Brandon Richey, B.S., CSCS
If you’re reading this I know you’ve been in the same predicament as myself at times with having limited space and equipment to get the day’s training in.
Despite this obstacle I’ve found that leveraging the kettlebell for moments like this doesn’t slow progress…but in fact even serves as an upgrade in terms of performance and conditioning particularly for MMA fight performance.
So today I’m presenting three of my favorite stretches that will enhance your training performance, whether in MMA, classic martial arts, combat training, or just generalized fitness. Flexibility is often overlooked in training and even eliminated as part of training, but it’s just as important as recovery, nutrition and water intake.
3. The Loaded Groin (Saddle) Stretch
If there is one key area of fight performance that needs attention it’s located in the hips. Fighters generate everything from their hips from throwing punches to delivering kicks and if there is any restriction in the hips then those strikes will suffer in terms of power and precision.
The groin (or hip adductors) tend to be some of the most stubborn muscles in the human body for many people. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, but then there is always the rule. One of the reasons for this is that people tend to do a hell of a lot more sitting these days.
Sitting is just a reality even if we’re talking about athletes. Knowing this stretching and mobility work should always be
inherent within the structure and model of a well planned strength and conditioning program. This is why I am a big fan of the loaded kettlebell saddle stretch.
Of course a standard saddle stretch is going to be effective for many trainees to implement on a regular basis, but for those of us that need a bit more assistance in prying the hips and groin open a bit further the loaded saddle stretch is a great option.
Recommendation: Keep in mind that this loaded variation is for more advanced stretching and should be done with careful consideration based on individual needs. When performing the saddle stretch emphasis should be placed on pushing the knees firmly into the ground and dorsiflexing the ankles (pointing the toes to the sky).
Once in the seated position the legs should spread as far from the midline of the body as possible forming a “V” as you settle into the stretch. Once here strict posture should be maintained at the shoulders and spine by not rounding the spine as you pry into the stretch.
The resistance from the kettlebell is used to pry deeper into the stretch by grabbing the horns (sides of the handle) of the bell and lifting it up to the stomach area. As you lean forward with the bell to pry the hips the bell can be pushed away from your center mass for a more passive stretch. I would recommend performing a slow steady back and forth movement with the bell for about 2 minutes for a good stretch prior to more intense activity.
2. The Kettlebell Armbar
The other key joints to address, particularly for fight performance, are the shoulders. Like the hips, the shoulders are mobile joints and must be both mobile and stable for both ballistic and controlled strength movements.
The shoulders can be primed for mobility and stability if intelligent mobility and strength is properly applied. Like the loaded saddle stretch for the hips the kettlebell armbar is a more advanced passive stretch on the shoulders.
As you can see in the video I linked to above, this movement requires a higher level of control and familiarity with kettlebell movement.
Regardless, this movement is a great stretch on the shoulders at the pectoral muscles and anterior portion of the shoulder.
If you can think about fighting and training a great deal of movement demand occurs in front of the body with the arms pushing, pressing, and throwing punches.
Because of this pattern overload, it’s only reasonable that the pectoral muscles and shoulders may be subject to tightness and immobility due to excessive shortening and contracting from these constant movement demands.
Part of smart mobility and strength training is figuring out how to mobilize the tight areas of the body while strengthening opposing muscles that are used less within a given sport. In terms of MMA and combat performance the kettlebell armbar is great for doing just that.
Recommendation: Perform this movement if you are proficient at pressing a kettlebell overhead. Perform the movement by starting on the ground in the fetal position. If lying on your right side in the fetal position make sure the kettlebell is on the right side.
Grip the kettlebell with the right hand with your hand closest to the bend of the handle that is on the right side, or the side that is pointing towards your head (instead of your feet) from the lying fetal position.
Next, roll your body into the lying position on your back pressing the kettlebell. Make sure your right leg is bent with the foot placement wider than your hips. Keep the left leg straight.
From here lift the free arm above the head and start rolling your body into a prone position (onto your stomach) maintaining a strict perpendicular angle with the kettlebell in the pressed position.
As you ease into the prone position bring the right leg over as you rotate your body into the prone position. Keep the right knee bent for more stability. Hold the prone position for 8 to 12 seconds and ease out of it by rolling back into the lying position on your back and ultimately into the fetal position. Perform 3 to 6 holds on each arm for the designated time.
1. The Turkish Get-Up
The first two drills I pointed out here address the stretching aspect of the hips and shoulders and the Turkish Get-Up is a strength drill that will tie all of this together. Truthfully, in terms of mobility and function the Turkish Get-Up is probably one of the most powerful strength movements for optimizing total body mobility and overall functional strength.
It’s fairly easy for the casual observer to see what benefits this drill can bring to the table in terms of MMA and Combat fight performance. If we’re in a grappling situation this drill teaches us how to shift and control our body for strength coming up off the ground. This is particularly valuable when fighting the resistance of an opponent that you may have just pulled guard on and may be looking to shift out of the grounded position.
The Turkish Get-Up trains both mobility and stability at the shoulder joints. The key is being able to effectively shift your bodyweight and move the joints throughout this motion to achieve a seamless movement pattern for executing the drill.
Recommendation: As you saw in the video you begin the Get Up the same way as the Kettlebell Armbar drill. The only difference is that once you perform the press the next phase involves rolling over onto the elbow of the unloaded arm while maintaining the kettlebell in the pressed position.
Once you move onto the elbow the next step involves getting up onto the hand of the free arm. Once the unloaded hand is on the ground perform a hip thrust with the same leg that’s on the loaded side of the body
This hip thrust lifts the hips off the ground so that you’re able to sweep the straight leg back underneath the hips bringing that knee to a 90 degree bend. From here you want to lift the unloaded hand off the ground and perform the “windshield wiper” movement with the rear leg to slide it so that your body is in a straight forward lunging position in order to stand up
Once you’ve completed the Get-Up from the ground then reverse the entire process in order to return back to the starting position on the ground in the fetal position. Once a repetition is completed I would recommend switching the weight to the other arm to perform the Get-Up on the other side of the body.
Kettlebell Turkish Get-Ups can be programmed a number of different ways. There are times I will program them into more leg training days to emphasize mobility and strength and some days I will program Get-Ups as that day’s entire workout
I would recommend focusing on getting proficient at Get-Ups by training with a lighter load in the beginning while emphasizing volume. After a 3 to 4 weeks of performing 10 to 20 repetitions of Get-Ups on each arm with a lighter load you can graduate to a heavier kettlebell and adjust the volume as needed.
Remember that when it comes to strength and conditioning for MMA and Combat performance we want to stretch that which is tight and strengthen that which is loose. This should always be the fundamental driving principle of an effective strength and conditioning program.
Make sure to work consistently and do so knowing that quality always trumps quantity. Add these drills into your program and progress carefully understanding your limitations as you go. If you liked this article please share it out and if you’re really looking for a plan to guarantee your results and to tie all of this together make sure you check out my 90 Day MMA Strength and Conditioning Plan, or visit me at my website, Brandon Richey Fitness.
What are some of your favorite kettlebell routines?
How have you found they help with your training?
How often do you incorporate kettlebells into your routine?
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