Pavel Tsatsouline is the man who made kettlebells so popular among the general population and subsequently, the MMA population. In fact, kettlebells are one of the oldest pieces of strength training equipment ever created. Barbells are relatively new in comparison. Is one better than the other for MMA?
Both barbells and kettlebells are tools to develop strength and power for MMA. It’s about picking the right tool for the desired outcome. Barbells are better for heavy loading while kettlebells are best for performing swings and carries.
So when should you pick kettlebells or barbells for your MMA strength training?
Are Kettlebells Better Than Barbells?
Kettlebells are not better than barbells. And barbells are not better than kettlebells. Both strength training tools serve different purposes and are best used depending on the desired stimulus or the exercise being performed.
For example, explosive kettlebell swings cannot be performed with a barbell. And heavy back squats cannot be performed with kettlebells.
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In my opinion, this is where kettlebells are better than barbells for MMA:
- Explosive kettlebell swings for glute and hamstring development.
- Explosive throws as kettlebells are like medicine balls with handles.
- Carries such as farmers walk, waiter walks, and front rack carries.
This is where kettlebells shine. However, barbells also have their advantages over kettlebells:
- Can load exercises heavier such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, etc.
- Perform Olympic lifts easier than with kettlebells.
- Loaded jumps are easier to load with a barbell.
Both tools can be used within your strength training program.
Can You Get Strong With Just Kettlebells?
When it comes to MMA, you can get strong with just kettlebells. But if you want to maximize your MMA performance, you will need to use barbells. Considering UFC athletes can pull 3.5x bodyweight isometrically, kettlebells just won’t cut it when getting that strong.
In fact, barbell exercise has been shown to be superior for developing strength over 6 weeks compared to kettlebell training alone .
Do MMA Fighters Use Kettlebells?
Kettlebells and MMA seem to go hand in hand. The whole “functional training” movement made its way into MMA and now it’s supposed to be more specific to MMA than other forms of strength training.
While kettlebells may be great for some exercises, don’t pigeonhole yourself into thinking the kettlebell is the best or optimal way to develop strength for MMA.
Can Kettlebells Replace Barbells?
In my opinion, kettlebells cannot replace barbells when it comes to getting stronger and more powerful for MMA. Kettlebells lack the ability to load exercises heavily making them great for explosive movements, but not so great for maximum strength.
Both kettlebells and barbells are great tools for strength training when it comes to MMA. There is no need to pick one of the other and become loyal to either side. Rather, pick the right tool for the exercise and the desired adaptation.
1. Otto III, W. H., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., & Spiering, B. A. (2012). Effects of weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(5), 1199-1202.