Kettlebell Training for BJJ, Grappling and MMA

From the Russian fields where girya, the far ancestor of a kettlebell, was used for weighting crops, to strongman contests, circus performances and “girevoy” sport through 19 century, kettlebell finally found its way to the light of the day. The name kettlebell was forged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today kettlebell is an unavoidable tool for strength and conditioning. But why is it like that? What is the main reason kettlebell got so popular in the world of strength training? The main culprit is kettlebell shape. It looks like a cannonball with the handle. That specific shape gives kettlebell one advantage over other training equipment and that is center of a mass extended beyond the hand. In everyday language, it means that you have “unstable” force you have to handle with. In terms of workout language, you have to engage almost every possible muscle to do the movement correctly. Read more about kettlebells for BJJ, Grappling and MMA

One more benefit that is important to highlight is that kettlebell allows a ballistic and swinging way of exercising so your muscles have to work like a pendulum. They go in on-off rhythm within a second. But what all of that means for strength and conditioning in BJJ, grappling and MMA?

Kettlebell workout routine for BJJ, grappling and MMA allows actions in numerous fields in the same moment. You can develop strength, endurance, mobility only working one exercise. Bonus benefit in this type of workout is that you develop grip strength even although you are not thinking of it. So, what are those exercises I mentioned above?  I will present a few of the basic exercises that have the roots in fundamental human movements such are squatting, hip hinge, pushing, pulling, walking and rotation.

Basic Kettlebell exercises for BJJ, grappling and MMA 

For every movement I mentioned above I will give you one example of exercise you can use in building your kettlebell training routine for BJJ. First on our list will be squatting pattern and goblet squat exercise.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat

Exercise that reflects this pattern is goblet squat. This is a pattern you use every day so you are pretty familiar with it even if you haven’t touched kettlebell ever in your life. You start with that feet shoulder width, holding your kettlebell for horns. You engage your core and glutes in top position. Next thing is to start squatting movement holding your chest up, elbows tight and with knees tracking the toes. You do all that while you keep your weight back and loading your heels. This is exercise primarily for the leg muscle region but it activates the whole body. Hands, back, deep core muscles region, glutes, legs…. Everything is engaged when you do goblet squat

2 hand kettlebell swing

If I can choose only one exercise I can bring to an isolated island, it would be kettlebell swing. It combines explosiveness, stability, endurance, mobility and it is must have exercise in BJJ kettlebell workout plan. In its grounds, it is dynamic deadlift and it primarily engages posterior chain muscles but it also includes core and hands muscles. It is important to say that you have to master deadlift to do any variation of the swing. So, how do you do 2 hand kettlebell swing?

You start in a sumo deadlift position, with your kettlebell in front of you. Find an ideal distance taking the length of your hand into consideration. You pull the bell through your legs that are shoulder width while keeping your head in neutral position with proper back alignment. Push the bell up to your top position where you squeeze your glute region muscles to prevent overextending your back. Take care about your knees, not to overextend them in top position. During whole movement be sure to use “soft” elbows and to use kettlebell momentum to swing.

Kettlebell Press

You start this exercise holding kettlebell in the rack position. Your elbow is tucked to your chest. Next thing is to press that bell directly up and lock your arm in top position. Your core is engaged through all move. In the end, you actively pull the weight down, slowly and with full control. Beside obvious muscles activated here, such are deltoids, latissimus and trapezius muscles your core is in full power here to stabilize movement.

1 hand kettlebell row

Like in almost all rowing exercises, you start in a bent over position. Your task is to maintain a flat back position and keep your neck in a line with your back. Avoid any hunching in your shoulders which will lead to bad posture while doing exercise. You grab kettlebell from the ground, holding it for the horn and pull it back and upwards. Doing this movement will primarily activate your “pulling” muscles. A unilateral way of working, with 1 hand only, is also a great way to activate your anti-rotational stabilization muscles. Your glutes and hamstrings will also be “on fire”.

Farmers Walk

In the end, farmers walk. It is so powerful tool even though it looks very simple. In basic it is an everyday walk but when you load your arms you will feel the difference. You start with two same size kettlebells, each of them will be in one of your hands. Lift them up from the ground with the nice deadlift. Now, when you are up, with your eyes looking in front of you, stabilize your shoulders and start walking. Do not allow bells to swing around. Remember that you control them. Find an ideal step distance which you can control perfectly. This will engage your whole body. The core will be on a real task to stabilize walking movement and I am sure you will increase your grip strength.

So, how to fill all of those movements into kettlebell BJJ training routine and other martial arts? The answer is simple. It depends on your training goal. The best way to explain that is to give you examples of different routines depending on their main goal. I will give you one example for strength development and one for endurance oriented BJJ workout routine.

Kettlebell exercises for BJJ, grappling and MMA  Workout Program

 Kettlebell BJJ Strength workout   

Goblet Squat – 1 rep – rest, 2 rep rest… when you come to 5 come down the ladder to zero reducing 1 rep each time
2 Hand swing 5 x 5
1 Hand Kettlebell row 5 x 5/5
1 hand kettlebell press  5 x 5/5 + 5 x 35,30,25,25.30 meters of Farmer walk


Kettlebell BJJ endurance workout                                             

For the BJJ kettlebell endurance routine set your timer on 10 minutes. You will do the exercises in the following order:

  • Goblet squat
  • 1 hand kettlebell row
  • 2 hand kettlebell swing
  • 1 hand kettlebell press
  • Farmers walk

You will do 1 repetition of exercises on every 10th second of the minute and between the repetitions you are resting. When the order comes to farmers walk you will start walking for 10 seconds.

Taking timer in account, the workout should look like this:

0:00 – Goblet squat

0:10 – 1 hand kettlebell row

0:20 – 2 hand kettlebell swing

0:30 – 1 hand kettlebell press

0-40 – Farmers walk

0-50 – Goblet Squat…..

You will repeat this 10 minute round for three times, resting 3 minutes between the rounds.

To conclude, kettlebells and all levels of BJJ kettlebell workout are must have in your strength and conditioning routine. Different levels of condition and different strength levels demands different approaches to kettlebell training. Be sure to adapt the routine to your current training level. It can always become harder. Higher skill level exercise, harder bell, shorter rest periods, two kettlebells instead of one….  Point is to progress slowly, to gain enough mobility and strength in the beginning so you can achieve better, and injury free progress later. In some future articles I will write about some more advanced kettlebell techniques but until then, if you have not, give kettlebells a chance to put your muscles on fire.

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