I have never been big on strength on conditioning, mainly because I'm too lazy to stick with the majority of activities that come under that umbrella. I've managed stints of going to the gym or doing press ups and the like at home, but I always end up getting either bored, distracted or both and it fizzles out. That's what has been so great about Brazilian jiu jitsu over my last decade of training: it's too much fun to get bored, as there's so much depth you're always learning something new.
Still, given I now teach BJJ for a living (at least partly), it makes sense to work on my strength and conditioning. I don't care about getting super buff or anything like that, but I would like to 'injury proof' my body with some extra muscle. Fortunately for me, I knew exactly where to go, after two fantastic kettlebell instructors tried out Artemis BJJ back in March 2014.
David and Natalia are the teachers at MoveStrong, a kettlebells and personal training group that is based at MYGYM Bristol, just like Artemis BJJ. One of my BJJ students, Chris, has been raving about how good the classes are for quite a while now, as well as showing me a few basics. That interest was further bolstered by the cool taster David did at the helpfulpeeps event a while ago.
This month I finally had the time to commit to a regular class, as I work from home on Tuesdays which opens up my week a bit more. There used to be a daytime class for MoveStrong, which is hopefully going to start back up again: that would be a perfect fit if they set it to run on Tuesdays from 12:00-13:00, as the Artemis BJJ open mat runs from 13:00-14:00 in the same room. No travel time! ;)
For the moment, there is also a MoveStrong kettlebell class on Tuesday evenings from 19:00-20:00, which also fits ok with my schedule. My girlfriend goes to choir around then, although next week will be half term, so she's free. She's interested in popping down to the kettlebell session with me next week, but I'm not sure they do drop-ins or have some kind of one-off rate or not: I'll check. I'm signed up to the £35 monthly rate, which gives you access once a week. I suspect that will be more than enough for me, as I'm busy teaching BJJ most other weekdays.
It was Natalia teaching today, who proved to be an excellent instructor. Welcoming, relaxed and with lots of helpful tips, carefully correcting my posture and walking me through each detail of the technique. The class in general had a great atmosphere: it felt like a similar vibe to the women only Artemis BJJ class on Wednesdays, especially as it was all women tonight (apart from me). I haven't had much of a chance to speak to the other students yet (who were probably thinking "Who is the weird guy in multicoloured tights?", as naturally I wore my Artemis BJJ spats), but they all seemed friendly.
Natalia also did a good job of splitting her time between running through the basics with me, but also providing the experienced students with direction too. It's not a huge class, as there were four of us, which for me is a plus point. That means more hands-on attention from the instructor: again, much the same as the women-only BJJ class. They both take place in the same room (the upstairs Studio at MYGYM), no doubt further highlighting the similarities in my head.
I learned two techniques today, starting with the basic swing. The kettlebell (Natalia decided on a 16kg for me, then also suggested I do a small number of reps on a 24kg later when I had some more understanding of the technique) sits on the floor in front of you. Put your feet shoulder width apart. Grab the handle of the kettlebell with both hands, twisting inwards as if you were trying to snap the handle. Keep your shoulders back, also thrusting your bum out, tensing your abs. Your back stays in a concave arch, like a dog (so, reminiscent of the 'dog/cat' distinction in closed guard posture).
Bring the kettlebell back towards your legs, bringing your upper body down (don't bend: remain straight, like your upper body is a plank on a hinge). As it swings back, thrust forcefully with you hips. The kettlebell will swing up, then as it returns, once you feel your elbow touch your ribs, hinge back down again. As you swing the kettlebell backwards, breathe in through your nose, then when you thrust your hips forward, exhale percussively through your mouth. The lift of the kettlebell comes from that hip thrust: your arms are essentially ropes with a weight tied on the end.
It's tricky to get the posture right, which is where good teachers like Natalia come in, correcting those minor imbalances where you're going out of alignment. I also wasn't too good at tensing up my abs and glutes with the swing, but that will come with time. I was wondering if all the swinging would make my sore fingers worse, but they felt fine afterwards. So hopefully kettlebells will act as a counter to all the over-gripping I've been doing in BJJ: Chris has said it definitely helped his fingers.
Next was a squat, which was easier. Grab the sides of the handle, lifting the kettlebell to your chest. From your low squat position, stand up, leading with your head. Keep the kettlebell where it is, slowly descending back down into the squat, resting your elbows on your thighs/knees. Again, I don't think my posture is quite there yet, but Natalia had loads of useful advice while I was doing it, as well as showing me how to combine it with a swing.
I'm looking forward to the next session (especially if I can bring my girlfriend along). Should be very interesting to see how it affects my BJJ! :)