Forget dumbbells and barbells. While they’re often the star of many fitness gyms, they’re not the only option — nor always the best option — for your workouts. This is especially true for fighters---who need to work on mobility, dynamic range, and overall structural strength in order to compete and win. This is where kettlebells come in.
The 6 Major Benefits of Kettlebell Exercises for Fighters
The premise is simple. Grab one of these cast iron or cast steel balls (a metal handle is conveniently built into it) and go ballistic, literally.
Ballistic training, also known as power training, involves any type of exercise training that requires jumping, moving or throwing weights with explosive power.
It carries unique benefits for anyone who boxes, fights, or grapples. For example, ballistic training is exceptional for recruiting your fast twitch muscle fibers. That's important because this specific type of muscle fiber is integral for anaerobic power and explosive strength needed in combat sports.
But that’s just the beginning.
1. Kettlebells target your hips. Some of the most common kettlebell movements, such as swinging and thrusts, develop your hips' and hip flexors' explosive power, speed and flexibility. Your hip flexors are crucial muscles in your core that affect your overall agility. Hips are important in practically any combat sport. Strong and mobile hips enable you to kick harder, punch faster, and retain your guard better.
2. Kettlebells improve your stabilizer muscles and balance, thanks to the load-carrying and movement. This translates well to any athletic pursuits that require balance and strength, such as grappling, kickboxing, etc.
3. Kettlebells add an element of versatility. It's easy to get bored and fall into a rut when doing traditional fitness programming day in and day out. Adding some kettlebell variations let you mix things up, invoke some fun and creativity, and expand the range of movement in your routine so you're targeting more muscle groups for a full body workout.
4. Using kettlebells enhances your functional fitness. Functional fitness refers to any movements that strengthen your approach to everyday living, and especially emphasizes motion, twisting, bending, etc. Think about your daily habits and how often you’re bending, turning and pushing/pulling. Kettlebells by their very nature require dynamic movements that enhance functional strength.
5. Kettlebells enhance proprioception. Because all kettlebell workouts are dynamic, you need to be fully aware of your coordination and body movements. This enhances proprioception, which is your mindfulness of how your body and joints are moving through space, and brings with it numerous benefits to your martial arts, such as enhancing your reaction timing to an opponent’s moves.
6. Kettlebell training combines both cardiovascular workouts and strength workouts. Because they're ballistic and require explosive movements, you'll be improving your cardio endurance, your strength, and your flexibility/mobility.
If you want to enjoy all these benefits of kettlebell training to enhance your fight game, try the following 12 exercises for a full body workout today. Remember, that the goal is to not build enormous muscles. The goal is to build functional strength and work your cardiovascular system so that it translates in the ring. What that means is that you should aim for moderate heaviness.
In general, all kettlebell exercises hit a wide range of muscle groups throughout your entire body. However, some specific movements target specific muscle groups. Below are some of the most effective exercises for a full body workout, broken up into specific key areas.
Full Body Conditioning Kettlebell Exercises
1. Kettlebell Swings
Stand vertical with your feet a shoulder’s width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold the kettlebell in front of you with the palms of your hands facing your body.
Push your hips backward while dropping the kettlebell between your two legs, then with explosive force, push your hips forward while swinging your arms up and above your head whilst gripping the kettlebell tight.
For the best results, keep your glutes contracted and tight, and your core sucked in towards your spine, while completing the swing. Be mindful to exhale at the top too.
Muscle Focus: Your entire body, but primarily your shoulders, arms, upper and lower back, legs and core muscles.
2. Lunge Presses
Stand tall with your feet close together and a kettlebell held in front of your body with your right hand. Lunge forward with your left foot while pressing your right hand into the air with the kettlebell. Pause, then return to the starting position and repeat, alternating to your right foot and left arm.
Muscle Focus: Your core throughout all movements, as well as your shoulders, upper and lower back, arms, butt and legs.
3. Sumo Upright Rows
Stand tall with your feet spaced apart slightly wider than your hip width. Place the kettlebell on the floor between your two feet. Relax your neck
Get down into a deep squat and grab the kettlebell. As you stand, push down into your feet while raising the kettlebell up to your upper chest. Pause, then lower yourself back down.
Muscle Focus: Your upper back, your core, and your shoulders, chest and arms
4. Squat Thrusters
You'll need two kettlebells of equal weight for this crossfit-inspired excericse.
From a squat position, hold the kettlebells so they're resting on the back of your shoulders.
With explosive strength, straighten upward while pushing your arms up into the air so the kettlebells are above your head. Pause, then get back down into a squatting position and repeat.
Muscle Focus: Your entire body but especially your shoulders, arms, chest, glutes and legs
Lower Body Kettlebell Exercises
1. Goblet Squats
Hold the kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands. Your feet should be slightly wider than your shoulders’ width.
Contract your core and glutes, and get down into a deep squat while maintaining the kettlebell’s position. Pause, then return to the upright position.
Muscle Focus: Your entire lower body, specifically your legs, glutes, hips and lower back. This workout also activates your full body, including your arms and core.
2. Pistol Squats
This is an extremely challenging exercise that will require a lot of muscle stabilization. So don't go too heavy at first.
Hold a kettlebell with two hands positioned just below your chin.
Lift your left leg off the ground and squat down with your right leg as deep as you can go. Pause, then stand tall and repeat with the opposite legs.
Muscle Focus: Legs, glutes and hip flexors
3. Farmer's Walk
Hold two kettlebells on each side of your body. While contracting your core, walk for 15 to 20 feet with the kettlebells hanging by your side.
Keep your back straight when picking up the kettlebells, putting down the kettlebells, and carrying the kettlebells.
Muscle Focus: You’ll feel this in your entire body, including your shoulders, but especially in your lower body like your hamstring and legs
Upper Body Kettlebell Exercises
1. Single Arm Press
Lie facing the ceiling with your arms straight or, if you have lower back pain, your knees slightly bent.
Hold a kettlebell in one hand with the palm of your hand facing inward towards your sternum.
With your arm straight in the air, press upward with your arm. Pause, then return to the starting position and repeat with the other arm.
Muscle Focus: Chest, arms and shoulders
2. Split and Jerk
Place a kettlebell between your feet. From a standing position, get into a squat and grab the kettlebell. Forcefully propel yourself upward, straightening your legs while pulling the kettlebell up to your shoulder.
As you get into a standing position, shoot your arm up over your head with the kettlebell. Carefully lower yourself back down in the opposite flow until the kettlebell is back on the floor. Repeat with the other arm.
Muscle Focus: Your entire body but especially your core, shoulders, arms and chest.
3. Alternate Floor Press
Forget bench presses. This kettlebell exercise hits your chest hard.
Lie flat on the floor facing the ceiling with a kettlebell in each hand. Your hands should be in the air with your elbows bent at 90-degree angles with your elbows on the ground.
Push the kettlebells toward the ceiling until your arms are straight, then return to the starting position.
Muscle Focus: Chest and arms
1. Russian Twists
Sit on the ground with your legs straight and a kettlebell held against your chest.
Raise your two feet an inch or two off the ground and, with your abs tightened and contracted, twist from side to side with the kettlebell.
Muscle Focus: Your entire core, but especially your rectus abdominis and obliques.
2. Sit ups with overhead extension
Lie facing upward. With a kettlebell pressed against your chest and your legs and hips steady, contract your abs and lift your shoulder upward until you’re sitting up. Pause, then return to lying position, extending the kettlebells overhead with both arms when you lie down. Bring the kettlebell back to your chest as you sit up again.
Muscle Focus: Your entire core but specifically your erector spinae and abdominals