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How Kettlebells Can Help Your BJJ Training According to Mike Perry and Bernardo Faria
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How Kettlebells Can Help Your BJJ Training According to Mike Perry and Bernardo Faria

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Kettlebells are the perfect tool for combat sports athletes wanting to build strength and stability—you don’t need a lot of equipment, a lot of space, or even spend a lot of time to get a great workout. All you need is a single kettlebell and a yoga mat. Master strength and conditioning coach Mike Perry and four-time World Jiu-Jitsu Champion (and BJJ Fanatics co-founder) Bernardo Faria explain why kettlebells should be included in your weekly strength training routine. 


“Once you learn the basics of kettlebell training you can focus on so many different components of training. You can focus on speed, strength, grip endurance, core training,’ Perry said. “You can coordinate a bunch of total body moments, so it’s just really a super-efficient way to train.” 


 

Why Kettlebells?

Perry said he considers the kettlebell to be the most versatile tool an athlete could add to their strength and conditioning routine. The movements require core strength and work lesser-used muscles to improve stability, but kettlebells are also easy on your joints when used correctly, said Perry. The trainer does recommend working with a professional when starting out to learn correct posture while performing the movements.  

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“What you can do is you can manipulate the load and you can challenge yourself. So, it requires a lot of stability, a lot of core strength, but it’s really easy on the joints,” Perry said. “Especially with combat athletes...it’s really about staying on the mats as long as possible and having longevity. It’s important that your training will complement your Jiu-Jitsu and whatever else you do.”

How Long Should Your Workout Take?

Depending on your goals, the average kettlebell work should take around 20 to 30 minutes, according to Perry. Since you’re typically using less weight than a traditional dumbbell workout, your body is able to recover faster while building strength. 


“If you are beating yourself up in the gym, how can you expect to perform your best on the mats?” Perry said. “I really believe kettlebell training can be a perfect complement to Jiu-Jitsu or any combat sport.” 


Basic Kettlebell Exercises

Two-Armed Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is one of the most well-known exercises associated with the discipline. While seemingly easy, the movement can hurt your lower back if not performed correctly. 


While in a wide stance, hold the kettlebell with both hands on the horn. Bend your knees and bring the kettlebell between your legs and then snap your hips forward while your arms are extended to bring the kettlebell up to about chest level. It’s important to keep a neutral spine position when performing the kettlebell swing, said Perry. When you hinge your hips and shoot your hips back (as you swing the kettlebell back between your legs) make sure to keep your back flat, not rounded.”


“One of the worst things you can do is swing the kettlebell and go into a flexed position and then come up to the top [of the movement] and then overextend,” Perry said. 


Perry also said to another thing to focus on when performing this moment was to let the kettlebell slightly float at the top of the kettlebell swing (when the kettlebell is extended in front of you). As you snap your hips to propel the kettlebell forward from between your legs, the trainer said to relax your arms to balance the tension of the movement. 


“You don’t have to be super tense at the top position. When the kettlebell is underneath you, you can swing it and have the kettlebell come out, but you don’t want to be over gripping,” Perry said. “You don’t want to use too much tension because if you do, you’re inefficient and you’re going to get tired.” 

One-Armed Kettlebell Swing

The most important thing to focus on while performing this variation is making sure you’re not rotating your lower back, said Perry. While you can have a little rotation with your upper back, Perry cautions against rounding and/or twisting your lower back as you swing the kettlebell between your legs. 


“That lower back area should stay nice and square, but a little bit of rotation is ok,” Perry said. “A bigger guy with bigger shoulders, in order to get that kettlebell underneath your legs, you are going to have to rotate a little bit. If you tried to come straight down [with the kettlebell you would just hit yourself in the legs.”  

Kettlebell Snatch

The snatch is similar to the one-armed swing but you keep extending your arm until the kettlebell is over your head. The trainer recommends keeping your elbow locked when the kettlebell is in the overhead position. The weight should be in line with your body when it is overhead—not leaning forward or backward.  If your arm isn’t locked out while extended above your head, it can put a lot of unnecessary stress on your elbow and surrounding joints, said Perry. As the kettlebell comes back down, let your arm absorb the swing while staying centered. 

Figure Eight

“The cool thing about the figure eight is it does force you to move your hands and stabilize your lower body,” Perry said.


While in a wide, squatting stance, alternate moving the kettlebell between your legs while switching arms at the midpoint (like you’re making the number eight). Again, while some upper body rotation is ok, make sure you are not rounding your shoulders or rotating your lower back, said Perry. 


Half Turkish Getup 

Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and the kettlebell about 12-inches away from the shoulder of the side you want to strengthen. With your knees bent, roll your whole body toward the kettlebell and grip the weight with two hands by the horn. As you come up, keep the leg bent that’s on the same side as the kettlebell as you rotate back to the center. Now, you will use the bent leg to help lift your upper body to the post position (kettlebell toward the ceiling) as the opposite arm braces the upper body. 


If you’re looking to take your strength and conditioning to the next level, check out Perry’s video, KB Essentials - An Instructional Guide To Kettlebell Training available at BJJFanatics.com

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