McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Share Print

You have not viewed any products recently.




Fighting Strength: Combining Kettlebells and Sandbags

May 14, 2008 02:29 PM

There may be no other sport that is confused about their training than combative sports. With the immense growth of the UFC, Pride, and other MMA associations, fighters and their coaches have embraced modern strength and conditioning. Coaches still often fall into some very common traps.
  1. Too much conditioning: endurance needs to be specific to time of year, needs of athlete, and the demands of the sport. Just breathing hard does not constitute effective metabolic training.

  2. Trying to be too specific: "stimulate don't simulate" is a great saying to help avoid the common mistake of replicating sport skill in the weight room. Skills are very specific and the smallest deviation can cause a change in the performance of the skill. Find similar movement patterns and ranges of motion, don't replicate the skills.

  3. Making programs too complicated: many people think athletes are elite lifters, this is often not the case! Sometimes the more simplistic routines can be the most beneficial as the athlete can focus on technique, movement, and overall they get more out of routines. Look at the power listed in Enter The Kettlebell, and Power to the People.

  4. Spending too much time trying to teach complex lifts: combative athletes have to constantly refine their sporting technique. Placing a great emphasis on complex (sometimes dangerous) lifts is simply a waste of time. Determine their individual needs and use the most fundamental exercise to address that need.

  5. Being novel for the sake of novelty: I often saying performing a drill just because it is hard is the difference between exercising and training. If you are training then you want to make sure there is a distinct purpose behind every drill you perform. As Strength Coach, Charles Staley, often says, "every rep has a cost, but not every rep has a benefit."

Two tools that really address the needs of combative athletes are kettlebells and sandbags. If you need to still be convinced of using these implements, then you have never used them!

Both of these implements can be learned quickly yet deliver very powerful results. Fighters don't have the time to learn very complex strength training tools. Their time is better spent with drills that stimulate the qualities they require the rest should be spent on their skill development.

Kettlebells and sandbags can be used for strength, flexibility, or conditioning. Therefore, you can outfit a very efficient facility with a few key pieces of equipment. It also makes it easier to intertwine these qualities within one workout. Many coaches lately have been using these tools to do just that!

Lastly, they have fill in the whole the ranges of motion that are often missed by barbell or bodyweight training. Performing windmills, get-ups, and swings make kettlebells an essential tool right there. However, the variations are endless, don't forget though to stick with a steady dose of these drills to truly develop power and help prevent injury. Sandbag shouldering, Zercher squats, and shoulder get-ups make athletes deal with the nonconforming nature of sandbags just as they would with their opponent. They develop true functional strength in their trunk and learn how to stabilize during motion.

Enough talking, let's start training!!

A Balancing Act

There are several options integrating kettlebells and sandbags into a fighter's routine. My first method is to alternate days of heavy lifting of one implement for conditioning of the other. This allows management of fatigue as well as concentration of a few focused lift. Because sandbag and kettlebell drills can be very physically as well as neurally fatiguing we want to avoid overtraining and move towards greater progress.

Day 1: Sandbag Emphasis
SB Shouldering Squat 4 sets of 4 each side rest 75 seconds
KB Jerk 5 sets of 5 rest 30 seconds
KB Single Leg Deadlift 3 sets of 6 each side rest 60 seconds
SB Zercher Carry 2 sets of 1 minute rest 90 seconds

Day 2: Kettlebell Emphasis
KB Snatch 5 sets 5 rest 90 seconds
SB Zercher Lunge 4 sets of 6 each leg 60 seconds
KB Renegade Row 4 sets of 6 each side 60 seconds rest
SB Shoulder Get-up 2 sets of 5 rest 45 seconds

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Sandbag Emphasis
SB Clean and Jerk 5 sets 3 rest 75 seconds
KB Front Squats 3 sets of 8 rest 60 seconds
Pull-ups 3 sets of 6 rest 60 seconds
SB Zercher Side Lunges 3 sets of 8 each side rest 60 seconds
KB Clean Carries 2 sets of 30 seconds rest 90 seconds

Day 5: Kettlebell Emphasis
KB Squat Press 4 sets of 8 rest 60 seconds
SB Shouldering 3 sets of 10 each side rest 60 seconds
KB Rows 3 sets 12 each side rest 45 seconds
SB Half Moon Snatch 3 sets 5 each side rest 45 seconds
KB Sit-up Get-ups 3 sets 3 each side rest 60 seconds

Other options include making these two implements your primary source of conditioning. These may be reflected in the following workouts.

Option A:
Alternate between the two exercises below. Start on the minute and rest the remaining minute. For example, once you perform KB Clean & Jerks for 20 seconds you will have a 40 second rest. Perform them in 45 seconds you will have a 15 second rest. Perform this for ten minutes.

A1. KB Clean & Jerk X 10
A2. SB Zercher Squat X 10

Option B: Complexes
You can create two distinct complexes using sandbags and kettlebells. This will enhance your movement ability, strength, coordination, flexibility, and conditioning.

The movements are continuous and rest is only used after the complex

KB Complex 1

Clean X 6
Front Squat X 6
Press X 6
Rest for 90 seconds perform 2-3 sets

SB Complex 1
Clean X 6
Zercher Lunge X 6 each leg
Rows X 6
Snatches X 6
Rest for 90 seconds 2-3 sets

Only perform one of these routines per training session. The goal is not to exhaust you, rather to train the energy systems similar to many fighting sports. Remember, creating exhaustion based routines will negatively impact one's skill development. You can see the great, Randy Couture performing barbell complexes for his training routine. I believe kettlebells and sandbags to be even more appropriate for combative athletes as they challenge more ranges of motion, are nonconforming (like your opponent), and more versatile.

Above are some phenomenal options in improving conditioning, strength, flexibility, and overall athleticism. Just by using kettlebells and sandbags you can create an overall fitness and athletic based program. The key is how to manipulate the training variables for you goals and ability level. Hopefully the programs provided will stimulate your own creativity as well.

Josh Henkin, RKC Team Leader, CSCS is a Strength & Conditioning Coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is owner of Innovative Fitness Solutions ( and creator of The Ultimate Sandbag and author of KNOCKOUT!: Sandbags for Combative Athletes (

For more information visit his websites or email him at