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How to Use Kettlebells to Develop a Kung-Fu Grip

November 28, 2006 12:37 PM

The list of combative uses for our hands is almost endless: Grabbing. Striking. Gouging. Catching. Twisting. Holding. What do all these actions have in common? They show the absolute necessity for strength in the fingers, hands and wrists. Whether empty-handed or utilizing a stick, knife or other weapon, you simply cannot have too much grip strength.

Suppose you aren't a martial artist. You still need strong hands even if it is just to open a pickle jar for Grandma. In this article we will explore some of the techniques you can use a kettlebell and a couple of regular household items to increase your hand and wrist strength in ways that are fun, practical and unique.

Before we get into the drills, a few words about safety, common sense and your furniture. All the following drills are designed to tax your grip. After a few minutes your hands will become fatigued. For the sake of your furnishings, friends, pets and children ONLY practice them outside or in an area where you are clear to let the KB fly from your hand if need be. You have been warned. If you do something stupid, it is on you.
  1. Alternating swings. Also called the H2H (from Jeff Martone) swing or the DARC (Direct Action Resource Center) swing. Perform a one-hand swing, release the kettlebell at the top, then grab it with the other hand. Repeat.
  2. Bottoms up. An excellent drill for developing explosive crushing strength, clean a kettlebell so that the handle is pointing down and the ball is pointing up. Hold it in this position and press it if you can. I am often asked if there is any special trick to this one. My response: "Squeeze REAL hard."
  3. Use a Towel. Take a regular ol' bath towel and put it through the handle of a kettlebell. Grab one end in each hand and do swings or circles around the body. Try hammer curls while holding the towel. You can also hold both ends together in one hand or just hold for time. This is very similar to grabbing clothing or limbs in combat.
  4. Soap it up. Get a handful of liquid soap, grab your KB & start swinging. Try soapy farmers walks with one or two kettlebells. If you feel adventurous, try the bottoms up with soap. Know ahead of time that a 16kg-soaped bottoms up is harder than a 32kg plain.
  5. Nice doggie. Get a heavy-duty dog leash and use it the same way as describe with the towel earlier. The thinness of the leash makes for a different kind of squeeze than the towel. Get a strong dog collar (one with a real buckle, not the plastic snap-off) and put it through the handle. Now you can do single-finger lifts or combinations of individual fingers. Try deadlifts, rows and swings.

These are just a few ways you can use kettlebells to improve your grip. Be creative. Find ways to use other everyday objects or drills you are already doing to develop hand strength. Progress steadily and safely. You'll be glad you did.

David Whitley, RKC is a kettlebell instructor, strength coach and massage therapist in Nashville, TN and is the author of The Power Circuit Workout, a follow along DVD that combines the brutally effective Russian kettlebell with classic bodyweight calisthenics into an easy-to-follow program that is guaranteed to breath new life into your training. Available from

David conducts kettlebell workshops across the country and trains clients privately in the Nashville area. He is also available for online personalized training and phone consultation. Contact him by email at and visit his website