Most people have a hard time throwing high kicks at head level when first starting with martial arts that allow kicks, like Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and Taekwondo. The physical requirements of some of the techniques they practice are beyond their current capabilities.
Martial arts that involve kicks require extreme ranges of motion in your hips, legs, and groin to execute techniques like a roundhouse or axe kick.
Adding exercises like single-leg Romanian deadlifts, couch stretches, and hip airplanes to your workout routine can help develop hip extension strength, stability, and mobility while rotating externally and internally. Consistently practicing techniques that require you to push your range of motion also helps to increase the height of your kicks.
The Mechanics Of Throwing A Kick
Whenever you throw a kick, your base leg generates power by digging into the floor and driving hip extension, generating torque as you rotate your hip externally while pivoting your base leg outward. You drive through with your kicking leg, transitioning to internal rotation and hip flexion.
In other words, you turn your planted foot outward while whipping your rear hip and leg forward toward the target. Martial arts like Muay Thai teach you to turn your foot over before reaching the target so the sharp edge of your shin makes contact, while other martial arts like Taekwondo teach you to strike with the area where your foot meets your lower leg. Turning over your foot generates more power while slowing the technique down.
With so many moving parts of your body involved whenever you throw a kick, you’ll need to target them all to improve the height of your kicks. The most common issue that prevents fighters from throwing high kicks is an inability to use all the range of motion required for the technique without triggering a stretch reflex. A stretch reflex is the involuntary tightening of muscles as the body tries to protect itself from possible tissue damage as a result of stretching.
The older you are when you first start training kicks, the likelier you will experience this issue. For example, some top-level Muay Thai fighters who started training as children look extremely flexible while throwing their kicks, but some can’t even perform the most basic stretches, like touching their toes. The movements have been programmed into their brains early, so they have no stretch reflexes despite their limited flexibility. By the time you’re done with puberty, your neuromuscular wiring is complete.
Fortunately, there are ways to reprogram your body to improve your mobility and flexibility. With enough training, you can rewire your sensorimotor system, which manages all movements. It just takes dedication to your training and making a conscious effort to improve the height of your kicks.
Exercises That Improve The Height Of Your Kicks
Now that we’ve gone over the different moving parts that work together whenever you throw a kick, let’s review some exercises that will help strengthen and loosen some of these parts.
The couch stretch is a simple stretch that makes it easier to keep your pelvis neutral and improves your hip extension. Keeping your pelvis neutral prevents your adductors from getting overloaded when throwing keeps. The adductors are attached to the bottom of the spine and serve as secondary hip flexors.
When your pelvis is tilted forward, it puts your adductors in a lengthened position, making it harder to lift your leg to the desired height. Your hips might tilt forward due to tightness caused by sitting down for long periods. Tight hips lead to tight groin muscles, restricting how high you can kick.
The couch stretch is an effective way to improve your hip extension and loosen your hips. Here’s what it looks like:
- Put your knee next to a solid object like a wall, with your lower leg on the object and your knee on the ground.
- Step forward with your opposite foot, so your opposite knee is right over it/
- Squeeze your glute on the side wedged against the object and your abdominal muscles to enter the stretch. Take deep breaths while in the position to get the most out of the stretch. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat on your other side.
The hip airplane stretch helps stabilize the spine and hip joint through external and internal rotation. External and internal hip rotation are essential motion ranges in martial arts that involve kicks if you want to be able to throw high kicks.
The hip airplane exercise involves balancing on one leg and internally and externally rotating your hip. You do this while keeping your pelvis neutral and using your hips to generate the power for the movement.
Mastering this exercise carries over to your kicks as it improves your stability through the different ranges of motion used when throwing kicks.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift helps to strengthen your hip extension, leading to higher and more powerful kicks. One of the keys to getting the most out of this exercise is keeping your pelvis in a neutral position while holding a kettlebell in one hand. Hinge your hip backward while extending your opposite leg back so you’re balancing on one leg when performing the exercise.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise one leg off the ground and flex your support leg’s knee about 20 percent to activate your glutes. Hold a kettlebell with the hand on the opposite side of your support leg. Start with light weights if you’re new to the exercise. You can also perform this exercise without using any weight.
- Keep your back naturally arched and hinge your hips back to lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the ground.
- Pause for a second, tighten your glutes, and shift your hips forward to return your torso to an upright position. Repeat for about ten reps and switch sides.
Putting Everything Together
Performing these exercises alone won’t improve your kicks’ height. These exercises should be a supplement to consistent training. With consistency, it’s only a matter of time before you kick as high as you want.
You may also like: