Those of you who have trained in classes at WCA or with myself personally in one to one training sessions, will know that I am advocate of adding kettlebells to your routine.
I don’t think they are the be all and end all of strength and fitness training but from my own experience I do think that they have a lot of benefits that carry over to the martial arts and are well worth investing some time and money in.
The fundamental exercise that all kettlebell training is built upon is the two handed kettlebell swing.
While performing a kettlebell swing, your stance should be rooted to the ground (sound familiar). Rooting and drawing up energy from the ground is a familiar concept in the martial arts and having a solid stance is even more necessary when you have a kettlebell swinging back down between your legs that you need to propel back up to chest level.
As with traditional martial arts training, get the footwork right and everything else begins to fall into place.
Once the kettlebell has swung back between your legs, with a snap of the hips you project it back out in front of you up to chest level. Developing the hip snap carries over nicely to your martial arts training. It develops explosiveness in strikes, kicks as well as takedowns and ground escapes.
During a traditional martial arts form, or in sparring/fighting etc, you’re in a constant state of tension and relaxation, or at least you should be. Initially it’s hard for students to relax, they try to muscle their way through moves, this is really a shortcut to physical exhaustion and they soon (hopefully) learn that this is not an optimal way to train or fight.
The kettlebell swing can teach you this tension/relaxation principle, all within one exercise. It’s important to note that a swing is a ballistic exercise, rather like a snatch, clean or a jerk. This can be contrasted with other type of exercises which are grinding in nature. Think pull ups, presses, deadlifts, squats where you are constantly under tension.
Ballistics are explosive in nature and when performed correctly the kettlebell will feel weightless for a part of the exercise. During a swing, if you get the correct hip snap, the kettlebell will feel weightless from about thigh to chest height and back down again – this is where you relax. You then should tense up again as you ‘catch’ the kettlebell, guide it back between the legs and then squeeze the glutes, load up the hamstrings and snap the hips to propel it forwards and upwards again.
To the untrained eye, a swing can often be mistaken for an upper body exercise but at no time should you feel as though you are dragging the kettlebell up. You can develop fantastic grip and forearm strength, a solid strong upper back and traps, all very useful for a martial artist. It gives you that lean wiry look and a fantastic balance of strength and fitness as well as mental toughness to keep on going and see out the next few reps.
The areas you are really targeting though are the hamstring, glutes and lower back (the posterior chain). Developing these muscles will make you more explosive and resistant to injury. They are not the muscles you see when you look in the mirror, so are often neglected in a more vanity driven training regime but as a martial artist you want to select exercises that are both relevant and give you the most ‘bang for your buck’.