A minimalistic approach towards building a diverse “Physical ​Portfolio” with kettlebell practice

What would be your number one, multipurpose tool, you could use for developing multiple physical attributes/qualities? Would it be a barbell, or dumbbells or maybe heavy ropes? Do such a thing even exist? Fairly it is hard to point out one single means you can use building your “physical portfolio”. But it does exist. 

What the hell is “physical portfolio”? 

Emagine your “physical portfolio” as a financial/investment portfolio. Depending on the sport you practice, it will be more or less diverse. For instance, you might need mainly maximal strength, backed up with a little bit of aerobic endurance. Or maybe, your sport requires adequate levels of aerobic, anaerobic capacity, complemented with muscle (explosive) strength and muscular endurance. 

In the end, to build an even more diverse “physical portfolio”, and support the development of different qualities, you need to think about stability and mobility. 

When thinking about, it takes a substantial amount of time and resources, to achieve a diverse “physical portfolio”. At this point  I sound like a real investment consultant, trying to make you invest your resources (energy and time) in something that will help take your performance to the next level. And that is exactly what I want to achieve. 

To invest our time wisely, therefore get the most out of it, we need something simple. Yes, SIMPLE. Something that will offer “LESS.” Less weight, less space needed, less money spent on additional equipment, reduced time spent in the gym. In some way, you need to limit yourself. Put boundaries. Now, these days, we see boundaries as something that keeps up away from our goal. Instead, it liberates us from decision-making fatigue and all the non-sense and information overload related to the fitness world. 

This way with less equipment we get more time to spend thinking on the actual training and exercises. With less space needed, we get to be more mobile and do the exercises in a specific manner to our sport. With less time spent in the weight room, we get more time for what actually matters, which is karate. With less money spent on equipment, we get more money for…you choose. 

OK, enough philosophy. BLA BLA BLA. 

What I want to talk about is the Russian ultimate weapon and tool for building strength. 

The “Russian Kettlebell” or “Girya.” A kettlebell is a tool that provides limitless possibilities in the area of physical preparation. It’s all about creativity and swinging a 20 kg (more or less) Iron bell under, over, in between different body parts, while looking for equilibrium. It does not sound as funny as a CrossFit WOD, but it is useful. And frankly, that’s all you need baddy. And it can be entertaining as well.

Short introduction of the Kettlebell

Many people, including myself, connect KB with Russia. And there is a solid reason for that. A long time ago, big iron heads with a handle were used as a counterweight for measuring goods. And since you can really work all day long, to avoid being bored people start playing with the iron bells. I guess they did not have tablets so the only reasonable solution was throwing and juggling with iron bells. 

However, this is not really the begging of KB. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese (of course, who else) had a type of training that included stone padlocks. This training was called Shi Suo Gong, or “The Art of Stone Padlock”. 

Now, fast forward, back in 1900, Vladislav Krayevsky (founder of St. Petersburg Amateur Weightlifting Society), wrote the book “The Development of Physical Strength with Kettlebell and without Kettlebell.” 

In the past decades, th kettlebell becomes hugely popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline, who is considered the person responsible for bringing the kettlebell among the fitness and sports industry. Today he keeps educating people through StrongFirst Certification.

Why Kettlebell?

There are many aspects to be considered regarding the usage of the kettlebell in karate training.

KB’s are practical and budget friendly

One is the practical aspect. As a karate coach or athlete, you do not need much space and finance to get and store a few kettlebells. Like it or not, finance plays an enormous role in sports. Face it. You have to pay for everything, and it is hard to find philanthropists these days. 

Usually, KB workouts are considered as time-efficient. They are but it does not have to be always the case. I do not want to spoil the party, but how much time you spend with your kettlebell will depend on what are you working on. More precisely, what physical ability you want to develop. For some physical qualities such as maximal strength, power, explosive strength, you have to use long breaks in-between sets. Otherwise, the workout won’t be effective. 

When it comes to conditioning workouts, YES, it is time-efficient

Harmony and body-ming connection 

The “superiority“ of the kettlebell comes for movement diversity. The kettlebell allows you to work in different planes while doing pull, push, carry, lift, balance. This is what happens in karate while performing a kata or ushiro mawashi. Just picture it. 

And on top of it, while standing on one led, balancing, or trying to block or punch, every body part should be aligned, in harmony. Something you can to do under load during a KB workout. 

So Kettlebell allows you to move in harmonious fashion while being fully aware of every body part, establishing strong body-mind connecting.  

Sport-specific movement patterns related to karate

The size, weight, and its practical application allows for KB to be used as a mean for building strength through functional movement patterns related to karate. Using KB allows putting the body and various body parts into position and through motion similar to karate movements and techniques. This way the muscles that usually get activated during karate practice, get activated and trained in KB workout. Below are some examples of how kettle swing, together with exercises such as GET UP, can find their application in karate practice.

Two-handed kettlebell swing hip, knee and ankle position

Hip, knee and ankle position in zenkutsu dachi

For the picture above, we can see the biconical similarities in terms of limb angle and different body parts position between zenkutsu dachi and kettlebell swing. Both movements involve/depend on a hip extension. So having strong and powerful glutes would be quite beneficial. The kettlebell swing will help you to activate those muscles, including gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus.

Hard vs Soft style

A thing worth mentioning is the way you work with and perform the exercises. In general, we can distinguish between Hard and Soft or Girevoy sport style. The first one is promoted by Pavel Tsatsouline, where exercises are performed in a short, fast and explosive manner. It is a hinge based movement, emphasizing power. 

The other one is the more fluid, soft, endurance-based approach. Kettlebell sport is more focused on muscular endurance. The Girevoy workout would last for 10 minutes, non-stop. This style is more focused during work for a longer period of time distributing the energy and workload efficiently throughout the body.  

here are few variations of KB Get Up. Start with the first variation, which is the one could be the most beneficial for karate. The last two are perfect for Judo, BJJ or MMA practitioners.

What weight should you use?

The weight of the kettlebell depends on the personal experience with kettlebell training and fitness level.

General recommendations

For women – beginners start with an 8kg (15lbs) and those with weight training experience with 12kg (25lbs). After some time, progress with 16kg (35lbs).

For men – beginners start with 12kg (25lbs) and those with experience start with 16kg (35lbs). Later they will progress to a 20kg or 24kg (53lbs).


Which one is better, the Hard or Girevoy style? 

Which style you are going to use depends on your goal. Both can be successfully implemented for karate purposes. However, hardstyle has an advantage over the Gireyov when talking about maximal power output in short period of time. But this does not make the Gireyov (soft) style inferior;

From personal experience, I like using soft style when doing kettle complex. It allows me to get one with the kettlebell and better feeling and control. The hardstyle is for a single set of up to ten repetitions of maximal explosive kb swings of kb snatches.


Hard Style Two-handed Kettlebell Swing


Kettlebell complex

If you do not have any experience with kettlebell training, make sure that you find someone in your gym who can introduce you to some basic KB exercises. If you think you can do it by yourself, here is a great resource.

Wrapping up

This post is only an introduction to the series of posts that will follow. In the upcoming posts, I will provide more kettlebell exercises for straight, power, and mobility. I’ll try to describe every practice while focusing on one body part at a time. I can say that this is a step by step tutorial on how to use kettlebell effectively and make it part of your training regimen.

Until next time, if you haven’t yet, get familiar with the basics of kettlebell exercises. Put some thoughts how and what would you like to improve. Also share some throughs and personal experience in the comments.

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