I was recently asked by a fellow coach “If you had to choose only three things to train your MMA guys, what would they be?” He was genuinely shocked at the speed of my answer. “Kettlebells, Sandbags and a Prowler” I told him with a sure tone. The conversation that followed was a friendly back and forth with him trying to convince me that barbells and dumbbells out do kettlebells.
I thought I would take this as an opportunity to explain to you, why I chose the three mentioned above.
I love kettlebells. Not because I believe they are better than barbells and dumbbells (I don’t, they are just another modality of training), and not because they are some Russian secret weapon for awesomeness. I love them because of the “flow” and MMA specific nature they offer.
They can be used for pure strength, mobility work and to get amazing levels of conditioning. Movements like swings, cleans and snatches are all ballistic exercises, where the power is generated from the hips and posterior chain. MMA guys who train with kettlebells not only notice an improvement in their grip, but also reap the benefits of more powerful strikes and more explosive takedowns.
By linking movements together in a complex, you’ll truly see the kettlebell come into its own. Flowing between exercises requires constant tension, focus and an iron grip. Studies have also shown kettlebell practitioners have reduced levels of joint pains than those who train in a more traditional manner. This is particularly true in the neck, shoulders and lower back. A kettlebell complex also taxes the anaerobic energy system, which is used throughout grapping and MMA.
I have been using kettlebells for years from all different brands. I recently came across the ones from Onnit and I won’t be making the switch to any other. They are a super high quality, thick handles and chip resistant. You can check them out here.
Check out the videos below for some great examples of kettlebell flows.
Sandbags are perhaps my favourite strength and conditioning tool for MMA. The bag is heavy, awkward and constantly shifting it’s center of mass. There are no handles and no bars to hold onto. Frankly, it’s the closest thing to lifting an opponent. I should probably mention that there are those bags available with handles, but really if you want to reap the full benefits of the sandbag, then stay away from these. To truly build power and an unstoppable grip get hold of a traditional strongman style sandbag. I have probably mentioned the one I have from Iron Mind a thousand times on this blog already, but I really can’t say anything bad about it. It’s has taken a beating and give me one back in return. Check it out here.
When I use sandbags, I tend to go heavy as possible with low reps, with a focus on the big movements: squats, shouldering, deadlifts and presses. Doing sets of Zercher squats with a sandbag equal to the lifters bodyweight is possibly the greatest strength exercise to supplement your MMA game. If you don’t know what Zercher squats are already, I have an article dedicated to them. Check it out here.
Check out the video below of a sandbag Zercher squat in action.
Perhaps the main reason I love sandbags, however, is how MMA specific the conditioning is. Picking up a heavy sandbag and walking with it is a killer on the entire body, particularly the grip, biceps, upper back and core. This tension is the kind needed throughout the course of a fight. Bear hug carry a sandbag of your weight for 50ft and try to tell me it doesn’t feel like you have just tried to takedown and opponent in the clinch. Your lungs will be on fire, your heart pounding and your muscles will be fatigued.
The prowler is perhaps the best tool you can use to develop power in the legs. Don’t be fooled though, working with the prowler is a truly full body experience with amazing conditioning benefits. The legs, glutes and hips are used to drive, while the upper body is held in a constant isometric state.
Different effects can be found when making use of the prowler’s different handles. The high handles allow you to get the hips low with a powerful drive. The low handles make for a tougher challenge especially on the core. Make use of straight arm pushes as well as bend arm variations to mix up the demands on your upper body.
The video below shows some wrestler conditioning over at the Underground Strength Gym with Zach Even-esh.
The distance you travel is generally determined by what you are training for. Longer, lighter sprints are ideal as part of a metabolic workout, whereas heavy, short pushes are ideal for leg drive, power and strength. The beauty of the prowler doesn’t end there though. Attach a length of rope to the prowler, load it up and hand over hand pull the prowler to you. This makes for one hell of a grip, biceps and back exercise.
Check the video below to see it in action.
Prowlers are quite an investment, but one that is truly worth it. The strength and conditioning benefits are endless and the position the body is placed in during the movements makes for less soreness the following day. This means you can go hard on frequently.
There you have my top three strength and conditioning tools for MMA. If you think I have missed anything important off, or chose something wrong, let me know in the comments.