Kettlebells are a multiuse tool when it comes to conditioning. Athletes particularly seem to like them, and they are pretty much a mainstay in any combat sports gym, from BJJ and wrestling to MMA and Muay Thai. As useful as they are, though, kettlebells are not something to be taken lightly (pun intended). Learning how to use them has a large curve, so focusing on a single kettlebell workout for beginners is a great way to get yourself going, and build up some strength and juice for better Jiu-Jitsu performance.
Kettlebells originate from Russia, used first as a training tool to help local farmers counterweight goods they were measuring in the markets. Originally called girya, farmers soon figured out they could use them for physical exercises, eventually creating a competitive sport based on performing certain moves with more and more weight. Girya competitions were mainly held at festivals and circuses in the beginning. By 1948, the sport became the national sport of the Soviet Union.
Kettlebells are iron balls that have a handle welded on top. They are extremely minimalistic in nature but offer an extreme range of training modalities.
After the “functional fitness” craze took over the fitness world about a decade ago, kettlebells quickly found themselves in the focus as odd objects to train with. They quickly ended up in just about every gym in the world, although not many gyms have actually certified and knowledgeable kettlebell coaches to teach people how to use them.
When it comes to moving an iron ball that can weigh anywhere from 5 lbs to 240 lbs around your head, you need to take precautions. Just like in JIu-Jitsu, you can’t go immediately into flying armbars and Berimbolos, but rather have to work through the basics, accepting that you are a beginner.
It is the same with kettlebells, and despite the now world-famous girya being a truly fantastic tool for grappling conditioning, you need to start with a kettlebell workout for beginners first, focusing on learning how to work with just one kettlebell, before moving on to juggling a couple of 70 lbs iron balls up in the air above you.
Kettlebells For Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
A single kettlebell will get you really, really far in terms of specific strength, conditioning, power, stability, and range of motion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All you need to do is tailor a single kettlebell workout for beginners, grappling-specific, using the best exercises for the job. The trick is knowing what effects/benefits you are after with kettlebell training for BJJ.
A true essential for Jiu-Jitsu, regardless if you’re a Gi or No-Gi grappler. The fact that you’re holding the handles of kettlebells, which are usually thick (intentionally so) means your forearms are going to have to work all the time, in a dynamic fashion, covering a bunch of different angles and positions. Sounds familiar?
Every exercise is going to tax your forearms, but kettlebell carries are going to really challenge you, particularly when you’re doing them with only one kettlebell.
A kettlebell workout for beginners should focus on stability. The exercises outlined later in this article do just that, along with the fact that you will only train with one kettlebell at a time. The constant movement in different planes when training with kettlebells means deep-laying muscles that have a stabilizing role get activated, similar to rolling.
Apart from helping you develop a balanced body, kettlebell workouts will help you tune your body up precisely for the needs and requirements of grappling.
Progressive Skill Development
Another parallel between kettlebell workouts and Jiu-Jitsu. you’ll have to learn the basics and you’ll be building on those basics by expanding your skillset to become a lot more precise with your what you’re doing. In BJJ that means more control, better pins, and submissions, and crisper escapes.
For kettlebell training, that translates to mastering the basic kettlebell moves first, so that you can start using more complex and refined moves with bigger weights to turn your single kettlebell workout for beginners, into a double -kettlebell one, before ditching the “beginner” tag and moving on to get your blue belt in training with Russian weight.
Apart from building solid amounts of muscle training with kettlebells, you also get the added bonus (or main goal) of a significantly increased gas tank. It all comes down to the weight you are using and how you program your workout, but with the beginner kettlebell exercises we have outlined here, and the workout at the end of the article, you’re certain to increase your conditioning significantly in a matter of months.
Full Body Integration
One more benefit of kettlebells for combat athletes is that kettlebell training does not isolate muscles. even if you’re doing biceps curls (which you won’t be) you’re doing them with a weight that is oddly positioned and shifts as you work, unlike dumbbells or barbells.
This means your entire body has to work to move the weight, and this becomes particularly obvious as you start increasing the weight of the kettlebell you’re using for your workouts.
5 Best Kettlebell Exercises For Grappling
The best kettlebell exercises you can be doing are ones that will push you in a physical sense but are still at your level of expertise. Since we’re talking about building a kettlebell workout for beginners with no prior experience the exercises that follow are the best-suited ones to offer the benefits we already described.
Kettlebell swings are probably the most popular kettlebell exercise in the world. It is a move that is specific to kettlebell training and was not done in fitness before the emergence of these versatile tools.
Swings have you using momentum to pull the kettlebell forward and upward and back, with plenty of variations and progression available to make this one a truly challenging exercise even for experienced lifters.
How To Perform Kettlebell Swings
The swing involves holding a kettlebell in front of you, with both your hands on the handle, arms straight, and legs wide apart. The goal is to start with the kettlebell at your hip level and use your hips and shoulder to swing the kettlebell upwards.
The hip extension and clenching of your butt cheeks are crucial here to protect the spine. As the weight comes down, you use your hips to bend, hinging so that you accommodate for the inertia that has built up, and reverse the momentum for another repetition of the upward motion.
A pretty straightforward exercise, but one that is in pretty much every kettlebell workout for beginners, whether it is combat athletes or pilates.
The motion is the same as with most regular barbell or dumbbell squats, with the exception of the way you’re holding the weight. The kettlebell goes in front of your chest, arms bent at the elbows, hands supporting the weight by gripping the handle from the bottom up on each side at the junction of the handle and the bell.
Since the load is in the front this exercise is extremely useful and relates directly to Jiu-Jitsu.
How To Perform Kettlebell Goblet Squats
Grab the kettlebell with both palms facing upwards, like you’re grabbing a barbell to do curls. The goal is to curl the kettlebell so that it is tight to your chest and use the bent arms to support the weight so that your biceps don’t tire out.
With feet parallel, the goal is to squat ass-to-grass (a.k.a. as low as possible), while attempting to prevent your knees from going past your toe-line as you squat down.
Turkish Get Ups
The ultimate kettlebell exercise for grapplers. The motion of a Turkish get up is the same as a technical stand up BJJ drill, just with weight held pretty awkwardly over your head. While it may seem daunting it is a beginner’s kettlebell exercise and as long as you follow the correct form you’ll be perfectly safe doing it.
The goal is to start supine with a kettlebell in one hand and get all the way up to your feet, holding the kettlebell over your head at all times. Once you get up, you need to get back down the same way so that you can complete the repetition by going back to the starting position.
How To Perform Kettlebell Turkish Get Ups
Start laying down on the ground with one kettlebell near your chest. Then, bench press the weight upward. Once the arm is in full extension, rotate the shoulders so that you can use your other arm to help prop your torso up (elbow, then palm on the ground).
From there it is all about performing a technical stand up with the exact same steps you’d use in grappling, just keeping your eyes on the kettlebell in the arm extended overhead at all times.
The easiest exercise in a kettlebell workout for beginners, at least when it comes to explaining it. As the name suggests you carry the kettlebell with you while walking for time or distance (depending on available space). Since we’re talking about a single kettlebell workout, you’ll only be carrying weight on one side, and the easiest progression to start with is a suitcase carry.
It won’t be nearly as easy when you first give it a try.
How To Perform Kettlebell Carries
Grab a kettlebell with one arm at the mid-point of the handle, and pick it up off the ground by squatting next to it. Try to hold your body symmetrically, not allowing the weight to pull you to one side as you walk around with the weight, taking steps of medium length, similar to the ones you use to walk.
Of course, you want to switch arms so that both sides of your body get an equal amount of work.
A dynamic core exercise that will leave your midsection burning and your arms as tired as they were after your first-ever Gi match.
The Russian twist exercise can be done without a kettlebell too. You want to sit on your butt with your torso and legs off the ground. Nothing should touch the ground except your butt. The goal is to clasp your hands together and twist from side to side, trying to place the clasped palm on the floor as you do.
How To Perform Kettlebell Russian Twists
Russian twist with a kettlebell work in the same way as bodyweight ones, only you’re holding a kettlebell instead of clasping the palms together. The goal is to hold the kettle ell palms up, the same way as you would for kettlebell Goblet squats. Make sure the bell stays close to your chest and keep twisting trying to place the bottom of the bell on each side.
The Best Grappling Single Kettlebell Workout For Beginners
Now that the exercises are done and you know what to expect out of kettlebell training, let’s put together the perfect grappling single kettlebell workout for beginners.
The programming is in a circuit style, so you get the extra conditioning component of training with kettlebells. That means you’ll do the prescribed amount of work for each exercise and move on to the next one without rest until you finish one set of all five exercises back to back.
The easiest way to measure the circuit is to start with a set amount of time you’re going to be training. Let’s place that at 10 minutes for starters. You’ll do every swings and Goblet squats for 5 repetitions, Turksih get ups for 2 repetitions on each side, Russian twists for 5 repetitions on each side, and finish with 50 yards of suitcase carries on each side. Rest if needed, but try to get back to it as fast as possible, so that you can do as many repetitions of the circuit in 10 minutes.
10 minutes of constant work with minimal rest:
- Kettlebell Swings (two arms grip, 5 repetitions)
- Kettlebell Goblet Squats (two arms grip, 5 repetitions)
- Turkish Get Ups (one-handed grip, 2 repetitions on each side)
- Russian Twists (two arm grip, 5 repetitions on each side)
- Suitcase Carries (one-handed grip, 50 yards carrying per side)
After a couple of weeks, increase the minutes to 15. After a couple more, go for 20 minutes, and keep doing the same thing until you can do it for 30 minutes straight.
After you’re able to do 30 minutes of kettlebell training, you can think about increasing the weight but drop the time down to 15 for your first couple of weeks.
A good starting weight is 8-12 kg (17-26 lbs ) for women and 12-16 kg (26-35 lbs) for men who are complete beginners.
How Often Should You Workout with Kettlebells
If you’re training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling three times or more per week, then doing this workout two times per week will be more than enough to get you stronger, faster and in better shape than ever before. All you’ll need is a kettlebell and the place to do the carries. Since most BJJ gyms nowadays have kettlebells, I think this is not going to be an issue for anyone.
- Accept that you’ll have to start with a kettlebell workout for beginners and work your way up, just like in BJJ.
- Use the best exercises suited for beginners who look to improve grappling performance through kettlebell training. Those are swings, goblet squats, Turkish get ups, suitcase carries, and Russian twists.
- Use a timed circuit style training to make sure you push yourself constantly and be extremely effective with the time you spend training strength and conditioning.
- Use just one kettlebell for the first few months of kettlebell training.