The Kettlebell is to BJJ players, what the barbell is to bodybuilders. They’re synonymous with one another, almost inseparable. Grappling has an all too real love affair with the iron ball and handle. But why are kettlebells so big among Braziling Jiu Jitsu players? Why is it the likes of Joe Rogan and Bernardo Faria swing ’em religiously?
It’s simple – they work dummy (insert Rogan voice).
Today we’ll grapple with the 7 best kettlebell exercises for BJJ. But first, let’s look at the benefits of kettlebells, and why you should train with them.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training for BJJ
Before we get to any workouts, let’s look at why kettlebells stand out. Below are five key benefits of training with them.
- Functional strength
- Grip strength
- Low impact
You’ll see how useful all of those things are to grapplers.
First of all, you can work on functional strength. Pushes, pulls, swings, and get-ups are all part of our natural movement patterns as humans. We rely on them time and time again on the mat too.
Grip strength is a must for any grappler. Yes, it’s all about technique. But if you’ve got poor grip strength you might find implementing those techniques harder. Kettlebells offer a chance to build on your grip strength without overcomplicating things.
Endurance – what more do we need to say? A grappling match can sap your body of energy like nothing else. Being well conditioned with never-ending endurance has huge advantages for BJJ players.
Co-ordination – it’s one of those forgotten stepchildren in S+C. But, when it comes down to it, co-ordination can mean the difference from hitting a winning sub or not. It could also save yourself injury in the heat of battle.
Low impact – finally, kettlebells are significantly low impact. Combat sports are significantly hard on the body. Check out the mileage on your average BJJ competitor compared to a cyclist and come back to us. Your cyclist buddy might have racked up more on the road, but as a jits player, your mileage is banked on your body. Low impact training with the kettlebell can challenge you physically, while saving your joints for the mat!
7 Best kettlebell exercises for BJJ
Okay, so we’re all on the same page here. We’re looking to build functional strength and conditioning that transitions seamlessly onto the mat. So, in that mix will be power, speed, strength, endurance, stability, and co-ordination. Oh, and injury prevention too. Longevity is something we’re all looking for in the new age of BJJ.
Keeping this mixed bag of gains in mind, here are seven of the best kettlebell exercises for BJJ athletes. We’ve chosen them for their specific relation to a grappler’s needs, whether that’s movement patterns you’d use on the mat, or for simply building steadfast grip strength.
Concentrate on form over load and try to execute each rep with pinpoint precision. Kettlebell’s are a lot like jiu jitsu – technique is king.
#1 – Single arm kettlebell swing
Strength and conditioning guru Pavel Tsatsouline says swings are probably the most beneficial exercise anybody can do. Both variations are awesome for BJJ practitioners too. But, if we had to pick one, it’d be the single arm swing.
Swinging helps build power, grip strength, and cardiovascular endurance, while the movement itself is a huge compound exercise. You must maintain a stable core, drive the hips, fire your hamstrings, guide the bell, and continually hold on! There isn’t much left out where the swing is concerned.
Let the kettlebell float once it reaches the top. And once it swings back to the bottom, brace your core so the lower back doesn’t round. It’s okay for some rotation in the torso, but keep an eye on the lumbar spine. Really drive the hips into this movement and let your arms just guide the weight.
Last thing, why have we gone for a single arm swing? Well, that’s because jiu jitsu is rarely symmetrical. You’ll usually use one side more than the other at a given time. A single arm swing helps accommodate that scenario. Check out the video below for a technical how-to.
#2 – Front racked kettlebell squats
In BJJ, your opponent is typically in front of you. So a front racked squat works to shore up that spine and beef out those quads. Strong quads are also important for improving knee stability. Any jits player with years in the game knows how vital strong, well-supported knees are.
You’ll also be able to use these to develop a stronger core and thoracic spine. Concentrate on keeping a flat back and comfortable safe stance. Set your feet at around 10 to 20-degrees and keep the knees outside your big toe. Check out the video below for a full technical how-to.
#3 Grappler’s kettlebell row
The grappler’s row can be described as a kettlebell row from a BJJ standing position. And while it’ll certainly work the back, grip and core, this variation is awesome for working stability. Train the grappler’s row on both sides to help build a well-balanced base.
Keep your lead hand away from your knee and work hard to maintain stability. Make sure your core is braced and your back strays straight and strong – just like you would in a grappling match. You’ll be glad you did these when your base holds steady!
#4 Turkish get up (kettlebell)
Next up is the Turkish get up. It’s hard not to see how and why this exercise transfers over to grappling.
Almost every single muscle in the body becomes engaged here, and there’s more than meets the eye too. The act of popping the hips forward to get off the floor replicates a hip bump sweep, a bread and butter technique we all rely on. Moving the bottom leg from the floor, to kneeling, to standing is also extremely similar to a technical stand up. All the while you’re packing that shoulder and supporting your spine simultaneously, just like you would if you were holding off an opponent.
#5 Kettlebell floor press
The floor press has massive carry over to BJJ. First of all, you’re much more likely to find yourself laying on your back with a need to press, compared to being loaded on a bench. Secondly, because you can’t create a big arch and drive from the feet as you would with a regular bench, you can keep things more realistic. You can use a glute bridge variation if you choose, which will allow for some leg drive.
Now, the floor press targets your major pushing muscles in the triceps, chest, shoulders and core. And because of your positioning, you’re able to add more load to the triceps with less stress on the elbow and shoulder. This is all compared to a regular bench press, where the shoulder will experience a greater range of motion, and so will the elbow.
Tip: Don’t grab the kettlebell horns, lay back, and then try to pull the bell on top of you with your arm outstretched. This places unnecessary strain on the shoulder and can cause issues later down the line.
Instead, grab the kettlebell as you would a Turkish get up, roll onto your back with the kettlebell held close to you, then rack it ready for the press. Use two hands to get the kettlebell into the starting position, unless you’re using two kettlebells. Then, either have a spotter help you, or be extra careful of the shoulder joint.
#6 Kettlebell windmills
Windmills are great for strengthening your core, while stabilizing the shoulder and hip joints. You’ll have to work double-time to keep the kettlebell stable overhead, which is awesome work for mobility, strength, and co-ordination. You’ll also put your hip flexibility to the test, which has many carry overs for BJJ. Windmill’s might not look the coolest, but they’re one of the best kettlebell exercises out there.
#7 Kettlebell Gorilla Cleans
Gorilla cleans are pretty much an alternate variation. As one kettlebell is cleaned, the other descends into the bottom position. Rinse and repeat.
Okay, let’s face it, this specific variation looks awesome. But it’s also extremely beneficial for BJJ in that it helps work strength, power, endurance, and co-ordination. It can be incredibly difficult to stay stable at first, but over time you’ll build an immovable base that you can transfer to the mat.
The actual two-arm alternate movement itself closely replicates pummelling. So, there’s a real-world application with the gorilla clean you don’t get as much with the regular, one-arm variation. We’re talking specifically about BJJ here, so it pays to pick the top tools for the job.
Final roll on kettlebell exercises for BJJ
Kettlebells have been around in some form for hundreds of years. Yet, their true power came to light during the Soviet sport scientists quest for superior strength and conditioning. They became a mainstay among combat athletes, and after the iron curtain fell, made a quick rise in popularity here in the west.
Why? Because they work! Kettlebells are incredibly versatile, are often very low impact, and can be swung and trained with in continual motion without a break. Strength and cardio with the same piece of kit, in the exact same session? As grapplers, this is exactly the type of tool we need!
Naturally, throwing a weighted cannon ball with a handle can be dangerous. Follow instructions to the letter and prioritise technique over everything else. If in doubt, hire yourself a certified kettlebell trainer and/or a recognized Strength and Conditioning coach. You can also pick up dedicated Kettlebell for BJJ books and DVD’s too – some of which are from top flight S+C coaches pros.
Take these seven best kettlebell exercises for BJJ and throw them into your routine. Run through them as a circuit, pick one and drill for time, or just freestyle. See, that’s the thing with kettlebells. You’ll never be stuck with choice – not if you’re creative!
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. Even better, tell us your favorite kettlebell exercises for BJJ. Let’s get the conversation going, team.