Jason’s Top 5 Kettlebell Exercises for BJJ

by Jason C. Brown

Kettlebell training and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are an awesome combination. I consider myself very fortunate, I was able to start my BJJ and kettlebell journey with Steve Maxwell, who owned the first BJJ academy on the east coast, Maxercise in Philadelphia, and this was in the mid and late 90s.

Steve is a pioneer of strength and conditioning especially for combat sports and old-school physical culture. So it's not surprising that he also had the first set of kettlebells. These were handcrafted beauties made by one of Steve's students.

I remember staring at these things wondering what the hell they could be used for. I was a pretty strong athlete but I was humbled the first time I picked these up...so humbled that I never put them down. Just last year Steve sold me these bad boys.

Since that time I've been able to work with many BJJ athletes both recreational and competitive on their athletic development programs and kettlebell training has been a consistent tool that we've used.

In the video below I highlight my favorite 5 kettlebell exercises for BJJ.

  • Windmills
  • TGUs
  • Gorilla Cleans
  • 1.5 drills
  • 1/2 kneeling drills

I do not like variety for variety sake but love to use the “Specialized Variety” principle in my kettlebell training programs for different athletes. The kettlebell exercises I use for my BJJ players are modifications of the basics, we don’t get silly with these variations but we do adjust angles, positions and other variables as needed.

Here's why I picked these drills:

1.  They share similar mechanics to BJJ skills. This is known as dynamic- correspondence for all the kinesiology 101 geeks out there. As I stated in the video above, the best swimmers are always in the pool…the best BJJ players are always on the mat. Nothing can replace mat time to improve your BJJ game; there is nothing more sport-specific than the sport itself and most of your training (conditioning) should come from general prep exercises. That being said, all BJJ players can use stronger bridges, more stable shoulders and more mobile hips. The kettlebell exercises in this first category do a great job of improving those areas.

2.  They promote qualities such as mobility, stability and motor control in areas and joints that are essential in BJJ. This is known as "Mostability" or the combination of motion and stability. Mostability is a term I learned from DPT Gary Gray, he defines it as "the ability to functionally take advantage of just the right amount of motion at just the right joint in just the right plane in just the right direction at just the right time."

Reread that definition in the context of your BJJ game.

3.  They train movements and mechanics that are the exact opposite of common BJJ skills and positions in an attempt to correct or improve imbalances. For example, guard & inverted players are locked in spinal and hip flexion; these drills train the hip and back extensors statically and dynamically. This area covers most traditional and non-traditional kettlebell skills.

There are a million ways to cook these drills. For the ballistic or faster kettlebell exercises like the 1.5 and ½ kneeling swings I think a time-based approach in interval or circuit format works best.

For the kettlebell grinds, like the windmills and Turkish Get-ups a low-rep approach works best, nothing more than 5 reps per side at any one time. I like to alternate these kettlebell exercises with a upper-body pulling movement like pull-ups or ring rows but any mid or upper-back exercise is a great complement to these static holds.

For more information about Jason and his training, please visit bjjworkouts.com