Kettlebell Training for MMA

By: Mike Mahler

Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. For more information go to www.mikemahler.com.

Background & Beginner Info.

One of the biggest mistakes that many MMA fighters make is with regards to strength training. Many MMA strength-training regimens consist primarily of bodybuilding exercises such as: barbell curls, bench presses, or even worse Nautilus machine exercises. At best, these exercises make your muscles stronger and bigger. However, most likely they will make your body tight and teach you how to isolate muscles instead of using your body as one unit. This is disastrous in an MMA fight.

While standard bodybuilding exercises are great for increasing muscle mass in order to move up to a heavier weight class, they do not have a significant sport specific transfer to MMA fights. In this article, I am going to go over two exercises that will build explosive strength and increased muscular endurance. You will have no doubt that there is a sports specific application for MMA athletes.

How I Got Into MMA…

I have been a big fan of the martial arts ever since I can remember. I used to love watching Bruce Lee movies and other Kung fu movies. I was amazed at the body mastery that these martial artists had and I have been hooked ever since. When the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) came out several years ago I was fascinated. You never knew what was going to happen and the athleticism and mental toughness that the UFC athletes brought to the ring was incredible.

When I became a strength coach, I knew that I wanted to focus on making fighters more explosive and stronger. I wanted to develop exercises that would have a sport specific transfer. I started watching MMA fights from the perspective of a strength coach and tactician. I watched how fighters took their opponents down, got out of the guard, defended being taken to the ground, and how they threw punches. The more I watched the more excited I got. I started coming up with moves that I knew would be tremendously beneficial to professional MMA fighters.

I showed a few of these moves to some of my martial arts friends and these guys were blown away. They saw the application immediately and got excited about incorporating the moves into their regimens. The feedback was so positive that I decided to work on a video and manual that would show all of the exercises that I came up with as well as several other exercises that I think are great for MMA fighters. Here are some of my favorites that are not for the faint of heart:

Mike’s Two Favorite MMA Exercises…

A – Full Body Attack

This is an incredible exercise that will teach you how to use your body as one unit and build explosive power from the ground up. Often in a fight you have to get from the floor to your feet explosively against the resistance of an opponent. That is exactly what you are doing with the “Full Body Attack.” In addition to having sport specific application, the “Full Body Attack” will get you in incredible shape. Try using two 53lb kettlebells or 50lb dumbbells for ten reps and you will have no doubt that the “Full Body Attack” is effective.

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Place two kettlebells or dumbbells shoulder width apart on the ground (Caution: If you are using dumbbells, make sure that you use the ones that will not roll around on the ground). Get into the top position of the pushup with both hands on the kettlebells. Do a pushup on the kettlebells. The second that you complete the rep, hop forward explosively while holding onto the kettlebells. Now you are in the starting position of the clean. Clean both kettlebells and drive through with the hip flexors rapidly.

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Your elbows should be tucked in and in line with your stomach at the top of the movement. Now reverse the motion and do another rep. Start off with three sets of five, two to three times a week until you get the hang of it. After you have the technique down, work up to three sets of ten. If you are under 200lbs, have a goal of doing twenty-five reps straight with two 53lb kettlebells. If you are over 200lbs, have a goal of dong twenty-five reps straight with two 70lb kettlebells.

B – Full Body Defense

In addition to learning how to go from the ground to your feet explosively, an MMA fighter needs to be able to go from the feet to the ground rapidly as well to avoid takedowns. That is precisely what the “Full Body Defense” will assist you with. Similar to the “Full Body Attack”, the “Full Body Defense” will get you in shape and build incredible muscular endurance when done for high reps. Start the exercise by cleaning two kettlebells to your shoulders. Push your pelvis at the top of the clean so that that you can press your elbows against your stomach and keep the kettlebells tucked in. Take the kettlebells to the floor in the clean position.

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Now jump back while still holding onto the kettlebells and arch your back. When executed properly, you will look like you are doing a yoga stretch. Immediately jump back into the clean position, clean the kettlebells, and then proceed with another rep.

Again, work on doing three sets of five, two to three times a week. After you have the technique down, work up to three sets of ten. If you are under 200lbs, have a goal of doing twenty-five reps straight with two 53lb kettlebells. If you are over 200lbs, have a goal of dong twenty-five reps straight with two 70lb kettlebells.

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There you have it, two exercises that will get you in great shape and build sport specific strength that will carry over to the ring in no time. Next time, I will go over some other great exercises that will develop ballistic shock and wrist strength.

Building A Powerful Takedown!

One of the most important components of being a successful Mixed Martial Arts fighter is having powerful takedown abilities. In this article, I am going to go over three exercises to enhance your takedown strength.

One of the most important components of being a successful Mixed Martial Arts fighter is having powerful takedown abilities. Top fighters such as UFC champ Matt Hughes and UFC light-heavy weight champ Randy Couture have exceptional takedown abilities that frustrate respective opponents to no end. These champions take their opponents down with pure confidence and you can tell that their opponents never knew what hit them.

If you cannot take an opponent down you are at an extreme disadvantage. Of course, knowing what to do after you take an opponent down is critical as well. However, that is a topic for another article. In this article, I am going to go over three exercises to enhance your takedown strength.

The Exercises

A – Kettlebell Duck Walk

The Kettlebell Duck Walk is modeled after the exact move that wrestlers use to take down opponents. Many MMA fighters and grapplers such as five time UFC champion Frank Shamrock already do bodyweight duck walks as part of their conditioning program. However, when you are in the ring you will be working against an opponent so why not add some resistance to the duck walk to develop more power and strength.

Imagine that you are driving through an opponent and finish what you start. Take a breath before you start the Duck Walk and then breathe out forcefully as you drive forward. Also, to avoid scrapping your knees, make sure to practice Kettlebell Duck Walks on soft grass or preferably a wrestling mat. Work your way across the mat, switch arms, and work your way back to the starting position. Ten reps per side will get the job done.Start the Kettlebell Duck Walk by cleaning a kettlebell with one arm. From there take a step forward with the leg that is on the same side as the kettlebell. Let the leading leg’s knee drop down to the ground and slide the other leg forward. Now drop that leg’s knee and repeat. A key point for the proper execution of the Kettlebell Duck Walk is to always look forward. Once you get in motion stay in motion. This is not a super slow exercise. It needs to be executed quickly and forcefully.

B – Kettlebell Split Snatch

Kettlebell Split Snatches will build tremendous explosive power for takedowns.

Start with one kettlebell between your feet. Push your butt back as if you are trying to sit down in a chair to get into the proper starting position. Look straight ahead at all times. Explosively rip the kettlebell off of the ground as if you are trying to start a lawn mower. At the same time jump into a lunge position in order to get under the kettlebell.

Once the kettlebell is locked out overhead, hold the position for a second and then stand up with the kettlebell locked out overhead at all times. The kettlebell should go from the ground to a locked out position in one uninterrupted move.


C – Kettlebell Split Jerk

After the move is completed, lower the kettlebell back to the starting position and repeat. Regarding breathing, breathe in as you rip the kettlebell off of the ground and out as you lower it back to the starting position. Imagine that you are trying to get under the kettlebell rather than drive it overhead.

Due to the fact that technique is a tremendous factor with Kettlebell Split Snatches, a rep range of three to five will work well for Kettlebell Split Snatches. The key here is to develop tremendous explosive power rather than burning yourself out with high reps. Never let your form deteriorate in a set of Kettlebell Split Snatches. Every rep of the Kettlebell Split Snatch should be executed with perfect form.

The Kettlebell Split Jerk is another excellent exercise for building explosive power for takedowns. Clean a kettlebell to your shoulder. Dip down a few inches, pop the kettlebell up and immediately jump into a lunge to get under the kettlebell and lock it out overhead. Stand up to complete the movement with the kettlebell locked out at all times. From there, lower the kettlebell to your shoulder and repeat.

Again, focus on getting under the weight rather than pressing it overhead. Many people make the mistake of pressing the weight overhead and then jumping into a lunge when the weight is locked out overhead. Just pop the kettlebell up to your forehead and explosively drive right under it. The point of this exercise is to develop strength for takedowns, not to fatigue the shoulders. Similar to the Kettlebell Split Snatch, the Kettlebell Split Jerk does not lend itself well to high repetitions.
There are several ways that you can incorporate the above exercises into your current regimen. I recommend that you do one of the takedown drills in each workout.

For example, if you workout three times a week using a M-W-F schedule, do a few sets of Kettlebell Duck Walks on Monday, a few sets of Kettlebell Split Snatches on Wednesday, and several sets of Kettlebell Split Jerks On Friday. Do the takedown exercises towards the beginning of your workouts when you are fresh. Definitely avoid doing them when fatigue reaches a peak in your workouts.

Practice these takedown strength exercises for a month and you will be amazed at the difference it makes. Nevertheless, it is not as technical as the Kettlebell Split Snatch and does not require as much effort. Thus, a rep range of three to six reps per set is a good range to use. Just make sure that each rep is completed with perfect form. The key here again is to develop explosive power. There are much better exercises to use for muscular endurance.

About The Author: Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. For more information on Mike’s new DVD “Mahler’s Aggressive Strength For The Mixed Martial Arts”, go to http://www.mikemahler.com/store/

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