Kettlebells: Muscular Endurance for Combat Athletes

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By Scott Shetler:

One of the biggest mistakes I see combat athletes make in their conditioning programs is to overlook the importance of muscular endurance. Muscular endurance is not the same as aerobic capacity. An athlete can utilize exercises like running, cycling, or other forms of cardiovascular exercise to improve their cardiovascular fitness, but if they do not train the muscle's ability to resist fatigue they can still “lock up” during training or competition.

Cardiovascular training is a great way to get a bigger “gas tank” so to speak, and is essential for the combat athlete, but devoting a portion of the training program to improving muscular endurance is essential. This is an area where kettlebell training rules.

High repetition kettlebell lifting will build muscular endurance, strengthen the connective tissues and improve joint integrity, strengthen traditionally weak areas such as the grip, shoulders and lower back, and improve an athlete's conditioning. Kettlebell training is a perfect choice for a combat athlete's general physical preparation (GPP).

BJJ brown belt and 2017/2018 IBJJF Masters World Champion Chris Jones performing the seated mil press.

My favorite exercises for combat athletes looking to improve muscular endurance and conditioning are:

Swing (1 and 2 arm variations)


Half snatch

push press

Clean and push press (long cycle)

Seated mil press (alternating overhead presses)

Bent over rows

Renegade rows

Front squats / goblet squats

Half get ups

For sets and reps I usually recommend 2-4 sets of 12-15+ reps for exercises like squats, rows, presses, get-ups, and swings. For rows, presses and squats I sometimes have my athletes perform an Isometric hold at various phases of the lift as well. I prefer timed sets for the clean, snatch, push press and long cycle exercises. Our timed sets range from 3:00 at the lower and 10:00 or longer at the higher end. Exercises that allow the lifter to rest with the bell in the rack position are preferred as we can manipulate the pace to develop the various energy systems.

BJJ purple belt and host of the Grappling Central Podcast Ryan Ford performing the kettlebell swing.

Shorter duration, faster paced sets can be used to develop the anaerobic energy systems, and longer duration, slower paced sets can be used to develop the aerobic energy system.

I have had good success with the athletes I train at my gym using the “set and rep” exercises as assistance work after they complete the max effort or dynamic effort strength exercises, and using the “timed set” exercises as finishers or as stand- alone conditioning workouts.

BJJ purple belt and 2017 IBJJ Nogi Worlds silver medalist Logan Santos performing the kettlebell snatch.

By improving muscular endurance, a combat athlete will reduce the likelihood of muscles "locking up" or "gassing out" during a competition. It is important to utilize efficiency in competition, but it is equally as important to have strength, power and muscular endurance available when needed. Have as many weapons in your arsenal as possible when you go to war. Now pick up the kettlebell and get to work!

About the Author:

Scott Shetler is the owner of Extreme Performance Training Systems in Atlanta, GA with 20 years of experience as a trainer and strength and conditioning professional. He trains a wide variety of clients and athletes including his fight crew athletes and offers remote training and consultation services through his online coaching program. He has authored numerous books on kettlebell training and strength and conditioning, has written for Fight! Magazine and Dubai-based Physique MMA Magazine and was selected to be the kettlebell training specialist for the TapouT Virtual Training Center (VTC). To learn more about his services visit his website at .

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