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Physical Conditioning With Kettlebells For MMA Fighters

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Without doubt MMA fighters are some of the fittest athletes on the planet. As a fighter you need good performance for every physical quality: strength, speed, endurance, skills and flexibility.

If you are not well conditioned as a sport player or a single event athlete you may lose games, your opponents will score goals and points over you; if you are not fit and participate in MMA competition you will get your own dear ass kicked.

The single main goal of martial arts is to defeat a stronger opponent. If you can not achieve this, there is no point in training martial arts; just improve your strength and impose your will on your adversaries. If you are not fit enough the you may often fail to achieve this single most important goal of martial arts; you will get beaten by less skilled, but better conditioned opponents.

I have seen many athletes who overlook physical conditioning training, thinking that just skill is important. If you want to know the importance of physical prowess just think about women martial artists fighting men. It is extremely difficult for women athletes to triumph over men, mostly because of physical conditioning level.

What physical qualities do you need to improve as a MMA fighters and what drills you can use?


You need to consider more aspects of strength:

Maximal general strength

Maximal general strength is the basic for every other aspect of strength. To develop maximal strength train with heavy weights (1-5 RM 85 – 100% x 1 RM) and low repetitions (1 – 5 reps).

KB drills for maximal general strength:

– Standing KB press

– Windmill

– KB pistol squat

– Bent press

– Turkish get up (TGU)

– Gladiator row

Explosive strength

Power is king in every athletic discipline. The ability to apply maximal strength in shortest time possible makes the difference between great strikers and novices.

To develop power you need to practice explosive drills. You can train with very heavy weights and maximal acceleration for low reps (1-5 RM for 1-5 Reps).

You can also use lightest weights (30 – 70 % x 1 RM), and use maximal acceleration for 6 – 15 Reps. Stop the drill when you begin your explosiveness begins to drop.

KB explosive drills for power: (you can practice these drills using one or two KB)

– KB swing

– KB snatch

– KB clean

– KB jerk

– KB clean & jerk

KB throws outside on the sand or other soft terrain: two hands overhead behind, two hands forward, two hands up, one or two hands with torso twisting, etc.

Strength endurance

If MMA combat rounds would be just 30 seconds you wouldn’t need strength endurance, but with multiple rounds of 3 to 5 minutes you need.

For developing strength endurance use 60 – 70% x 1 RM loads for sets of 15 – 30 reps. You can tie different drill together for an extended circuit up to 3 – 5 minutes. Maintain a moderate tempo of execution.

KB drills for strength endurance:

– Turkish get up

– KB standing press

– KB bent press

– KB pistol squat

– Double KB squat

– Two hands anyhow

– Gladiator row

– Farmer’s walk

Explosive strength endurance

If you watch beginner amateurs fighting you will notice that punching turn into pushing by the end of the rounds. If you want to maintain your whip and snap until the end of the fight, you need specific training.

Use explosive drills performed for time 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes. Use the heaviest loads you can handle for the period of time and maintain a moderate pace.

KB drills for explosive strength endurance

– KB snatch ( aim for 100 snatches in 5 minutes; you can change hands as you wish)

– KB swing

– KB clean @ jerk

– Double KB jerk

MMA specific strength

Fighters need especially good strength for the core muscles, forearm muscles, hip muscles and shoulder joint muscles.

Core strength

The real power behind the punch comes from your big and strong hip and leg muscles. Lower body strength transmits to the fist through the core; that is one of the reasons you need good core strength.

Almost all kettlebell drills train the core. Some drills are especially good for core strength:


– Windmill

– Bent press

– Double KB squat (with KB on rack position)

– Double KB standing press

– Gladiator row

Forearm strength

When you grab the opponent with a strong grip it is scary for him. Strong grip is especially important for wrestling and grappling.

Because the KB center of gravity is away from the handle when you grip the KB you need to use your forearm strength to maintain a good wrist alignment. When performing ballistic drills, because of the inertia, the stress upon you gripping muscles is very high, so all ballistic drills are great grip strength developers.

The most challenging KB drills for your grip are:

– Snatch


– Clean

– Farmer’s walk

– Bottom up standing press and awkward grip press (with the body of the KB inside the wrist, left or write side)

Hip strength

Your most powerful muscles should be your hip muscles which stand behind your hip thrust.

When you learn to punch and kick using your hips, no matter your body size, you will be a threat for any opponent, even much bigger than you.

The best KB hip strength drills are:

– KB swing

– KB snatch

– KB pistol squat

Shoulder strength

In MMA the shoulder is one of the most vulnerable parts of your armor. If you get caught in a lock or if you fall on your hands, your shoulders might get hurt. Training with kettlebells, your shoulder muscles, tendons, ligaments and articular capsula will all get tougher.

KB drills work your shoulders in almost every possible angle and range of motion.

– TGU works your shoulders starting with the hand extended in front of your body when you lie down, finishing with the arm above your head in line with your body.

– Windmills train your shoulders on the side plane

– Shoulder press, floor press, gladiator row train your front, middle and rear of your shoulders

Cardiorespiratory endurance

If you got no “wind” by the end of the round you are in major danger. Great MMA fighters are able to keep the same pace from the beginning, until the end of the fight; the greatest fighters are even able to fight multiple contest during the same night.

Some athletes train with long runs for improving the cardiovascular ability; long runs do not make too much sense for fighters training program because they are aerobic and do not have enough intensity. The fighters energy during combat is assured mostly through anaerobic energy delivery pathways with often maximal bursts of effort.

If the athletes train long enough on long running, they might even hinder the peak power ability, because the body will adapt for long time, moderate intensity efforts; they might as well change to another discipline, maybe cross running.

The best and most specific way of training for cardiorespiratory endurance is prolonged power effort and circuit training.

KB training for cardio power

– KB swings ( start with rounds of 1 minute and build up to 5 minutes rounds; increase the kettlebell weight when you can easily complete 3 rounds of 5 minutes each)

– KB snatch – perform 100 reps within 5 minutes. If you can do it with a 20 kg KB you are good, with 24 kg you are very competitive, with 28 kg you are one of the best, with 32 kg you are world level. I have not heard of any heavier than this.

– KB clean & jerk – do them at a faster pace


Even if flexibility is not the main goal of KB training, because of some KB drill range of motion, your specific flexibility will improve.

KB drills which improve flexibility

– Windmill

– KB swing

– KB side press


Example of weekly conditioning training cycle for MMA fighters:

First I write the sets number and after the reps number( ex 5 x 8 means 5 sets x 8 reps)

Training A

1. KB pistol squat 5 x 5 ( left and right leg)

2. KB shoulder press 5 x 5

3. KB heavy swing 5 x 8

4. TGU 4 x 3 ( each set is performed like this – one rep right hand, one rep left hand, one right, one left, one right, one left)

5. Snatch 5 min 100 reps

Training B

1. KB gladiator row 5 x 6 ( each hand 6, 12 reps in total per set)

2. KB floor press 5 x 5

3. KB windmill 5 x 5

4. Double KB jerk 100 reps (try to do these 100 reps using the least possible number of sets)

5. Swing 3 sets x 3,4,5 minutes each ( between 3,4,5 minutes choose the duration you can sustain)

Training C

1. Clean & jerk heavy 5 x 4

2. Bent press 5 x 5

3. Two hand anyhow 4 x 2

4. Passes between legs 3 x 2 min

5. Circuit: Swing 2 hands 15, Swing left hand 15, Swing right hand 15, Snatch left 15, Snatch right 15 2 sets x 3,4,5 minutes

Training D

1. Double KB squat (rack position) 5 x 6

2. Double KB Clean and press 5 x 5

3. Double KB one leg deadlift 5 x 5

4. KB snatch heavy 5 x 3

5. KB Swings 500 reps (perform them within the fastest time possible; you can rest briefly)

You can arrange these sessions as you like:

A, B, C, D, A

D, A, C,D, C


Train at least 2 times a week, with a better frequency of 3 – 6 times per week.

Every session should take less than 60 minutes.

Advance your MMA ranking by doing conditioning training with kettlebells.

Alex Moisescu

Source by Alex Moisescu

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