Punching is an indispensable ability for winning a fight, and probably the most sought-after skill. It makes sense: Since the hands are closer to the brain, they are therefore instinctively easier to use and train. But a complete fighter must also be able to kick hard. The legs pack a lot of muscle and have greater reach, and experience has repeatedly shown that a devastating kick can end a fight pretty fast. So, developing strong kicks should be a top priority for anyone training for combat sports or self-defense.Developing strong kicks should be a top priority for anyone training for combat sports or self-defense. Click To Tweet
In order to bring that about, here are some movements to help you build unstoppable kicks that will instill fear into the heart of your opponent. The movements are divided into two categories: general and style-specific.
These basic exercises will help in a more general, all-around way.
1. The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift should be the primary deadlift variation for fighters because the wide stance develops strength and stability that specifically transfers to the fighting stance, where the legs are split apart. Needless to say, the deadlift is unparalleled in its ability to develop a strong core and legs, which are a must for any athlete.
In order to perform the sumo deadlift:
- Assume the sumo stance.
- Position your legs about as wide as the rings on the barbell. A little narrower than that should also be fine if you are not very tall.
- Hinge your hips, always keeping them higher than the knees but lower than the shoulders, and reach for the bar.
- I prefer the double overhand grip, and if it becomes the weak link of your lift, use straps. The mixed grip tends to cause imbalances over time.
- Engage your lats and core, maintain a neutral spine, and pull.
During the lift, keep the bar as close to your body as possible and actively try to spread the ground apart with your legs so that you enhance your ability to produce lateral force. Also think about penetrating the bar with your hips as you rise. Do not overextend at the top, just stand tall and lower the weight again in a slow, controlled manner.
Video 1. Perform the sumo deadlift during the strength portion of your workout, which should be before any isolation/accessory exercises, among your other compound lifts. Do 3-4 sets of 2-5 reps.
2. The Jumping Back Squat
The jumping back squat is one of the best exercises for developing power production, which obviously translates to stronger kicks. In order to perform it:
- Unrack the weight and rest the bar on your traps (high bar position).
- Place your legs in a comfortable width and squat until just below parallel.
- Explode upward, jumping as violently as humanly possible, making sure your body is fully extended throughout the jump.
Returning to the ground with proper mechanics is crucial now that you’re holding extra weight on your back, so ensure that during the landing your knees track over your feet and don’t cave in or fall outward. Land on the balls of your feet first and then evenly distribute your weight from the toes to the heels to cushion the impact.
Video 2. Use the jumping back squat to develop power, but do not overload the movement.
You can insert the movement into your program in two ways:
- You can simply do it as a single exercise among other plyometrics, right after a good warm-up and before your strength and/or isolation work. In that case, do three sets of five reps at 20-30% of your 1RM.
- You can do it as part of a post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) set, utilizing the so-called complex method. Do 2-3 reps of heavy back squats at 80-90% of your 1RM and immediately (no rest at all) perform five jumping back squats at 20-30% of your 1RM. Rest and repeat for a total of three sets.
Beginning with the heavy work will fire up the nervous system, setting it to a more “combat ready” state, actually making the following explosive set even more efficient. A word of caution though: Keep the loading parameters as described and resist the urge to overload the jumping squats. The idea here is maximum force production, not lifting as much weight as possible.
3. The Jumping Split Squat
This is another awesome exercise along the same lines. Your program should include unilateral training in the first place, and even more so if you are a fighter, since kicking means you will find yourself standing on one leg quite often. Use only your body weight for this one.Your program should include unilateral training in the first place, and even more so if you are a fighter. Click To Tweet
Take a big step forward and a little bit to the outside. Do not make the rookie mistake of placing your legs in front of one another, because you will have terrible balance. Keep your torso straight and lower your hips vertically to prepare for the jump. Swing your arms to create momentum and launch explosively toward the sky. Land in the same staggered stance if possible, but if you have trouble, switch your legs to shoulder width while in the air so that it becomes easier.
Video 3. Perform the jumping split squat before the strength and/or isolation portion of your workout by doing 3-4 sets of 5-6 reps on each side.
As with the jumping back squat, you can also choose to merge strength with plyometrics in PTP sets, in which case you should perform three heavy split squats (80-90% of 1RM), then immediately perform 5-6 bodyweight jumping split squats on the same leg. Take 30 seconds of rest and repeat on the other side. This is one set. Repeat for a total of three sets.
These specific exercises have a bigger effect on certain kicks, based on your style as a fighter.
1. The Kneeling to Broad Jump
This one is designed to enhance the “hip snap” required when delivering roundhouse kicks, often used by kickboxing and Muay Thai athletes.
- Drop on your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground, all the way to the toes.
- Bring your hips back and sit on your heels.
- Build momentum with your hands by bringing them back and rapidly swinging them forward.
- As they continue to travel toward the sky, extend the hips explosively so the entire body is thrown upward.
- Swiftly bring the legs forward in about shoulder width and land in a forefoot position. (Be mindful to not let your knees cave in.)
- Immediately switch to a broad jump and propel yourself as far as you can, again using your hands for drive during the transition.
Make your final landing on all three points of contact of your feet (heel, first metatarsal, and fifth metatarsal). Stick in this position for a moment, again making sure there’s no knee valgus, then stand up. Repeat as needed.
Video 4. As mentioned before, it’s best to perform plyometric exercises when your nervous system is fresh, so right after the warm-up is a great choice. Do three or four sets of five reps at the most, with plenty of rest between each set.
2. The Staggered-Stance Pallof Press
The Pallof press is a wonderful exercise in regard to creating a rigid core, giving you control over rotational movements. This is exactly what we try to achieve here, only this time we use the same stance we have when fighting, thus building a strong foundation for circular/roundhouse kicks.
Tie a band to a stable object, like a rack at chest height. Stand side-on to the rack, grab the band with both hands, and hold it against your chest. Stand at such a distance that the band already provides solid resistance. Assume the staggered stance, placing the inside leg to the back. Engage your core and press out with your hands. Resist the pull of the band by not letting your torso rotate toward it. Then pull back in slowly and repeat. (As an alternative, you can use a cable with a standard handle.)
Video 5. Leave the staggered stance Pallof press for the last portion of your workout. Do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps on each side.
3. The Band Lift
Now that you’ve established rotational control, it’s time to increase rotational power. The band lift is a great way to achieve this.
Tie your band very low, close to the ground. Grab it with both hands, turn sideways, and let your arms align with it. Step away until you feel tension and position your feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and glutes and pull the band toward a straight diagonal line across your rotating torso, until your arms reach a fully extended position above your head. You can also perform this movement using a cable tower.
Video 6. Leave the band lift for after you finish with your big lifts. Do 3-4 sets of 10 reps on each side.
4. The Pallof Walkout
This one will fire up your core, glutes, adductor, and abductor muscles at the same time. The movement will also strengthen the obliques and transverse abdominis, all while maintaining the anti-rotation component.
In particular, the Pallof walkout will help Tae Kwon Do kickers remain highly mobile for longer, since their style includes continuous lateral movement. Set up the band (or cable) exactly like in the staggered stance Pallof press. Then:
- Place your legs about as wide as you would in a squat.
- Lower your center of gravity by bending your knees and press out with your hands.
- Take three steps sideways, resisting the pull of the band.
- Return with another three steps in the opposite direction.
That is one repetition.
Video 7. Pallof Walkouts: Perform three sets of 4-5 reps max on each side, at the end of your workout.
5. The Cossack Squat
The Cossack squat places a lot of emphasis on the adductors—therefore, it’s once again great for fighters with a lot of lateral movement or in and out tactics, as used in Tae Kwon Do or karate.
- Start by placing your feet at least double the distance of your shoulders and flare your toes out just a little.
- Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell against your chest.
- Shift your weight to one foot by bending your knee and hips downward, until you reach as deep as your mobility allows. The opposite leg should turn to rest on the heel, so that the toes point to the sky.
Try to keep an upright torso during the whole movement. In order to maintain balance, gradually push the weight away from your body as you go lower. Once the end range is achieved, push the floor with your working leg and stand up again, pulling the weight back in. Repeat on the other side.
Video 8. Do three sets of 10 reps. The Cossack squat is an accessory multi-joint exercise, so you’d best place it after your compound lifts but before the isolation/core part of your workout.
6. Hanging Corkscrew Knee Raises
The last exercise will torch your obliques, but at the same time cultivate powerful front and side kicks. These types of kicks are performed by first lifting the knee high, so being able to do that easily while maintaining strength through the range of motion is very important.
Pinch a med/slam ball with your legs and hang from a bar. Raise your knees like you would in a standard hanging knee raise, only this time twist them to the side in a corkscrew motion as well. Return to the starting position by reversing the process and repeat on the other side.
Try to always keep your torso facing forward and be sure to initiate every repetition by contracting the obliques. If the exercise is too hard, drop the extra weight. If it’s still hard, try bending your arms a little when raising your legs, which will take some stress off the core and make it a tad easier.
Video 9. Perform three sets of 12-15 reps. Leave the hanging corkscrew knee raises for the last part of your workout. If you have more core work programmed, it’s best that you do the hanging corkscrew knee raises first, since I can assure you, they are a pretty demanding exercise.
Powerful Kicking Tools
Before we call it a day, let’s get some things out of the way. Yes, technique is obviously very important. Being strong is one thing and being able to deliver a blow in the optimal way is another.Being strong is one thing and being able to deliver a blow in the optimal way is another. Click To Tweet
Technical proficiency, however, is not the subject being discussed here. This article is about giving you some tools to make what you—supposedly—already know how to do more powerful. Try these movements out, and you will hopefully see the results!
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