Kettlebells for BJJ

Using Kettlebells to Improve Your BJJ Game

Kettlebell Training and Jiu Jitsu have a long history together in North America. Stave Maxwell, who opened one of the first BJJ schools on the East Coast, also had one of the first kettlebell training schools in the same building.

His studio, Maxercise in Philadelphia, became famous among grapplers for Steve’s ability to improve anyone’s strength, power and fitness on the mats.


While Steve used a variety of tools at his gym he also relied heavily on the kettlebell because of it’s ability to target the fitness and movement needs of the Jiu Jitsu athlete. Steve even went on to influence the early RKC with his grappling roots, showing the Turkish Get Up to Pavel Tsatsouline who liked this old school wrestling exercise so much he adopted it as one of the main exercises in his training system.

Since then Kettlebell Training has gone on to become widely known as one of the best ways to improve your BJJ specific strength, power and cardio. It is used the world over as a fantastic way to build grip strength, hip power and overall endurance while also letting you practice some great Jiu Jitsu specific movements.

And just like with Jiu Jitsu, one of the secrets to Kettlebell Training is to focus on the basics. It is easy to get distracted by all the cool, fancy moves you see online or to think you are too advanced for the basic movements.

But when you do this you run the risk of having a weak foundation to build the rest of your strength and fitness on top of. By making sure you have the basics covered before adding in more exercises you’ll ensure you get the best transfer from your workouts to your rolling.

The Foundational Kettlebell Exercises for BJJ

Kettlebells for BJJ
As a strength coach who has worked with kettlebell training since 2004, I’ve always been impressed with how the basic kettlebell exercises translated over to so many sports. I’ve helped a lot of different athletes in sports ranging from mountain biking to golfing improve their performance using these exercises.

And it didn’t take long starting to practice BJJ myself that I started seeing the connections between these foundational exercises and the movement skills I needed to improve on the mats. These three exercises have a lot of carryover to your BJJ game and improve your ability to execute several BJJ specific movements:

Turkish Get Up

This exercise has a long history as an exercise for grapplers and for good reason. It improves your ability to sit up using good leverage, which helps a lot when you need to create space on the bottom. Getting strong with this exercise will also helps improve your Sit Up Sweep, your ability to stand up in someone’s guard and your general posture, making it a truly BJJ specific exercise.

Goblet Squat

This exercise improves your ability to squat down to kill hooks or get your base to avoid sweeps. If you can’t squat properly then you will tend to lean over as you do these things, which opens you up to having your posture broken. Having a strong squat will also improve your general leg strength and ability to “squeeze” with your legs.

Kettlebell Swing

Called the King of Kettlebell Exercises, this movements improves your hip strength and power, your grip strength and your overall endurance. It can also help improve your ability to breathe properly and learn how to relax when you can and be strong when you need to be. Overall, this is one of the best exercises you can use to improve your BJJ strength and fitness.

Getting Started

Kettlebells for BJJ
Here is an example of a three day program you could do using just these exercises and a single kettlebell. Kettlebell training doesn’t have to be a long, complicated process. If you’re new to kettlebell training for BJJ this is a great way to get started.

I suggest using a 12-16 kg kettlebell for guys and a 8-12 kg kettlebell for the ladies. You want to pick a weight that allows you to really focus on how you are moving – as a Jiu Jitero, you care more about how you move during your workouts than how much you
lift or how many reps you do.

Do all the sets for an exercise before moving on to the next one. You can also change the days you do the workouts, the important thing is to get at least 2 workouts in each week along with your usual BJJ practice.

Workout A

A/ Kettlebell Military Presses | 3 sets of 6
B/ Ring Chin-Ups | 30 reps total [in any amount of sets]
C/ Sandbag Zercher Squats | 3 sets of 8

Workout B

A/ Weighted Ring Dips | 4 sets of 6
B/ Sandbag Bent-Over Rows | 3 sets of 10
C/ Kettlebell Squats | 4 sets of 10
D/ Resistance Band Curls | 2 sets of 12

Workout C

A/ Pistol Squats with a backpack | 3 sets of 5 per leg
B/ Tuck Front Lever Chin-Ups on Rings | 4 sets of 6
C/ Double Kettlebell Swings | 3 sets of 10
D/ Sandbag Floor Presses | 3 sets of 12
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Closing Thoughts

Of course, this article is based solely on my opinion and experience. My ideal training equipment is portable, cost-effective, and multifunctional. Your “Top 5” may look completely different, but still, I hope you’ve discovered something useful from reading this piece.

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James Wilson

Owner of BJJ Strength Training Systems and MTB Strength Training Systems, James has helped thousands of BJJ practitioners and mountain biking professionals enhance their strength and conditioning. Seen in the mountain biking world as one of the top strength coaches, he has worked with some of the top professional riders as well as contributed videos and articles to multiple magazines and websites.

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