When you walk into the gym it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge array of equipment for you to choose from, and find yourself faced with choosing which pieces of equipment are going to be the most effective to improve your strength and conditioning. For the most part, all the different equipment is going to improve a different area – the squat rack is going to help you develop overall strength, treadmill sprints are going to help you develop the high intensity/short burst cardio you need in the ring. But what if there was a piece of gear, just one thing, that’s going to give you game changing conditioning, explosive punching power and the kind of muscle endurance that’s going to keep you punching and kicking well after the final round. Sound too good to be true?
Meet the Kettlebell.
The ‘cannon ball with a handle’ that has been used by Russian farmers since the 1700’s, was used to keep the soviet army in fighting shape, and has been part of competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since 1940. The key to its strength and conditioning prowess? The handle means that the centre of mass is extended beyond the hand, meaning its main use is ballistic swinging movements, which strip away fat, build lean muscle, improve your endurance and make you fast and explosive. The unique shape makes any movement unstable, which makes your body work harder to stabilise the weight throughout the movement.
The main kettlebell movements are similar to the big compound lifts in that they recruit a number of different muscles rather than focusing on isolating one area, and typically kettlebell exercises build power and endurance in the legs, lower back and shoulders, with an added benefit of improving grip strength. These are all the major muscle groups used to generate punching and kicking power, and building endurance in them is what’s going to keep you explosive and powerful throughout a fight.
As always it’s important to remember to warm up, stretch well and cool down, and it’s even more important to build up exercise over time – don’t push yourself so far you get injured and can’t train for ages. If you are unsure of any exercises in the program seek the advice of a trained professional who can advise you – any personal trainer worth the money will be able to help you get the hang of any of these moments.
So with that said, let’s get onto the circuit. Complete 10 reps of each exercise with no rest in between – that’s one round. Rest 1 minute in between rounds and aim for at least 5 rounds.
1 – Goblet Squat with Jump
Hold the kettlebell by the sides of the handle, drop into a low squat with your back straight and use your elbows to open your knees, explode out of the squat and jump a few inches off the ground, as you land lower immediately into the next squat.
2 – Alternate Shoulder Press
Grab a second kettlebell and hold them both in the ‘rack’ position (holding the top part of the handle, arms at shoulder level with the kettlebells hanging down and resting in the crook of your elbow) stand with feet shoulder width apart, and alternate pressing each kettlebell overhead. Complete ten reps on each arm.
3 – Sumo Deadlift
Stand with your legs wider than shoulder width, reach down and grab the kettlebell by the top of the handle with both hands drive forwards with the hips and bring the kettlebell up to waist level, slowly lower to the starting position, reset and repeat.
4 – Alternate Lateral Raise
Grab that second kettlebell again and hold them one in each hand on the top of the handle and hanging by your sides. Keeping your arm straight bring one of them to shoulder level out to one side, hold for 3 seconds and control the weight as you lower it to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm until you’ve done ten reps each side.
5 – Kettlebell Swing
The most well known of kettlebell moves; again holding the top handle with both hands swing the weight back between your legs, whilst dropping into a half squat and keeping your back straight, until your forearms are touching the insides of your thighs. Drive forwards with your hips and swing the weight up to chest height. Swing back between your legs to the starting position and repeat in one fluid motion.
6 – Russian Twists
Assume a sit up position, torso 45° from the floor, holding the kettlebell a few inches from your chest by the sides of the handle. Engage your core and bring your feet off the floor, and twist to the right bringing your elbow to the floor. Turn back and touch your left elbow to the floor and come back to the middle. That’s one rep.
This circuit is a killer, you alternate lower and upper body moves, then finish each round with a full body movement and a rotational core movement. Because of that I recommend building up slowly to the full workout – complete one or two rounds as a finisher at the end of a strength workout a few times before trying the full session. I’d also advise only doing one or two sessions a week, as a supplement to your technical training and any strength specific training you do, in order to work on explosive muscle power. It’s going to exercise your whole body, and help you get quick and powerful in the ring, exactly what you need as a fighter.