Kettlebells and Krav Maga - Connecting the Dots
August 8, 2017
When I first opened Crucible we did not have a fitness, strength or kettlebell program. We simply had a fundamental striking class and a Krav Maga class. At the time I did not yet understand the linkage between body mechanics, learning capacity and achieving technical proficiency. I did however know that students needed to be more "mobile" and "flexible" to perform some of the Krav Maga movements.
What about yoga?
At the time the only thing that came to mind when I thought about mobility was yoga. So we implemented a yoga program at my gym in Dallas and then also the one I had in Plano. And for a time it seemed to be a good fit. However, I noticed something in my own training - I was not getting more mobile, and sometimes it even hurt. Other than to simply keep trying to perform a yoga pose, there was no instruction on how to get from point A to point B, or understanding of the underlying body mechanics that governed if it was even possible for my body to get into the positions they were asking. So I continued to look and came across Kettlebells (www.strongfirst.com). It also happened that many top Krav Maga instructors were also top Kettlebell instructors.
The Hardstyle System
What I like about using Kettlebells is that the instructors that certify and promote their usage are well versed in proper body movement. Safety is the number one metric that is considered. But what determines if a movement is safe? This is where the real gems of the system start to shine. The biomechanics of the movements have been studied extensively. They are backed up by many smart people and have a reputation for making your movements better and stronger. I highly recommend you dive into the vast number of articles on the StrongFirst website here (www.strongfirst.com/blog). Grey Cook and the team that developed the Functional Movement Screen are big advocates of the system as well.
The hardstyle kettlebell system that Pavel Tsatsouline pioneered is just that: a system. When I first started learning it, I realized I would never think about strength training in the same way again. Looking back at all the time I spent in the gym, I realize that I probably wasted a lot of time and effort doing things that were not very beneficial - and sometimes they may not have been safe for my body. After learning hardstyle kettlebell training, my body is more resilient, stronger, more mobile, with better range of motion and conditioning than at any other point in my life. And I did it faster.
When I see students come into the gym for the first time, I am usually looking for two qualities: coordination and mobility. I tell students that if they are mobile and coordinated, I can teach them anything. If not, it is very hard to learn anything. Practicing yoga made me neither stronger nor more mobile. This is not a generalization about yoga, just my personal experience. However, the ability to make the vast majority of our students both more mobile and more coordinated by learning the hardstyle system is what made me a big believer. The concepts are fully scalable to nearly every person that walks in the door, and can be put to use immediately.
Why we use kettlebells
The reason we advocate for training with kettlebells is not that they make you stronger than any other tool. You can get strong with pretty much any tool. The reason is that we can engrain proper body movement, improve coordination, and make people safely strong at any level of current physical condition. It truly is a Swiss army knife type of system that is very adaptable.
When new students come in to learn our kettlebell program, the first thing we do is put them through a Ground Force Method based mobility warm up. This allows me to assess their movement skills and to start getting their brains re-wired immediately. With a simple crawling drill I can tell almost instantly who is moving well, and who will require some additional work.
In our typical first day of our 3 Part Fundamentals program we cover a large amount number of strength and movement skills:
- dead lifts
- hardstyle planking
- farmers walks
After just one session we can teach a substantial amount of material.
Connecting to Krav Maga and Self-Defense
How does all of this relate to Krav Maga? As I said earlier, the two main factors I look at are mobility and coordination.
Mobility, as I define it, is the ability to safely and with control put your body into a position. The ironic thing about training in hardstyle kettlebells is that while we are strength training, we are going to gain mobility at the same time. Traditionally when I think of strength training, mobility is usually something you give up. But by constantly reinforcing proper body position, and doing so under load, your body adapts in a positive way. Your shoulders and back become stronger and more mobile. With more mobility comes the ability to deliver more power in your strikes.
Coordination is one of the most under appreciated skills in self-defense. As self-defense instructors we do not understand just how much more coordinated we are than average people. Traditionally the way to get good at fighting was to just do a lot of fighting - which is still true, but there are more effective ways to improve a persons coordination which will allow them to learn other skills, like fighting, faster.
A kettlebell swing, turkish get-up, or a snatch are wonderful movements that require a high degree of mobility and coordination. When we first start students in the kettlebell program, one of the first enlightening thoughts they have is - hey this is harder than it looks and requires a lot of coordination. Being able to disassociate your shoulders and hips, and allow your limbs to do independent activities are some of the hardest skills to learn in self-defense. Learning the hardstyle kettlebell program will allow for a much higher degree of coordinated movements which will directly translate into an accelerated learning process for Krav Maga.
I'm going to add a third element here, core strength. It really can't be overstated that having a strong and mobile core are absolutely critical to your training. All of your movements in self-defense are basically a transfer of power from your feet and legs, through the core, and out to the limbs. And by "core" we are not referring to just a six pack of abs - your back, spine, pelvis, and posterior chain can also be considered part of your "core".
When we learn how to leverage our striking through the core of the body (vs just hitting with the limbs) the amount of force we can deliver or repulse goes up very dramatically. When we say "use your legs to strike" what we really mean is "use your legs to drive, transfer that power through the core, and deliver with your limbs." Learning how to store and leverage the strength of your core can increase the strength of your striking by 2x - 3x.
I consider the hardstyle system of kettlebell training to be the martial arts of strength training. It is versatile, safe, and effective. It makes everything you are doing today, better. It will make you a more resilient person, allow you to transfer power more effectively, and give you the kind of body control that enables you to learn material much faster.