Since I started learning Karate in 2004, I have struggled with my kicks. Side thrust kicks and roundhouse kicks have been especially hard for me, and after many years of sitting behind a desk and not training correctly, they were hardly improving. After trying almost every routine on the planet, I have found ten simple exercises that help improve my kicking ability and are also a good workout for the muscles we use for kicking.
The hips, butt, and core muscles are important
Even though I spent much time doing various stretches and other exercises, the biggest thing that I learned was that sitting was hurting my kicks. Focusing on my hips, butt, and core muscles helped improve my kicks by building the muscles I lost from sitting. I did workouts that hit those areas, but I never focused on mixing them with the kicks. If you are spending most of the day in a chair and not squatting regularly, chances are your butt muscles will be in a dormant state. The nice thing about muscles is that you can get them back by working them regularly.
Stretching and other mobility drills will help, but if you are struggling with your kicks, making the muscles that support them will go a long way.
10 Exercises to make your kicks better
These ten movements combine kicking and body-weight exercises to work your kicking muscles together. All kicks are done slowly to make the muscles work harder and to allow you to pay extra attention to your form.
All ten exercises should be done with only a long enough rest to move from exercise to exercise. This is called a giant set or circuit training because it helps build strength and technique and keeps the heart working.
After you are proficient with making it through all ten exercises, you can rest for a short time and do it over again. If I plan to do other Karate training after this, only do one circuit, but you can do as many as you want as long as your form doesn’t start to break down.
Lying side single leg raise – 10 reps for each leg with a short pause at the top. You can keep the non-moving leg straight or bent. Angle the rising leg to the back by about 10 degrees. After listening to what Rick Hotton Sensei said about many people needing hip replacements from doing a side thrust kicks directly out to the side, this might keep you from a hip replacement later in life, and I feel this applies to this movement and a few others.
Stationary front snap kick – 5 reps for each leg. Keep them slow and precise and feel the movement and the muscles that the kicks are working.
Fire hydrant – 10 reps for each leg. Starting on all fours, bring your knee up to the side, keeping the leg you are moving bent throughout the movement.
Stationary side thrust kick – 5 reps for each leg. Again, keep the kick at about 10 degrees behind center when kicking. Do these slowly and even hold on to something if you need to keep your balance. A bonus is to hold the extended position for 10 to 30 seconds after the first four reps and then hold as long as you can on the fifth rep for a burn deep inside your muscles.
Donkey kick – 10 reps for each leg with a short pause at the top of the movement. Starting on all fours, bring your knee up towards your chest and keep your leg bent while bringing it up and behind.
Stationary back kick – 5 reps for each leg. Kick behind using the hip hinge action slowly. You can add the bonus hold from the side thrust kick above if you feel adventurous.
Glute bridge with a band – 10 reps with a one or two-second pause between each rep. Be sure to keep your abdominal muscles tightened to get the most benefit out of this movement and protect your back. The band helps focus the tension on the glute muscles. Also, don’t only tighten your glute muscles at the top of the movement; tighten them at the start of the movement to the top and through the short one or two-second hold.
Stationary side snap kick – 5 reps for each leg. Do these slowly, same as the other kicks, but without the hold. As mentioned above about the angle of the leg, when doing these kicks, slightly angle the leg to the front instead of directly out to the side.
Swiss-ball Squeeze – 10 reps sitting on a chair or bench, with the ball between your knees, squeeze and hold for two seconds to five seconds per rep. You can substitute a pillow or a smaller ball if you don’t have a swiss-ball available.
Stationary roundhouse kick – 5 reps for each leg
Start standing upright and facing forward, bring your kicking leg up to the side, pivot to the front, kick, pivot back, and put your foot down. All kicks are done from a standing position with both feet on the floor between each kick. If you have any balance issues while kicking, put one hand on a wall or use a chair but keep your center engaged.
You can make this workout more intense by doing an isometric hold for the non-kicking movements, the kicking movements, or both. You can also increase the reps, but the numbers above seem to work well. You can also do this for multiple circuits but like to do this multiple times a day instead of all at once.
Give it a try, and let me know how it works for you in the comments below.