Karate Kettlebell practice for focusing on what is essential


When it comes to the development of strength related characteristics, such a maximal strength, speed strength, explosiveness, and power, we can use various training modalities and implement different training strategies. Athletes use medicine balls, classical strength training, ropes, do CrossFit, etc. The options are limitless, making it easy get lost, and start spending your resources, energy, time, money and mental power inefficiently.

I am not saying that you won’t benefit from a certain Metcon in your CrossFit gym or by doing bench press and deadlift. However, as time passes and your karate belt chances its color you would like to get rid of all the non-essential things that clatter you practice and focus on the genuinely vital ones. I know that this might seems counterintuitive, but simplicity is recognized in every master (does not have to be related to karate).

When speaking about strength and conditioning practice related to the karate, we have to understand that this should be something complementary to the karate practice. Something that will be closely associated with the karate movements, and the physiological demands or the discipline we compete in, whether that be kumite or kata.

Ideally, you should be able to bring your karate strength training on the tatami. And there seems to be a solution to that. It is not a pull-up bar, or a medicine ball, or maybe big heavy ropes. It is a kettlebell. A cannonball with a handle. We can’t go simpler, don’t we?


Why Kettlebell?

It is a simple tool that we can use for performing the most complex and challenging exercises. A device we can incorporate successful in every karate training for developing desired qualities. Slow strength, speed, explosive strength, power, balance, maximal strength, muscle symmetry, you name it. At the same time executing all the exercises in a karate fashion, engaging the muscle responsible for carrying the movement.

Since you can bring your kettlebell on the tatami, this means that you do not have to think about any additional equipment, fancy shoes, and maintenance. I know the last might be the least appealing to you, but honestly, I do not like spending money on equipment and gym membership.

Furthermore, the fact you are doing your practice barefoot means that you improve your coordination and stability by engaging the sensory receptors on the bottom of your foot.


The minimalist approach. Avoid the non-essentials and stay with what matters

In this post, I will focus on two exercises, which provide the biggest bang for your buck. And there is a reason for that, which I will explain in details. Those two exercises are KB Swing, and the Turkish get up. The good thing is that this is not something new for you. On the other side, many people perform this exercise wrong, putting their body in a compromised position.

The reason I will focus only KB Swing and Turkish Get Up are the following:

  • Provide an opportunity for building slow and fast strength;
  • These are movements (especial KB swing) that challenge the posterior chain (back, glutes and hamstring). These are muscles important for karate.
  • Allows you to develop strength and stability through a full range of motion (Turkish Get Up);
  • Increase the stability and mobility of the shoulder and hip joint;
  • Mimic movements similar to the karate;
  • Challenge the balance and improves the biomechanics;
  • Involves unilateral movement, resulting in the equal development of the left and right side of the body;
  • It allows you to get more with less work;


“Workout should give you more, than it takes out of you” Ivan Ivanov


Kettlebell swing

KB swing is an exercise that lost its primary purpose and these days people use it for building quadriceps and hurting their back. To understand what KB swing is, let’s see what it isn’t.

KB swing is not:

  • A squatting exercise;
  • It is not an exercise for your shoulders;
  • It is not an exercise for your squats;
  • The idea is not to get the kettlebell as high as possible;

What KB Swing is:

  • A hip hinge exercise that helps in building powerful hips extension;
  • Practices for developing your posterior chain which is responsible for having a good posture and save you from back injuries;
  • Exercise for developing strength endurance and power;

Before explaining the KB swing, let’s make it clear the difference between the “soft” and the “hard” style of swinging. Long story short, the soft style originates from the Kettlebell Sport, where you need to perform the Long Cycle or KB Snatch for an extended period (10 min). Here you adjust to the movement of the kettlebell and try to become one. Everything looks soft and effortless. And I have to say that it might look be soft by it ain’t effortless.

On the other side, we have the hardstyle swing, which is something Pavel Tsatsouline promotes and is the man who in some way brought the KB in the USA. You can find more information on his website.

Hardstyle KB Swing is about hip hinge, muscle tension and relaxation, and power. You are maximum engage with each swing trying to produce as much force as possible starting from your feet, translating on your hamstring and glutes. This practice is what are we going to focus on when implementing into the karate practice.

Soft style KB Swing focuses on maximum rep (quantity), whereas the hard style KB Swing focuses on maximally explosive individual reps (quality)

There is no better style. Just different, serving different purposes.


What KB Swing and karate have in common?

KB swing is an exercise that focuses on hip movement, which is something emphasized in karate. The hip movement supports every punch, block, kick or move from one to another stance. The position and the angle of your hip, knee, and ankle joint together with the motion that happens while doing different karate movement is closely related to the to the nature of the KB swing.

From the pictures, we can see the similarities between zenkutsu dachi and kettlebell swing. Building a strong posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) will help you to have a faster and efficient transition while moving is zenkutsu dachi. And the benefits are not limited only to this stance. Jumping high, having explosive gyaku zuki or mawashi Geri, or maybe just making a fast side move, all depend on your ability to produce power using your posterior chain muscles.

When talking about KB swing, we must mention the one arm KB Swing. The movement methodology is the same as the one of regular KB swing. However, there is an additional component, such as rotation and lack of stability, that makes this movement more challenging. This is a unilateral movement where one side is more active than the other one. Or more precisely, one side is responsible for the action and the other one for keeping the body in a stable position. Sound familiar? In karate, there is rarely a bilateral movement, an element where we use both sides simultaneously. There is always one side executing the punch or the kick, and the other one makes sure that the body is in balance. So here is another reason to introduce this exercise into your training routine.


Turkish Get Up (TGU). What this funny name exercise has in common with karate?

TGU is a single movement that targets the strength and stability simultaneously while challenging your body awareness and mobility in a loaded state. TGU is a great exercise for developing strong core, shoulder and hip mobility and stability, as well as lower body strength.

How is this connected to karate?

Whether we talk about kumite of kata, karatekas perform many forward and side bends, get in a lunge while trying to perform a gyaku zuki or balancing on one foot while trying to score a point with an ura-mawashi geri. These situations put the body is a challenging position that requires sufficient mobility and strength, together with adequate stability to support the movement.

TGU focuses on the development of slow strength, stability, and control under tension, whereas KB swing is mainly focused on power. This is a highly technical movement that requires a systematic approach and progression. Not being able to provide that, you risk to get injured. Take it slow, and do not be embarrassed to start with 5 kilos KB.

A Turkish Get Up “KATA”

Image the Turkish Get Up as a kata where each element needs to be done slowly with precision and accuracy. You need to have control over your body and your breath while putting under tension the right muscle and the right time.


How to fit these exercises into your training routine?

It is pretty simple. The idea of these exercises is to give you not to take away from you. What I want to say is that these exercises are not meant to make you tired and exhausted. These exercises have nothing in common with your HIIT or CrossFit training. The primary focus is on quality over quantity while becoming stronger, powerful, and with enough energy for your karate practice. For this reason, they can be part of your regular karate practice or a separate workout.

If you choose to combine them with your karate training, you can want to do them at the begging, as part of the central part and combine them with karate techniques or at the end.

Give yourself as much as needed to achieve full recovery.

You might start with:

  • 5×10 reps KB swing (two or one arm swing) and slowly progress to 10x10reps
  • 5x1reps Turkish Get up (each side) and gradually progress to 10x1rep

When it comes to the KB swing, the primary focus should be on quality and speed of the movement. The movement should be explosive. The moment you feel a decrease in speed, stop the set and have a rest. Remember quality over quantity.


Wrapping up

This is how you can strip off your strength workout to the minimum and still get the benefit of it and improve your karate performance. This does not mean that you should stick only to these two exercises, but rather something that can provide the most significant results with the least time and equipment.


What about you?

Have you ever used KB swing or Turkish Get Up in your strength training? If you have any questions or thoughts regarding this topic, please share in the comments.

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