Kettlebell Exercises

Kettlebell Weights: Getting Started, Training Safely and Gaining Maximum Benefit

In the April 2012 issue of Black Belt, Dr. Mark Cheng, Senior RKC, one of the magazine’s contributing editors, offered advice on how and why martial artists should start training with kettlebell weights. Here’s some bonus interview content that didn’t make it into the magazine!

When a person is starting out with kettlebell weights, should there be no pain other than normal delayed onset muscle soreness? Or is it normal to experience minor pain like, “Oh, my spine felt strange after my first few workouts”?

DOMS is fine; where the DOMS exists should be of interest. For example, you’re doing Swings and feeling a lot of DOMS in your lower back. If you’re spending the majority of your day sitting and your hips don’t flex as much as your spine does, then that makes sense. The soreness means those stabilizing muscles are learning to play better, learning to get stronger.

But after a couple of workouts, the DOMS should shift. Say you’re doing Swings. The soreness should shift from your lower back to your glutes and maybe a little in your thighs. The Swing actually engages a lot of muscles: Your heels dig in, your knees lock out, your glutes clench, your abs shorten and your lats engage — it’s pretty much your whole body.

Mark Cheng demonstrates how to use kettlebell weights for a move called the swing.

How does a beginner know how heavy their kettlebell weights should be?

In general, a guy of average size and strength can start with a kettlebell that weighs 16 kilograms, or about 35 pounds. For ladies, it’s usually the 8-kilogram bell, which is about 18 pounds. Of course, if you’re coming back from an injury, that will be lower. In any case, you should go with a weight you can control. On the other hand, you don’t want one that’s so light you feel like you can do everything with it.


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These days, you can find really small kettlebell weights — a couple of pounds — in big-box stores. Is there any value to them?

They work great as doorstops or paperweights. They won’t hone your pecs very well, though. If a 5-year-old can put one of them overhead for several reps, what good is it to an adult? Those weights exist, in my opinion, only to minimize liability for those who don’t want to pay attention to good form.

How do you know when it’s time to move to heavier kettlebell weights?

If you’ve got a bell you can military-press to a strict lockout for 10 reps with good form, you should up the weight.

How long should kettlebell routines go? If a person starts with a basic routine that lasts 15 minutes, then really gets into it and starts seeing the length of the session grow to two or three hours, is that going too far? Is it a sign the intensity is too low?

People who watch their workouts grow in length are often addicted to the gym lifestyle. They like being there. For them, it’s not just about the workout.

I’ve never heard of anyone doing kettlebells for three hours nonstop. During seminars, we work people for up to three days, but there are plenty of rests.

I’ve taken athletes who are in good shape and, even while erring toward caution and safety, smoked them in five minutes. And it’s not like I was trying to be brutal. It was one minute of Swings, then one Turkish Get-Up, then another minute of Swings, then another Turkish Get-Up using the other hand, then a third minute of Swings.

It seems like that would be a selling point for a kettlebell exercise program: “Get fit in five minutes a day instead of spending an hour and a half in a gym pumping iron.”

I tell people that, but they seldom believe it. Depending on your lifestyle, the minimum program can have as few as two exercises: the Swing and the Turkish Get-Up. The Swing is a ballistic exercise that develops maximum explosiveness with the hips and legs, and the Get-Up is a full-body grind that takes you through the full range of motion with the body learning how to control the bell in multiple vectors.

Those are the two exercises you covered in the first article Black Belt ever ran on kettlebells (March 2009 issue), right?

Yes. People, including many in the rehab community, are still using that article for guidance.

In your DVD set Kettlebell Warrior, you frequently talk about details. Why are they so important during workouts with kettlebell weights? If you neglect those details, are you setting yourself up for injury or are you just not getting the full

Kettlebell Program by Scott Sonnon Pumps Up Your Mixed-Martial Arts Workouts!

Mixed-martial arts workouts involve training for a lot of ground-fighting techniques. After all, you need the ability to get out from under an opponent and establish the dominant position should you find yourself with your back to the mat. Such a situation calls for not only fighting skill in arts such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling but also body conditioning and muscle preparation for specific moves. A good kettlebell program including kettlebell exercises such as the quarter get-up can be a perfect addition to your MMA weight-training routine, training your muscles for the explosiveness necessary for a ground-fighting escape. National and international sambo champion Scott Sonnon takes you through a kettlebell program from Ultimate Conditioning – Volume 2: Ground Fighters called the “quarter get-up.” This kettlebell program is executed by fitness coach John Wolf and is included in Scott Sonnon’s Ultimate Conditioning 3-DVD Set, which includes a variety of mixed-martial arts workouts based on bodyweight, kettlebells, sandbags and more!

KETTLEBELL PROGRAM VIDEO
Scott Sonnon’s MMA Weight-Training Routine Brings Explosiveness to Your MMA Ground-Fighting Techniques


“Our version of the quarter get-up is designed for ground-fighting explosion,” Scott Sonnon says. “When we’re working the quarter get-up, I want you to focus on getting to the forearm and the far arm with the hand down. Don’t come up to the palm and lock the bones. If the bones are locked, that arm’s submitted. Come up to the forearm, elbow tight, exhale and pull down to the core.”


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Fitness coach John Wolf executes this MMA weight-training routine, lifting the kettlebell as instructed. The kettlebell program starts with Wolf on his back as he launches the weight upward toward the ceiling. Wolf brings his torso upward so his shoulder and arm are perpendicular to the ground.

Scott Sonnon stops Wolf during the peak-lift moment in the kettlebell program and says, “There’s your optimal position [to achieve] top position. After that, [your opponent is] on his back. You’ve rolled your opponent through explosion, using the body mechanics generated and strengthened through proper repetitious execution of this exercise.”

The primary goal of this kettlebell program, Scott Sonnon says, is staying focused on being able to explode through the move in this MMA weight-training routine and thus explode during your MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or other ground-fighting situation. He encourages remaining able to perform the move more than once. “The first attempt may not be sufficient,” Scott Sonnon says. “Just because it doesn’t work the first time does not mean it won’t work the next time — if you get all the components in alignment.”


Scott Sonnon has served as the U.S. National Sambo Team coach and a top-level referee, as well as being a multi-sport national and international champion. Scott Sonnon has trained MMA fighters Alberto Crane, Elvis Sinosic, Jorge Rivera and Egan Inoue. He has three DVDs available in our online store:

Develop Functional Strength for Your Martial Art With Hard-Style Kettlebell Training!

The phrase “hard-style kettlebells” describes a comprehensive resistance-training program that’s guaranteed to enhance your martial arts ability. How so? It will bolster your grip and your strength at odd angles. It will improve your burst/rest cardiovascular conditioning. And it will remove the internal imbalances brought on by the one-sided nature of martial arts training, which can lead to mystery injuries such as hurting your back while bending down to tie your shoe.

Kettlebell training also develops “functional strength.” The term refers to strength that comes from supplemental training but that directly relates to your sport of choice. If you’re reading this Web post, your sport of choice is probably a martial art — perhaps Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kali or muay Thai. Although they’re ostensibly similar, they differ in their approach to combat. Because of those differences, a routine designed to facilitate performance in one art by developing specific physical attributes isn’t the same as a routine designed for another art. Or is it?

Consider Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It requires a strong grip for holding the collar and sleeve of your opponent’s gi. Kali is weapons-based and, therefore, the polar opposite of grappling, but its practitioners also need grip strength to hold sticks and knives securely. Likewise, hip strength and flexibility are important whether you’re on your back grappling or on your feet sending high-power muay Thai kicks down range.

Despite the vastly different fighting methods these arts use, there are many overlapping areas when it comes to attribute development. It’s in those areas that kettlebell training shines.

Benefits of the Bell
Martial arts require a type of physical output called “power endurance.” It means you need to deliver multiple bursts of energy broken up by short rest periods, all for a sustained but not marathon-length time. Sub-10-minute rounds in MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and kickboxing fit the power-endurance profile. Again, this type of physical output is perfectly matched to the qualities the kettlebell develops.

One of the biggest benefits of the kettlebell is that all you need to get started is one bell and a 10-foot-by-10-foot training area. Just make sure your workout takes place in an area where dropping the weight won’t do any damage. Common solutions include training on mats or outside on grass or sand.

Two Variations
Kettlebell exercises can be divided into two categories: ballistics and grinds. A ballistic mimics the explosiveness of Olympic lifting. It uses a fast squat-to-standing motion accompanied by hard-hitting hip action to generate the inertia necessary to move the bell from point A to point B. When done with explosiveness, it will challenge your cardiovascular conditioning within seconds.

A grind, on the other hand, uses pure strength rather than momentum to move the kettlebell to its destination, often overhead. It requires you to create maximum stability and range of motion, thus increasing both flexibility and strength.

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ONE-LEGGED DEADLIFT
Why Do It: To increase stabilization and balance in the muscles of your legs.

Step by Step: Stand with the bell in front of one foot. Lift your other foot off the ground and hold it behind you with your leg straight. Lower your body, bending the knee of your supporting leg, then grasp the kettlebell with your hand. Rise by straightening your bent leg with the kettlebell in hand. Lower your body again and touch the bell lightly to the ground. Return to a standing position.

Reps: 10 times on each leg.

Caution: When lowering your body to reach the kettlebell, maintain a flat back and keep your chest square to the ground. Avoid rounding your back and dipping your shoulder. If you cannot get low enough with good form, place the kettlebell on a sturdy box so it’s within reach. Lock your supporting leg at the top of each rep.

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OVERHEAD LUNGE
Why Do It: To open your hip flexors and abdominals while enhancing stability and to increase the range of motion in your shoulder.

Step by Step: Rack the kettlebell on your right side. (That entails lifting it until it’s near your shoulder.) Bend your knees and then extend them to generate upward momentum, which helps you get the kettlebell overhead. Lock your elbow and wrist straight, then pull your shoulder down into its socket. Step forward with your left foot, keeping the kettlebell in the overhead lockout. Maintain an upright orientation with your torso as you lower your right knee. If you touch the ground with your knee, do so gently. Keeping the overhead lockout, move your right foot parallel to your left foot, then step forward with your right foot to perform the lunge.

Reps: 10 times on each leg.

Caution: Don’t have your feet too much in line because it will increase the difficulty of maintaining your balance. Don’t let your …

Kettlebell Expert John Spezzano Shows You a Kettlebell Workout Technique Using the Overhead Lunge

In this exclusive martial arts fitness video, John Spezzano shows you how to execute the overhead lunge with a kettlebell! John Spezzano is the author of The Martial Arts/Kettlebell Connection, which contains detailed photographic instruction on this kettlebell technique and scores of others to help your kettlebell training in the areas of strength, stability, stamina and flexibility.

As martial arts expert John Spezzano describes the first part of the exercise, “We grab the kettlebell with both hands, and give it a little bit of a swinging motion and bring it up with both hands and just let it land gently in what we call ‘the rack.'” Spezzano advises participants to not allow their wrist to “face up to the sky” but rather to be “nice and locked straight” with the elbow resting against the rib cage.

Next comes the push press, as Spezzano describes in the kettlebell exercise video: “[You’re] actually going to do a little bit of a squat and then use that upward momentum to get the kettlebell up and overhead.”

As in the first part of the exercise in the kettlebell video below, Spezzano advises, “Make sure when the bell is up, your wrist stays straight … wrist stays straight, elbow locked straight, shoulder pulled down into the socket.”

A 30-year veteran of the martial arts, John Spezzano is a Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline and a full instructor of both Jun Fan gung fu / jeet kune do concepts and the Philippine martial arts under Dan Inosanto. Spezzano is also qualified to teach maphilindo silat (under Inosanto), wing chun (under Francis Fong) and muay Thai (under Chai Sirisute).

KETTLEBELL EXERCISE VIDEO | Kettlebell Expert John Spezzano Demonstrates the Overhead Lunge

Editor’s Note: John Spezzano’s full-color kettlebell workout book, The Martial Arts/Kettlebell Connection, is AVAILABLE NOW in Black Belt’s online store!


Kettlebell Exercise: Goblet Squat (John Spezzano)

A 30-year veteran of the martial arts, John Spezzano is a full instructor of Jun Fan gung fu / jeet kune do concepts and the Philippine martial arts under Dan Inosanto. Spezzano is also qualified to teach maphilindo silat (under Inosanto), wing chun (under Francis Fong) and muay Thai (under Chai Sirisute). He is a Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline.


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