Guest contributor Matt Connolly is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and owner of Infinity Strength & Conditioning http://www.infinitysandc.co.uk. He is a CrossFit L1 Trainer, UKSCA Associate, RockTape Practitioner, SAQ Advanced Trainer and trains at Roger Gracie Academy in London, UK.
“They say that strength doesn’t count, but it does. Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference if the opponent didn’t know anything. If the opponent knows something, then strength starts to count.” – Carlson Gracie
This is becoming ever more prevalent in the competitive world of BJJ. Whilst in a self-defense situation you would most likely have the upper hand of your attacker not knowing how to defend a takedown attempt, armbar, or triangle. When competing, not only does your opponent know how to counter but more and more competitors are enlisting the help of Strength & Conditioning coaches especially at high level. Many academies now offer some sort of S&C training as part of their curriculum, because as the saying goes "when technique is equal - strength counts."
One of the most versatile and, in my opinion, best value training tools available to the BJJ athlete is the kettlebell. It's fairly common to see them at your BJJ academy or at your local gym, you may have seen them being swung around, or even used them yourself. They vary in price from around £30 - £120 ($40 - $200) depending on type and weight, but I’d strongly recommend investing in one if you want to improve your strength and conditioning.
Kettlebells come in two main types, the traditional cast iron type shown here:
And hollow-steel competition, or 'pro-grade' kettlebells like these:
My preferred option is the 'competition' kettlebell. These are standardised sizes so from 8kg to 48kg they are the same dimensions, meaning you can perfect your technique and not have to modify it when you come to using heavier weights. The handles are the same size, and the wider base allows for a wider variety of exercises such as renegade rows and kettlebell bear crawls. Kettlebells come in a ranges of weights starting at around 4kg all the way up to 60kg. Suggested starting weights are 16KG for a man of average strength and 12KG for a female of average strength. As with all weight training, don’t let your ego get ahead of you when starting out - it’s vital to nail the technique before increasing the load to help prevent injury and enable you to get the most out of your training.
The dynamic and ballistic nature of kettlebell training, using pushing, pulling and rotational whole body movements make them an ideal training aid for BJJ. One of the main benefits is that of explosive hip flexion/extension, this can also be trained using Olympic lifts, but for those who don't have access to an Olympic Barbell, bumper plates and lifting platforms (costing £1000’s) - there are kettlebells at a fraction of the price.
My three favourite kettlebell exercises for BJJ are:
The kettlebell swing is one of the simplest, yet under-rated of all Kettlebell exercises, it trains the body to work as a unit and improves not only metabolic conditioning but also the explosiveness of hip flexion/extension. Think of BJJ techniques that use ballistic hip flexion/extension:
• Hip Bridge escape
• Hip bump Sweep
Click here for a tutorial from Steve Cotter on how to execute the kettlebell swing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX9FIkQ3zzk
Try variations such as single handed, both hands, passing from hand to hand or if you can, get a partner to push the kettlebell downwards once it reaches its peak creating additional resistance to the movement.
The Turkish Get Up (TGU):
This movement is similar to a technical get up from BJJ, it builds a strong midsection and core, as well as improving your shoulder flexibility and stability which are crucial for BJJ. Many athletes who train with kettlebells find themselves becoming more resistant to shoulder injuries. This is also a great conditioning exercise as the body is constantly adapting to keep the load overhead stable, although it may look easy...it's not - start with a light weight.
Click here to learn how to perform the Turkish Get Up http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGRBvom4Zrw
A more advanced alternative is to add lifting chains to the kettlebell, so as you lift it further off the ground the load increases.
This is another excellent exercise for BJJ and general athletic conditioning, not only does it train your grip, but it builds endurance, both physically and mentally. It strengthens your posterior chain which is an essential area to develop to improve your takedowns and also takedown defence.
Click here for a video tutorial on how to perform the Snatch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obpGlXe3pnk>
If you're brave why not try the 'Secret Service Snatch Test' (apparently used as part of US Secret Service recruitment tests). You have 10 minutes to perform the snatch as many times as possible - you can change hands as often as you like but cannot put the kettlebell down or the count starts again. The original challenge was using a 24kg kettlebell for men and a 16kg kettlebell for ladies. A score of 100 or less is poor, 200 is great, the record is believed to be an astounding 275 reps.
15 Hand-to-hand KB Swings
15m bear crawl
Try this ladder:
Snatches (each arm) 10/8/6/4/2
Sprawls - 2/4/6/8/10
TGU's (each arm) - 5/4/3/2/1
Goblet Squat - 4/8/12/16/20 (hold the kettlebell with two hands to your chest and squat)
So complete 10 snatches each arm, followed by 2 sprawls, 5 TGU's (each side) and 2 rack squats. Then start with 8 snatches each arm, 4 sprawls...and so on.
Kettlebells can also be integrated with your rolling to aid conditioning for competitions, try this:
20x KB double handed swings
30x KB double handed swings
40x KB double handed swings
If you've got any questions about Kettlebell training or S&C for BJJ, please get in touch through my website http://www.infinitysandc.co.uk
Matt Connolly, Guest Contributor