As you may know, I have been around the martial arts scene for over 30 years and have seen many a fad come and go. I’ve never been a great fan of “traditional” weight training as it is time consuming, very repetitive (boring) and often counter productive in conjunction with martial arts. So when I came across kettlebells for the first time about 18 month ago, I was sceptical as to what that “new fad” was all about.
What’s a “Kettlebell”?
The kettlebell, or Girya in Russian, is an old Russian strength and conditioning tool. It has been used for centuries by the Russian military, police, and the laymen to gain strength, agility, power and endurance. It has been used both as a training and a testing tool in competitions. Although it first appeared in a Russian dictionary in the year 1704, nobody knows the exact origin of the kettlebell, although there are some theories.
A kettlebell looks basically like a canon ball with a handle. It’s extremely versatile and comes in many different weights, starting at around 4kg up to 48kg and more. The usual weights are 8kg, 16kg, 24kg, 32kg, 40kg and 48kg. The reason for this is that the kettlebell normally comes in increments of a 1/2 pood — an old Russian weight measurement denoting 16kg. Although you might require different weights as you progress through the exercises a Kettlebell is essentially an all in one gym, that not only requires a small investment but also very little space to practice in.
How does kettlebell training differ from conventional dumbbell training?
The core difference of kettlebell training as opposed to conventional dumbbell or barbell training is the realisation that the body works together as a unit and not in isolation. Conventional weight training (more often than not), particularly weight machines, isolate particular muscle groups or even single muscles through exercises like biceps curls, lat pulls, etc. This does have some benefits in complementing other training regimes like running or rowing or as part of rehabilitating physiotherapy. Some weight training practices however will create sluggishness and a loss of tensile strength particularly if one uses a body-building or train-to-failure approach. Kettlebell training on the other hand is not only a lot more dynamic, challenging and fun it also involves the entire body in any given exercise due to its design and the way it is performed.
Du to way the way the kettlebell is swung and lifted it improves agility and coordination, explosive power, endurance, aesthetics, super strong core, and much more. Training with a kettlebell trains the legs, core, back, shoulders, arms and chest. More importantly almost all, or most, of these muscles come into play on virtually all the kettlebell lifts. This trains the body as a single unit, developing well coordinated, dynamic strength that can be used in a wide variety of athletic, combative, and everyday situations.
Kettlebells and Martial Arts training
Kettlebells are a perfect complimentary training regime for martial arts. As I have already mentions in the sections above, they help to develop a great deal of explosive, dynamic strength and coordination. They also help to develop a great deal of strength endurance and superior conditioning. One of the more novel things that I have noticed during Kettlebell training is the fact that although you’re lifting, swinging and pushing a weight it feels a lot more like a cardio workout and you really do feel the entire body aching usually the day after tomorrow.
Another reason why I believe that Kettlebells are the ideal choice for martial artists is because many of the basic movements are similar in nature to many of the basic martial art techniques, regardless of what style you practice. This contributes to the economy of motion, which is particularly important in Wing Chun training, as it does not require you to learn radically new or different motor patterns.
Some of the most significant characteristics of a well-rounded martial artist are strength/endurance, mental and physical toughness, martial specificity, and efficiency. These 4 attributes need to be addressed when supplementing martial arts practice with weight training. Kettlebells are the tool of choice for accomplishing these objectives, and when properly integrated will increase the speed, power, endurance and movement skill of the martial artist.
In conclusion, since I have started supplementing my own martial arts training with kettlebell circuits I have not only not looked back, but also “infected” many other friends and students with the kettlebell bug. It is not only the most versatile and hard core work out regime I’ve come across it’s also the most fun and rewarding.
Yours in the fighting arts,
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