Kettlebells: The Perfect Supplement To Combative Training
In my last post on the “Four Pillars Of Combative Conditioning ,” I identified four essential aspects of a comprehensive combative conditioning program. In future months, I will be building the Toughen Up Training Programs around three elements:
Combative Training Methods
Using fighting techniques, like punching and kicking, as forms of exercise to improve health while developing self-defense skills.
Equipment-free methods to condition, strengthen and coordinate your body in ways that will improve your street fighting abilities, and of course…
Kettlebells are an affordable, efficient and enjoyable way to achieve your combative training goals much faster than with more traditional conditioning methods.
Kettlebell training is an excellent strength and conditioning supplement to a combative workout. Here is a list of some of the benefits of a well-designed kettlebell program:
Generating Power From The Hips:
In the martial arts, or any other sport that involves power generation, power comes from the hips. Without mastering the ability to generate energy with your hips, knockout striking power is IMPOSSIBLE. Ballistic kettlebell exercises strengthen your hips and program your nervous system in a way that will add tremendous power to your combative techniques.
It is also impossible to generate hitting power without conditioning your “core.” The core includes the muscles of the midsection: abs, obliques and lower back. Without core strength you’ll never be able to “transfer” the power of your entire body into your fighting skills. You will also be very susceptible to injuries. The core strength developed through KB training will allow you to integrate your entire body into your actions.
Tendon & Joint Resilience:
Joint and tendon problems are often considered a “natural consequence” of any intense training. The accumulative “wear and tear” is thought to be a natural consequence of “abusing your body” in the pursuit of fighting skills and “tough guy” fitness programs.
Eventually, especially in “mature athletes,” the aches and pains add up until we need medical intervention (pain killers or surgery) OR have to give up training all together when we get “too old or worn out” to do it any more. WRONG!
Kettlebell training is an awesome way not only to prevent these injuries but also to recover from them. The unique shape and weight distribution of the KB strengthens the muscles that stabilize and protect the structures of the bodies and have worked wonders for people with long-term and chronic problems.
I personally used kettlebells to “fix” and fully recover from chronic pain and mobility problems in my shoulder that I’d had for years! Many back problems, shoulder and rotator cuff injuries, elbow pain can be remedied with KB training.
Chances are, even if you’re well-read about working out and combative training, you didn’t come across this term before. Even in my Toughen Up Training Manuals, I talk extensively about how to PRODUCE energy, how to TRANSFER it into the target and even how to WITHSTAND the consequence of that energy on your body. I’d never read that much about decelerating energy.
Energy Deceleration is your ability control, re-direct, dissipate and and absorb kinetic energy. In combative situations, this includes punching and kicking, rapid changes in direction, falling or being knocked to the ground without injury etc. This aspect of “energy management” is often neglected in training.
With KB training you throw, drop, swing and lift a heavy, cast iron ball over your head, through you legs and around your waste. You learn to produce AND control kinetic energy in a way that will improve performance and prevent injuries.
Kettlebell Training Is Time Efficient:
The “best way” to improve your performance at anything is to do it! If you want to improve your fighting, spend more time fighting (punching, kicking etc.) and the less on non-fighting activities like jogging or lifting weights. That being said, supplementary activities that strengthen and condition your body are essential to long-term, injury-free training.
The beauty of kettelbell training is that you can work strength, flexibility and endurance all at the same time in short multi-purpose workouts. This allows you to achieve your conditioning goals in less time than with conventional workout methods and spend more time refining your martial arts abilities.
Kettlebells are excellent for full-body circuit and interval training that allows you to accomplish much more in much shorter workouts.
Grip Strength And Wrist Protection
The ability to grip hard and endure the impact of your own punches is essential to a street fighter or martial artist. In proper punching you “have no wrist.” You imagine that your fist is “welded” solidly to your forearms.
As you develop more power in your punches, weak wrists will buckle on impact and the energy that should have gone INTO the target “spills” out or worse still results in an injury.
The “fat metal handle” on a kettlebell develops tremendous grip strength. Some practitioners will even soap up the handle to make it that much harder to hold onto in order to activate grip involvement. You’ll have to grip-your-brains-out just to keep the KB from flying out of your hand. (make sure to do this one outside)
KB training also reinforces perfectly straight wrist alignment at all times. When lifting KB’s you NEVER allow you wrist to buckle, bend or collapse. As with punching, you have to maintain a straight line through your forearm to your fist.
KB Training Fixes “Energy Leaks.”
I write about energy leaks in the Power Punching Guide. An energy leak is a physical flaw in your body position that allows kinetic energy to “spill out” of a striking or kicking technique.
In a punch for example, energy is generated from the ground, through the hips and torso, into your arm and finally to the fist. Every joint between your foot and your knuckles has the potential to leak energy. That’s a bad thing obviously because it either means that you’ll hit “like a little girl” OR that energy could cause an sprain or fracture.
KB training teaches you how to use your body as one efficient, well-coordinated unit. NOTHING is left to chance. Limb position, posture, breathing, balance, weight distribution and joint extension are all perfected as you increase awareness of your entire body.
Bad body position, sloppy joint alignment and haphazard technique often associated with sloppy punching mechanics, improper weight training etc. can not only be counter productive to your combative goals but down right dangerous.
If you are too tense you will be slow, clumsy and will tire quickly. If you are too relaxed you will be weak and vulnerable. To master your fighting skills you must be able to switch from being relaxed to tense to relaxed again in milliseconds.
Kettlebell training is not like traditional weight lifting where you maintain tension in a muscle throughout a slow, controlled repetition. With kettlebells, you learn when to relax and when to tense at the appropriate times for optimal performance and safety.
Cardio Training/Mental Toughness
I eluded to this earlier but it deserves further mention. In the “Four Pillars” post I talk about how important it is for a fighter to be able to produce efficient energy despite fatigue and be able to explode aggressively if and when an opportunity presents itself. Kettlebell training combines high-repetition ballistic actions with slow, deliberate strength moves. Kettlebell training more closely simulates a fight by integrating explosive bursts of activity with slow ones.
The kettlebell practitioner does not train to failure (which could be disastrous in a street fight) but instead learns how to balance exertion with recovery to maintain a high level of performance throughout the workout.
The intensity of certain KB drills develop mental toughness in ways like the “blitz training” does that I write about in the Toughen Up Guides.
The final aspect of KB training that I’ll touch on is body hardening. I am often asked not only how to generate tremendous hitting power but also how to withstand being hit when you are on the receiving end. I don’t care how good you think you are… if you get yourself into a good knock-down-drag-out-street-fight YOU’RE GOING TO GET HIT.
Whether that hit pisses you off or puts you on your ass is largely a result of your ability to absorb and withstand impact energy. What can you do to reduce the likelihood of being knocked out, winded or seized up with a Charley horse?
KB training teaches you how to use proper breathing and muscle tension to protect your body and absorb energy. For example the “pressurization method” used to protect the spine when lifting a KB is similar to the skill needed to withstand a hard blow to the midsection. In some KB exercises, there is light contact of the metal ball with your muscles which will also improve your resilience.
If you’ve read this far, you might be getting the “hint” that I’m pretty high on Russian Kettlebell Training. If that’s the conclusion you’ve drawn… You’re right.
I’ll leave it at that for now and decide how much deeper to get into the topic of Kettlebell Training by how much interest (or lack of it) you show after reading this. If you’re interested in more info about kettlebells please add your comments to the blog or email me at Randy@ToughenUp.com .
If you’d like to do a bit of your own research, then go for it. The best place to start is to check out Pavel Tsatsouline (the undisputed Kettlebell Guru) at: Russian Kettlebells , DragonDoor Publications , or Enter The Kettlebell .
Send me your thoughts.
About Randy LaHaie
I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.