High Kick

Kicking higher and harder in martial arts

High KickIn striking arts like Taekwondo and Kickboxing, there’s obviously a strong emphasis on being able to throw high kicks so you can get that devastating knockout blow. But simply kicking high isn’t enough to deliver that knockout power. As I mentioned in my previous post about Explosive Flexibility, the closer you get to the end range of motion (Peak height of your kick), the more resistance your body creates, and less power you have. If you’ve attempted to throw powerful kicks at the highest range of motion, you’ve likely experienced this, as well as a possible pulled groin. So what can you do to maximize power on those high kicks? Although there are really 9 key components of flexibility, I’ll simplify it into two major factors:

  1. Tissue length
  2. Strength

Tissue length is what most people think of when they hear flexibility. Specifically, the ability for a muscle to lengthen. However, there are other factors that play into this: Neuromuscular tension, tendon length, joint health, etc. Your body will automatically restrict motion in order to protect itself from injury. It will often overcompensate to reinforce joint stability when there has been some type of damage. This is what’s known as neuromuscular tension. And this doesn’t just have to do with injuries. It can also have to do with muscular imbalance, poor muscle activation, and your body trying to be efficient. For example, if you sit all day long at work, your hip flexors may be in a constantly shortened state, and as such, your glutes, the opposing muscle group are deactivated. Your body naturally shuts them off so that you’re not wasting energy, while your hip flexors are frequently in a tight, shortened state. This is called reciprocal inhibition. One muscle group – hip flexors – lengthens to allow the opposing one – glutes – to contract, and vice-versa. They can’t both contract at the same time, or your body will essentially lock down.

A situation like this doesn’t necessarily mean that your hip flexors don’t have the same elasticity. Rather your brain and central nervous system are sending a signal that they need extra support, so they’re frequently in a contracted state. So what you need to do is turn on your glutes in order for them to relax. This is easier said than done, but there are a number of exercises to help with this that you can do from home.

#2: Strength

Strength is a very underestimated aspect of mobility. For example, your hamstrings and adductors (groin) may be flexible enough that you can slide down right into the splits. However, if your hips aren’t strong enough to raise your leg high enough to kick, then this is a complimentary limiting factor. An example would be throwing a high roundhouse kick. If your hamstrings and adductors are flexible enough, but your hip flexors, abductors, and core aren’t strong enough, then you won’t generate any power at the height of the kick. Want to know where you would have peak power?

Of course, even if you’re able to kick high, you have to be able to maintain power at that end range of motion.

Also, if one muscle group is over-developed due to an imbalance of training, those muscles are likely to be tight, while the opposite are relaxed. An example would be overdeveloped thighs (quadriceps). You may have a fantastic front or roundhouse kick, but lacking in side, hook or back kicks. To develop the height and power of those kicks, you’ll need to strengthen your posterior chain more. After all, martial arts are all about balance, right?

So this goes back to having a group of muscles that is chronically short and tight due to over-use, so you definitely need to do some complimentary mobility work, which can also lead to more neuromuscular tension. See how it all comes full circle?

But these are just two of the main mobility factors, when in fact there are actually 9 key components of hip flexibility, and my coach and friend Eric Wong covers all of those in his Hip Flexibility Solution. Whether you’re looking to add 6 inches to your high kick, hit a deeper squat, or just all around feel better when you’re moving, this program can help you unlock your tight hips. In fact, doing the hip flexor routine a couple times a day has helped me with recovering from a nasty low back injury. So check out the 9 Flexibility Factors, and see if it helps get you where you want to be.