Let me start off my saying, I love kettlebell workouts. I also love training Muay Thai. Hand in hand, functional fitness tools can supplement martial arts and go together like lamb and tuna fish. "Big Daddy" references aside, the flows, swings, complexes and motions done correctly using tools such as kettlebells, steel mace and battleropes can create a perfect marriage to one's striking, ground game, conditioning and overall range-of-motion and mobility.
A brief history for those who care;
Kettlebells have been used as a tool to develop strength and endurance for centuries. Their exact origin is still a matter of debate, with some believing they developed as far back as Ancient Greece. However, the recorded history of kettlebells began in Russia at the start of the 18th century, where in 1704, the word ‘Girya’ (meaning kettlebell), first appeared in the Russian Dictionary. Kettlebell lifting developed into an official sport in 1948 and rose to the West in 1998 when Pavel Tsatsouline published an article about them and began teaching his own way of using them to the American public several years later.*
Pavel Tsatsouline- the "Godfather" of kettlebells performing a one-handed kettlebell swing.
The kettlebell swing is the staple movement of the kettlebell. The swing is a true power builder. This explosive move strengthens your entire posterior chain, building strength in your hamstrings, and encompassing more glute activation than any other exercise. It teaches the body to remain tight acting as a unit and opens up hip mobility that can greatly benefit motion way passed fight training. There is not one area of your fight game that will not benefit from frequently performing swings.
Strong glutes and hamstrings will help with takedowns and shots. Hip activation will get your sprawls faster. The driving into the ground to power the kettlebell is the same motion as throwing a powerful strike. The core activation at the top of the move will make you stronger in the clinch. Don't believe me?
Try this a few times and check your sparring or bag work.
If you’re like most nak muay, you have limited time to work on strength and conditioning for your Muay Thai. Fortunately, doing a kettlebell workout can yield amazing benefits for Muay Thai fighters and trainees in a relatively short amount of time. The right kettlebell flow will also dramatically improve your explosive power, muscular endurance, balance, coordination and overall strength and cardio.
Aside from the swing, another staple from my arsenal is the kettlebell- clean & press. The clean and press is a compound movement that enforces proper lifting mechanics. When performed correctly, this becomes an amazing full body strength movement. This movement can be performed with two kettlebells, but we air on the side of safety and ease of learning its best to start it with just a single bell.
Clean and presses when performed with a kettlebell are easier on the wrists than conventional barbells. With all the striking in your training, this makes for the better option. The clean and press works nearly every single muscle in your body, this is the kind of muscle activation you get in an MMA or Muay Thai fight.
Performing the clean and press with just a single kettlebell forces the core to stabilize throughout too. Many movements and patterns in the fight game are unilateral, so this transfers well.
A clean and press demonstrated by Rogue Fitness.
My favorite kettlebell workout as of late is the turkish get-up. I have a hypothesis that my trainee's have heard me say many times and that is- if you can perform 20 get-ups in 10 minutes (10 on each side), and can do that 5-7 days a week, you will be "set for life." Sounds silly that 10 minutes a day can transform and keep you strong, mobile and well for throughout your entire life, but let's delve into what a turkish get-up is and what exactly it's doing for you.
A great graphic from Crossfit 125 on a step-by-step turkish get-up.
The Turkish get-up requires shoulder stability and control, core strength and leg drive- all things important to your ground game specifically as well as lifting anything heavy. The complex and somewhat technical maneuver will increase overall body strength and can contribute to a top-notch anti-aging workout regimen . Within the motions and in increasing your weight, it can help develop a sense of body control and awareness not available from traditional weight lifting. And again- ground game, ground game, ground game.
The movement closely resembles several movements found in BJJ and submission wrestling, most notably a technical stand up and guard sweep. While the Turkish get-up isn’t a ballistic or explosive movement like the three above, it is however a pure coordination and strength exercise.
Done correctly, you will stabilize and activate the core throughout the entire movement as the body moves from a flat position of the ground to a fully erect stand up. The shoulders throughout the exercise are called upon for stability, ultimately strengthening your mobility and coordination as well- a golden asset in the life of martial arts.
A phenomenal demonstration of kettlebells pertaining to BJJ by the dudes over at MindPump.com
As you can see, the movements are similar to a technical get up in BJJ. You build a strong midsection and core, as well as improving that shoulder flexibility. Training with kettlebells makes you significantly more resistant to shoulder injuries. I can't highlight that enough. Your body is constantly adapting to keep the load overhead stable, although it may look easy…it’s not easy so we start with a light weight.
Strength and conditioning doesn't have to be all or nothing. Fighters by the likes of George St Pierre do very little, while guys like Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone "only" do strength and conditioning leading up to a fight. Technique is important. Cardio is important. Your chin is important. Your mobility, explosiveness, toughness, strength and resolve are all important. The kettlebell can be a major player in your game. Body-building routines have put a damper on the weightlifting world, while increasing muscle-mass, and being yolked to the lobes may look good to some, that look and style can be detremental to a fighter or athlete needing a full and optimal range of flexibility. Luckily, the kettlebell does the opposite. (Shameless plug alert)
Strength and Conditioning for Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA using Kettlebells and many other tools can be found at Staten Island Muay Thai 4 Willow Ave Staten Island, NY 10306 Friday at 7:00pm and Sunday at 10:00am.