There have been many questions with regards to the use of The Grappler & Russian Kettlebells. I am going to discuss exactly how I train my athletes (mainly grapplers & football players) with these two tools. I call them “tools” because they are only a part of the arsenal of weapons we use. Too often a strength or performance coach gets carried away with one or two training styles or modalities and over uses them.

One thing that immediately comes to my attention is all the questions about Russian Kettlebells, specifically, where & when in a workout should they be used for the best effect. I am not one for following the “rules” when it comes to training; every time I follow the so called rules I lose the creativity that comes along with coaching and ultimately hold back the true potential of an athlete. Some coaches emphasize using Kettlebells first in a workout since it is considered speed or dynamic work while others emphasize using them last as a “finisher”. Experiment and research yourself to find what works best for you & your athletes.

We use them sometimes in the beginning, middle and / or end of a work out. We do emphasize using variety in the movements, poundages used, sets, and reps just as you would vary your max effort exercises. Exercises such as high rep snatches can be brutal on the CNS so we take care in using them less often unless we see an athlete is consistently progressing with them.

Here is a list of our favorite exercises with Russian Kettlebells (all of these exercises have many variations, some of which are done with one arm at a time, others done two hands on one kettlebell and others done in doubles – holding two kettlebells):
1. Swings
2. Cleans
3. Clean & Press
4. Snatch
5. Squat
6. Lunges
7. Floor Presses
8. Rows

One of our favorite and most effective exercises has been the simplest of them all, the Kettlebell swing. We perform these either with two or one hand at a time using one kettlebell or we use two kettlebells at the same time which provides a tremendous stretch reflex at the bottom! We do these sometimes in the beginning of a workout, or the end, or both! This is an awesome exercise for developing the posterior chain as well as teaching an athlete how to explode through with the hips. The great thing about Russian Kettlebells is that most of the exercises require speed and power. Doing a snatch, clean or swing slowly will most often not allow the exercise to be completed. For young athletes this is great because it teaches them how to be aggressive with the weights which some kids simply do not understand or know how to do. In turn this helps transfer to more power & speed during competition.

Another regular exercise we use with the Kettlebells are the one arm clean and the double clean. Once again, these are great for developing speed and power through the hips as well as giving us another way to attack the posterior chain. For grapplers and fighters we sometimes perform high reps on the swing (20 – 40 reps) and the clean (12 – 20 reps) as well as doing combo exercises with the Kettlebells. A sample combo exercise would be the clean & squat or the clean, squat & press. The combo exercises are great for integarating full body loading and done with high reps will test the will of any combat athlete.

Here are some of the less traditional exercises we do with Russian Kettlebells that you may find useful in your own training program:
• Kettlebell Walks: There is the rack walk, overhead walk and of course the farmer carry.
• Rack Walk: Using 1 or 2 kettlebells, clean the weight (rack position) and walk for distance or time. Using two kettlebells is more effective and they are awesome for the abs and lower back as well as great for raising GPP.
• Overhead Walk: Simply press 1 or 2 kettlebells overhead and then walk slowly. These are very challenging and will work the hell out of your lower back, abdominals, shoulders & triceps.
• Farmer Walk: You know the drill with these – grab em’ and go! Great for improving GPP while working grip at the same time. The thick handles lend themselves greatly for improving grip. The only draw back is you need the heavier kettlebells for this exercise.

What about specific sets, reps, etc. you are probably asking? We have no specific pattern that we stick to regularly. We might do ten sets of 1 rep in the clean and press with a heavy weight, one arm after the other never resting between sets. Other times we perform a variety of exercises in circuit fashion for an “extra workout” to raise GPP.

Here is one way we have used Kettlebells in a workout. We start the workout with a mix of movement activity (rope jumping), calisthenics and jump stretch band work using various pull motions. This warm up is approximately 5 minutes in duration. We then move to a variation of the swing doing 2 – 4 sets of 10 – 15 reps. After the swing we perform a max effort, perhaps a dead lift or flat bench, and perform on average 7 sets of 2 – 5 reps per set. We then go on and perform assistance exercises or do another kettlebell exercise. We might do high rep kettlebell snatches for 3 reps per arm, alternating back and forth with no rest for 4 – 6 minutes non stop. Or, we might perform a circuit of kettlebell exercises: 1 arm swing for 5 reps, 1 arm push press for 5 reps, 1 arm snatch for 3 reps, 1 arm row for 5 reps and then squats holding the kettlebell at chin level with both hands for 5 reps. With out rest, we repeat the circuit on the other side of the body.

Once again, the above is just one example of using kettlebells in a workout. There are times when our workouts only include swings and no other kettlebell exercises. Keep in mind that they are an effective tool that will certainly add to your overall effectiveness of becoming a better athlete or stronger lifter. Apply the principles of variety just as you vary your max effort and assistance exercises and the rewards will be even greater!

During the warmer months we train at the park and bring a sled and two kettlebells and get an entire workout with just these two items. Regardless of your focus; power lifting or sport, you can benefit greatly from Kettlebells. They are great for power (especially through the hips), raising GPP and they are very versatile. Start off purchasing only one kettlebell, not a pair. When you are easily cranking out reps in all exercises, purchase the next heaviest kettlebell. When you are ready to purchase a pair, try purchasing the weight that you feel is moderately difficult. Once you start using two kettlebells at once each exercise intensifies greatly so purchasing the heaviest kettlebell you can handle is not the best move. Yes, they are expensive so this is a very economical approach to purchasing kettlebells and getting maximum usage from them.

Another question I often see posted is with regards to the use of Westside’s Grappler. Before I purchased the grappler I was swaying between a Landmine as well. I spoke with Louie and he threw out a load of exercises that can be done with the Grappler. In addition, my facility is very small and with the need to maximize space the Grappler was going to allow me to work the entire body while allowing me to store it out of the way when we do other training. The Grappler is practically a gym in itself. Louie told me about how he would have his MMA fighters use it for up to 5 – 6 minutes non stop. At first thought you think what the hell can I do for 6 minutes, only shoulder presses? Yes, we do shoulder presses, pushing both bars up simultaneously, other times one at a time, and other times in see saw fashion which really attacks the upper back as well! We use heavy weights and light weights, and sometimes we only use the bar!

You can also perform front squats with both bars in the grappler, or use only one bar at a time. Squat with the hands holding the bars against the body or overhead, or do a squat and shoulder press combo! Heavy weights for pressing and squatting will require a partner so you can lift one bar and your partner hands you the other bar.

A favorite exercise is doing T Bar rows on the grappler. The t bar handle has a variety of different grips to grab from so your variety is great here. We keep the base of the Grappler pressed against the bottom of our power rack to avoid it from moving back during the exercise. We use 35 lb plates here for a little more range of motion. I have used up to six 35 lb plates on this bad boy. Heck, pile it up with 45 lb plates if you want to! We use reverse grips, neutral grip, and various positions of over hand grips for the T Bar. You can also perform one arm rows with the bar, grabbing the sleeve of the Olympic bar which also helps work the grip as well as the back.

You have very likely watched Chuck Vogelpohl performing RDL’s on the Grappler. You can do those as well! Another interesting movement is the rotational movement, sometimes called the Russian Twist. We do these in a very explosive manner with all our athletes. Louie gave me an idea which was that of draping chains over the bar and then having them do the rotations. The constant maneuvering of the chains will surely attack the body in ways you never imagined!

Some other exercises that can be used are floor presses! You heard me right, and these are pretty dam cool. We do these one arm at a time and you can load up some good weight here using 25 or 35 lb plates. Creativity is key when using Russian Kettlebells and The Grappler. They are an awesome addition to any workout program due to the benefits you can reap from them as well as all the versatility. Louie once said to me, “It’s all the stupid shit I do that makes me stronger.” Well, I am not so sure that Kettlebells and the Grappler are considered stupid shit, but they WILL improve your game in countless ways if you decide to invest in either product!