Five Ways to Improve Kicking Power For Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and MMA
There's nothing more impressive in combat sports than a bone-crunching power kick. Fans of the fisticuffs ooh and ah over highlight reel head kick knockouts. Many beginner (and even some intermediate) martial artists lack that explosive power in their kicks. At Core Strength Fitness, the sound of the solid thwack against the Thai Pads is considered a sought-after badge of honor for our beginners--and the first time they accomplish that goal you bet we all stop and cheer! If you are a beginner seeking that satisfying cacophonous thwack, or just want to add even more oomph to your kicks, implementing the 5 ways to increase kicking power for muay Thai, kickboxing, and MMA below will get you there!
As a disclaimer, be aware that some of these tips are geared specifically toward the Muay Thai style "roundhouse" kick. Snap kicks and straight kicks require different biomechanics to execute.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of how to boost your kicking power, let's jump into a highly simplified physics lesson. First of all, power and strength are not the same things. Just doing sets of 5x5 squats are not going to make you kick like Yodsanklai Fairtex. What's the actual difference? Strength is all about using force (mass * acceleration (F = m * a)) to overcome resistance. Power is concerned with exerting force in the shortest amount of time. Essentially, adding more power equates to being able to move your mass faster. So how can we do it? And is that all there is to it? Let's get after it.
1. Kick with Proper Technique
Utilizing the optimal technique in your kicks is the first thing anyone needs to address. If you're starting out kicking incorrectly, well, then you're kind of effed from the get-go. Here are a couple of quick cues that will help you throw your kicks effectively:
Step on your kicks. If you're throwing a rear leg round kick, step out 45 degrees to initiate the movement. This will open up your hips, which helps with rotation. I know it slightly telegraphs your movement, but the power increase is typically worth it.
Spin on the ball of your supporting foot. When you pivot that support leg, you're adding centrifugal force, which makes your kick faster.
Throw the arm that's kicking. Using your kicking side arm as a counterbalance will help to stabilize you throughout the kick.
Turn your hip over. Turning your hip adds more mass to the equation as your body weight can be utilized more effectively behind the kick.
One other way to add even more power to the rear leg roundhouse kick is to stutter step first. By loading up on this kick, you can multiply force production. Just be careful, as this one can be spotted more easily.
To see the stutter-step in action, take a look at this MMA Shredded (Jeff Chan) video https://youtu.be/iDFiI4JPYLg?t=34. We suggest watching the entire video for other ways to perfect your technique (and following the channel in general for other great tips and drills).
There are no substitutes for solid coaching. Find someone who can teach you how to throw your kicks properly. Even if you're experienced, you can develop some bad habits you aren't aware of. Come check out one of the partner drill classes at Core Strength Fitness lead by co-owner, Mike Leung if you’re local to Kingston, NY or video yourself doing the movement and email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you don't have access to solid coaching. We’d love to give you tips!
2. Do more Reps
Once you've become competent with the proper kicking technique, doing reps on reps of round kicks is a great way to become more efficient at the movement. Practicing your roundhouse kicks will improve motor learning (often referred to as “muscle memory”) so that the muscles activated during your kicks will receive signals from your brain to contract faster (Oxford University). The result of developing better control of the movement is drastically improved performance (Psychology).
Just hitting pads with your coach or training partner isn't enough. You should dedicate specific time to throwing a high volume of kicks the exact same way. I'm not talking about the rapid-fire kicks you see on Instagram, either. Grab a bag and start working power kicks. Try to make each one perfect. Land in the same place on both the bag and your shin. Take your time between kicks.
Throwing only leg height kicks on the bag is a common mistake I see often. It would make sense if you were only trying to improve your low kicks. Otherwise, you need to throw body kicks as well.
3. Build a Strong Core
And no, I’m not just talking about building those six-pack abs! Your core consists of so much more than the abs that you see on fitness models. Your core includes your glutes, lower back, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis (TVA), and hips. Your core is your power source. The stronger your core, the more stabilized your spine is which translates into faster, more powerful movement.
How exactly does a strong core help with your kicking power? The stronger your core, the more balanced you will be. If you don’t have good balance you will fall right on your ass if you try to throw a fast, powerful kick. To get onto the ball of your foot, pivot, and throw a kick with force, you must be able to stabilize your body while engaging in a rotational movement pattern. This is why you see rotational ab movements (such as Russian Twists) that hit your internal and external obliques in MMA conditioning programs. Your obliques play a huge role in power production as they not only allow for strong rotational movement but they also allow your leg to be raised to the level it needs to be to throw an effective body or head kick.
Your core is very resilient and therefore can be worked several times per week. We recommend getting core work in at least 4-5 times per week. Here are a few core exercises that we recommend for upping your power kick game:
Dead Bugs: 3 sets of 12 reps
This movement works your TVA which is the most internal core muscle that wraps around your torso. Improving your TVA increases mind-muscle connection as well.
Russian Twists: 3x50 (25 each side)
Russian Twists work your internal and external obliques for rotational movement and power.
Low Plank: work up to > 1 min
Make sure your butt is down, back is flat, belly pulled in. Look slightly in front of your hands with a neutral neck (do NOT look at your feet). To make it harder, unclasp your hands and ball your hands into fists, decrease the width of your feet (ideally hip distance). Planks activate your abs, obliques, lower back, glutes.
4. Utilize supplemental exercises
Plyometrics or "plyos" for short, are dynamic movements that consist of a stretching component followed immediately by a contraction. This is also known as the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The quintessential example of a plyo is the jump squat (which will certainly help your kicking prowess). When you land a jump squat, you're stretching the muscles and when you explode up, you're contracting them. This type of movement has a direct carryover to martial arts and any other sport that requires power. As far as kicks concerned, these movements will help your muscles contract quicker, translating to a faster kick.
We recommend doing lower body plyos twice a week to add a serious explosive boost to your lower half (not to be confused with your better half). Let's jump into a couple of effective exercises to do in addition to the aforementioned jump squats.
Another great movement for plyometric power is the box jump. Grab a small to medium box when you're starting so you don't injure yourself.
One final bodyweight movement that will propel you forward (pardon the pun), is the bound. This movement is simple to execute. Jump forward as far as you can off of one leg. Land on the opposite leg and jump off of that immediately.
If you incorporate these three movements into your strength and conditioning, we can practically guarantee a marked improvement in your round kick.
An implement that goes hand and hand with plyometrics is the kettlebell. It's just a ball with a handle but it yields big results. We incorporate a lot of kettlebell training at Core Strength Fitness. We believe in their effectiveness so much that we become HKC certified.
The grandaddy of kettlebell movements is the swing. The kettlebell swing is plyometric by nature, which as stated above is a pretty sick thing. To do a swing properly, you'll need to generate a lot of power from your hips and glutes, which will translate directly to your kicks.
Along with the swing, we recommend incorporating snatches and clean and push press.
5. Improve Your Flexibility and Mobility
First, let’s talk about the difference between mobility and flexibility. Flexibility refers to your muscles passively lengthening whereas mobility is the ability of your joint to actively move throughout a joint capsule.
Why are flexibility and mobility important for kicking power? If your hip flexors are tight, this will inhibit your balance and your ability to turn your hip over during your kicks. Therefore, tight hips will prevent you from mastering powerful roundhouse kicks.
In the same way, poor mobility will impact your range of motion. If your joint mobility is inhibited, it’s impossible to have a powerful kick because you won’t be able to lift your leg or rotate your hips effectively.
Therefore, it’s crucial to work on your flexibility and mobility to improve kicking power.
Here is a great article written by a physical therapist that talks more about mobility and provides 8 exercises to improve hip mobility: https://gmb.io/hip-mobility/
Make sure you have the proper technique when kicking. Duh.
Execute a high volume of kicks to increase motor learning and to get more efficient at the movement pattern.
Build that core. Strong abs will increase stability and rotational power.
Do plyos and utilize kettlebells for more explosive power.
Stop being lazy with stretching and mobility work because it's actually important.
We hope this article helps with some solid tips for upping your kick game. If you want a program or any advice, feel free to reach out to us!