The top MMA athletes are far and away the best-conditioned athletes in the world. Second place is so far behind that it is not even worth mentioning. These men and women work hard and need a great strength and conditioning program to enhance their efforts. While no strength and conditioning program can make up for tireless hours sparring and working hard on the mat, a properly executed program will help hard working MMA athletes increase explosive power, ramp up cardio and muscular endurance, and make the body more durable.
The Kettlebell MMA Strength And Conditioning Training
By Mike Mahler
There are many effective training tools to choose from for a killer strength and conditioning training. However, the tool that we are going to focus on in this article is the kettlebell. Before we get into why the kettlebell is a great training tool for MMA athletes and how to use it, lets go over what the hell a kettlebell actually is!
A kettlebell looks like a cannon ball with a suitcase handle and is a relative of the dumbbell. Many of the old-time strongman in the US and overseas used kettlebells as part of their overall regimen for building incredible levels of strength and power. In Russia and more recently in the US, kettlebell training is actually a sport in which athletes focus on three kettlebell exercises: The Jerk, The Clean and Jerk, and The Snatch for time.
These are full body exercises that teach your body how to work as one unit. While novices can get away with muscling the kettlebell for these exercises, kettlebell athletes on the professional level have to be efficient and use as many muscle groups as possible to get the job done. The sport involves doing the designated exercises for ten minutes! If you put the bells down at any point it is over similar. Just lasting ten minutes alone with a light kettlebells takes a great deal of mental toughness and conditioning. Imagine using two 70lb kettlebells for the clean and jerk (an exercise in which you take the bells from the floor to the upper body and then overhead) for ten minutes and you get an idea of the incredible strength and conditioning that these athletes have and how such training will carry over very well to the needs of MMA athletes.
While simply working on the kettlebell competition lifts will go a long way for developing incredible levels of strength and conditioning for MMA athletes, it requires professional instruction and a lot of dedication to get really good at (working up to ten minute sets). While I do think that this is worth your time, in this article we are going
To work on some other kettlebell exercises that have a very direct application to MMA. In addition we are going to go over a sample program on how to put the exercises into play for serious explosive power, strength, and conditioning. Lets get started.
The Double Kettlebell Clean and Push Press
If you ignore the rest of this article and only focus on this exercise you will go a long way to getting a lot out of kettlebell training. This is a full body exercise that teaches your body how to work as one unit. It is not as technical as the clean and jerk and is relatively easy to learn. If you have ever done a military press than you have probably done a push press. 99% of the clips I see for the military press on youtube.com are in fact push presses in which you use the legs to help drive the weight overhead.
The Double Clean and Push Press is a combination of two kettlebell exercises. The Double Clean and the Double Push Press. Lets cover the clean first.
Double Kettlebell Clean
Place two kettlebell between your feet aligned with your toes. Sit back as if you are trying to sit in a chair behind you and grab the kettlebells. Looking at the floor slighting in front, swing the kettlebells between your legs as if you are trying to pass a football behind you. Quickly reverse the direction and drive through with your hips, pop your pelvis up and drive the kettlebells to the rack position (Nope, the rack position is not referring to the ring girl’s chest). The rack position is where the bells are resting against your upper body below chin level.
- Focus on getting your hands around the kettlebells rather then letting the kettlebells flip over your hands and bang your wrists.
- Breathe into your stomach as you drive the kettlbells to the rack
- Stand up straight at the end of the move. Your legs should be locked out.
- Hold the bells in tight and close to the body at the top.
- Breathe out as you swing the bells between your legs
Now lets cover the push press portion of the lift
Double Kettlebell Push Press
Clean two kettlebells to your shoulders. Squat down a few inches and reverse the motion rapidly. Use the momentum from the legs to drive the kettlebells overhead. Once the kettlebells are locked out, lower the kettlebells to your shoulders and the back to the starting position. Stay loose upon cleaning the kettlebells and when you squat down a few inches to power up the leg drive.
- Push the kettlebells off of your upper body.
- Do not squat down too far.
- Breathe in as your lower the weights and breathe out forcefully as you push press the kettlebells overhead.
- Look straight ahead or slightly up when driving the bells off of the rack position.
One-Arm Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is a great exercise for developing explosive hamstrings and when done in high reps incredible cardio and muscular endurance. Best of all it is pretty easy to learn and apply safely. It has many of the benefits of the kettlebell snatch without the technical demands of the snatch. No doubt the snatch is worth your time to learn, but the swing is the best exercise to put into play immediately while you work on snatches for down the road.
Place one kettlebell between your feet. Push your butt back and bend your knees slightly to get into the starting position. Make sure that your back is flat and look down or at the floor slightly ahead. Swing the kettlebell between your legs forcefully as if you are passing a football to someone behind you. Quickly reverse the direction and drive though with your hips explosively taking the kettlebell straight out. Let the kettlebell swing back between your legs and repeat. Switch arms with each set. Remember that the swing is primarily a hamstring exercise and that is where all of the power is generated from. It is not a front raise so do not use a crush grip on the kettlebell and keep the arm loose.
The Double Swing is one of the most powerful ballistic drills that you can use with kettlebells. There is no way to muscle up two heavy kettlebells. You have to have powerful hamstrings to make double swings happen. On the Double Swing you are going to focus on driving through with the hips as fast and as powerful as possible. Do not worry how high the bells get. In fact, they should not get higher then chest level. Keep the tension and focus on the hamstrings. A large percentage of the lower body explosive power comes from the hamstrings. Keep that in mind when doing Double Swings. If your lower back gets sore then you are not doing the exercise correctly.
Place two kettlebells between your feet. While you will most likely have to take a wider stance than you would when doing a regular one-arm swing, do not stand too wide. The wider you stand the less hip drive you will have. Only stand as wide as you need to in order to comfortably place two kettlebells between your feet. Push back with your butt and bend your knees to get into the starting position. Make sure that your back is flat and look down or slightly in front. Swing the kettlebells between your legs forcefully. Quickly reverse the direction and drive though with your hips taking the kettlebells forward. Let the kettlebells swing back between your legs and repeat.
Double Kettlebell Squat Shrug
This is a great exercise for developing full body explosive power. You start the power with the lower body and transfer it into the upper body in each repetition. The best part about this exercise is that it is not technically demanding and fairly easy to learn. It does not require the technique of the clean or snatch, yet has many of the benefits. It is also a tremendous trap developer and strengthener.
Place a kettlebell on the outside of each foot. Squat down and pick then up as if they are two suitcases. Keep your eyes forward and arch your back in the starting position. Stand up quickly and drive through with the hips and get airborne on each rep. As you get off the floor, push your chest out and pull your shoulders up and try to pinch your shoulder blades together. Let your shoulders go back in the socket as you land back on the ground.
Full Body Attack
This is an incredible exercise that will teach you how to use your body as one unit and build explosive power from the ground up. It is particularly beneficial for combat athletes. Often in a fight you have to get from the floor to your feet explosively against the resistance of an opponent. That is exactly what you are doing with the “Full Body Attack.”
Place two kettlebells shoulder width apart on the ground. Get into the top position of the pushup with both hands on the kettlebells. Jump forward explosively while holding onto the kettlebells. Now you are in the starting position of the clean. Clean both kettlebells and drive through with the hip flexors rapidly.
Your elbows should be tucked in and in line with your stomach at the top of the movement. Bend you knees slightly, reverse the motion quickly and drive the kettlebells overhead. Now reverse the motion and do another rep. For the purpose of building speed and explosive strength, keep the rep range to no more than three. Focus on moving as quickly and as explosively as possible while maintaining solid form.
Full Body Defense
In addition to learning how to go from the ground to your feet explosively, a combat athlete needs to be able to go from the feet to the ground rapidly as well to avoid takedowns. That is precisely what the “Full Body Defense” will assist you with.
Start the exercise by cleaning two kettlebells to your shoulders. Push your pelvis up at the top of the clean so that that you can press your elbows against your stomach and keep the kettlebells tucked in. Take the kettlebells to the floor so that you are in the starting position of a double clean.
Now jump back while still holding onto the kettlebells and arch your back. When executed properly, you will look like you are doing a yoga stretch or end position of a Hindu Pushup. Immediately jump back into the clean position, clean the kettlebells, and then proceed with another rep.
Alternating Kettlebell Renegade Row
This is an outstanding drill that I picked up from my friend Coach John Davies, author of “Mastery On The Gridiron.” In addition to being an excellent exercise for your upper back and lats, the Renegade Row is a killer core exercise and a great chest exercise. Yes, even the chest is worked with the Renegade row. How is this possible? The chest is activated tremendously to stabilize the body for rowing with the Renegade Row. Don’t be surprised if you notice that your pecs are sorer than your lats the next day after doing Renegade Rows. Because you are off balance with the Renegade Row, the abdominal muscles are also worked tremendously to maintain balance. There are not too many upper body muscles that the Renegade Row does not work.
Get into the top position of the pushup holding on to two kettlebells that are less than shoulder width apart. Take a shoulder width stance and push one kettlebell into the floor forcefully while you pull the other kettlebell in the working arm. Hold the kettlebell in the working arm in the top position for a second and then lower the kettlebell under control back to the floor. Switch arms after each repetition.
- Push the kettlebell of the non-working arm into the floor with as much force as possible.
- Breathe in as you pull one kettlebell and out as you lower the kettlebell.
- Flex your butt and stomach for added stability
- Flex the lat of the working arm before pulling each kettlebell off of the floor.
Take a wider stance to make the exercise easier and a closer stance to make the exercise harder.
The Kettlebell Guard Attack
This is an exercise that suits perfectly the needs of MMA fighters and grapplers. Sports in which you often end up on you’re back called the guard and have to fight off an opponent in the mount position. Learning how to be strong and powerful out of the guard position is a valuable skill. The Guard Attack will help build explosive strength from the guard position. It is also great for building strong and a powerful chest, strong triceps, strong shoulders, and impressive core strength.
Lie on the floor and position two kettlebells on the floor next to your shoulders. Use two arms to get the bell on the weaker side into place on your chest. While holding on to the bell on your chest, pull the other bell towards your other pec and get it into the starting position on your chest. Lets use the right arm to illustrate the performance of the Guard Attack. Press with your right hand and use your right foot to shift your weight to the left. As you lower the bell, press with the left hand and use your left foot to shift your weight to the right. Use maximum speed when doing this drill. You want to be fast and explosive in the guard position.
Sample Kettlebell Training Program For MMA
Monday And Thursday (Circuit Training for strength endurance)
- Double Kettlebell Clean and Push Press 10 reps
- Double Kettlebell Squat Shrug 10 reps
- Guard Attack 10 reps each side
- Alternating Renegade Row 10 reps each side
- Full Body Attack or Full Body Defense 10 reps
- Double Swing 10 reps
Take 30-second breaks between each exercise and 60-second breaks at the end of each round. Do five rounds per workout I recommend that beginners do five reps per exercise and take one-minute breaks between each exercise and round. Add a rep to each exercise each week until you are up to 10 reps per exercise. Work on getting the breaks down to zero in between each exercise and in between each round. Do this by shaving ten seconds off each break per week until there are no breaks at all. If you get to this point with a relatively heavy set of kettlebells you will be a machine to say the least.
Tuesday and Friday (High Octane Cardio for muscular endurance and cardio)
Ten rounds of
- Squat Thrust 30 reps
- One-arm Kettlebell Swing 15 reps each side
A round is one set of squat thrusts and one-arm kettlebell swings down back to back. In case you do not know what a squat thrust is it is a bodyweight exercise in which you squat down, get into the top position of a pushup, and then get back to the standing position.
Beginners can take on-minute breaks in between each round. Shave ten seconds off each successive workout until you can do ten rounds with no breaks. Once you are there you will never have to blame lack of cardio for losing a fight.
There you have it an array of killer kettlebell exercises to get you in shape and a sample program to get into action right away. Depending on what else you have going on with regards to training, life, and individual restoration you will most likely have to modify the program to fit your situation. If four workouts is too much, start with two workouts per week or reduce the rounds and go from there.
For more information on kettlebell training check out: