sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise should be enough to get the job done. While there are numerous exercises that can be done with kettlebells, mastery of just a few of them can go a long way to improving your overall conditioning. These particular exercises are selected to increase your balance, stamina, strength, and explosiveness. I call these exercises “The Big Three.”   

Kettlebell Swing 
The Kettlebell Swing is the granddaddy of all kettlebell exercises. It's an overall conditioning exercise that especially targets the core and glutes. The ballistic nature of kettlebell swings leads to greater explosiveness for martial artists as it is a plyometric exercise. The move consists of holding a kettlebell with one hand or two and swinging it down between your legs and then up to shoulder height. The key is to use a forward thrust of the hips to drive the kettlebell up while keeping the arms straight. There are many variations to the Kettlebell Swing, such as switching from hand-to-hand on each swing, which can make the move more challenging once the basic swing is mastered.

Turkish Get-Up
The Turkish Get-Up develops balance, flexibility, and coordination. It consists of grasping a kettlebell in one hand in a prone position, climbing up onto your knee, and then standing up with the kettlebell held straight overhead. Then reverse the steps and return to a prone position. This move is analogous to doing yoga with weights. It takes practice to get your form for this exercise correct, but it is well worth the effort. It is best to start with a light kettlebell or even just a shoe to get the movement down before progressing to using a heavier kettlebell.

Goblet Squat
The Goblet Squat develops the legs and, even better, the move is relatively simple. It is done by holding a kettlebell with two hands and positioning it in front of the chest and simply dropping down into a squat before rising again -- all while keeping the kettlebell in the same position. The key to the move is to keep your back straight or the results will be much less defined. It's suitable to use a relatively heavier kettlebell for this exercise, so long as you're prepared and utilize good form. One advantage of the Goblet Squat is that it almost forces you to have proper form and alignment, otherwise it's much harder to complete at all. This is in contrast to a typical barbell squat, in which bad form is commonplace and can cause injury. 

Huddle Up

Hopefully we've identified some new exercises and programs for you to try out. If you've got any questions about your specific training regiment -- head to my profile and send me a question! Kettlebells have become the forgotten tool in most gyms countrywide, but with these, you'll be picking up steam and making gains in no time!

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