Everybody dreams of landing a Van Damme, but not many have the flexibility to do so. High kicks as jaw-dropping as they look, require a significant amount of flexibility which comes from mobility and stretching exercises.
A nice high kick doesn’t just allow you to lift your leg high but also ensures that you control its movement with sublime accuracy.
Regardless of the martial art you’re practicing, if you want to excel at high kicks, you can’t do away without flexibility.
For this reason, today we dive deep into the understanding of High Kicks, how to effectively master them and learn about the factors which deter your progress.
Let’s start with flexibility exercises and stretches which will enable you to kick high while maintaining control and composure.
Note that these are non-traditional flexibility exercises. We have avoided all the traditional stretches used in martial arts and have purposely opted for alternative stretches inspired by other disciplines that rely heavily on flexibility such as gymnastics and yoga.
12 Flexibility exercises to help You Kick Higher
A stretch which works the outer leg muscles and hip. Abductor stretch helps in improving not just the height but also the range of your kicks. This stretching improves side kick and spinning kick primarily due to the hip turning agility.
How to do an abductor stretch?
Stand next to a wall with your body facing sideways. Stretch your hand upwards with your fingers towards the ceiling. Touch your left hip onto the wall and place your left leg behind the right one (cross leg)
The goal is to stretch until you reach 180-degree. Straddle stance is a great way to work your hamstrings.
How to do a seated straddle?
Try to get into the split position, stretch your legs as far as you can while sitting on the ground. Follow it up by moving your body towards the left with your hands touching the feet and then do it on the other side. Remember, the foot should point towards the ceiling.
Side Bend is great for working the oblique muscles. It improves flexibility to strike better.
How to do a side bend?
While standing, align your left arm to your ear and stretch it over your head on the right side and vice-versa. The closer your hand is to the floor, the better.
Kick hold is great to achieve control over your kicks. It improves the reach as well the precision of your kicks.
How to do a kick hold?
Hold the wall with your left hand for support and from there, try to do a side kick. First step is to hold the kick mid-air and then shoot it up.
5.Straddle Stretch (Version 2)
One of the most popular stretching exercises, Straddle Stretch is excellent to work your legs and hips. This stretch improves kicking range and height.
How to do a straddle stretch?
While sitting, spread your legs sideward. Bend at the waist and stretch your body forward. Keep your toes pointing upwards while your thighs are lying flat on the floor.
Side lunges are a great way to work your hamstring and improve the overall kicking flexibility.
How to do Side lunges?
Hold your left leg straight while sitting and lunge over to other side with the leg stretched and the toe pointing towards the ceiling.
7.Advanced Butterfly Stretch
Advanced Butterfly Stretch is excellent to work your lower back, hip, thigh and groin muscles. It helps to improve the kicking range.
How to do an Advanced Butterfly Stretch?
While sitting, place your feet towards each other and lean forward from the waist. Try to touch your elbows to the ground while holding the hands against each other.
A great stretch to work your hamstrings, groin and quads. By far, the standing split is amongst the most effective exercises in improving the kicking height.
How to do a Standing Split?
Maintain a few feet distance from the wall. Place your palms on the ground while bending forward and raise your leg behind with your toe towards the ceiling. Try to stretch your foot upwards as much as you can.
Deep lunges are a great way to work your large muscles in the torso and leg area. Lunges are recommended in every session as they help improve strength & overall fluidity.
How to do deep lunges?
Keep your left foot turned inwards and your right foot at a 90-degree angle. Extend your arms to the sides at the height of your shoulder and bend it to the right. Flex your right knee to a 90 angle while keeping your right thigh parallel to the floor.
V Stretch is great to work your groin and leg muscles. It’s an ideal exercise before getting started with kicking practice. It’s a foundation for more advanced splits.
How to do a V Stretch?
While lying on your back, keep your lower back flat on the floor and your legs raised towards the ceiling. Keep your feet together at first and later lower them on each side. Initially, you can support your legs with your hands and place your palms on the floor for additional balance.
Torso twist helps stretch the large muscles groups in the abdominal oblique, torso and quadriceps muscles. This stretch helps improves flexibility for spinning kicks and grappling skills.
How to do a Torso Twist?
Lie down on your stomach. Move your right leg over the left leg; stretch your left arm to reach your right leg with your right hand stretching in the opposite direction.
12.Forward Leg Swing
A great exercise to improve the flexibility and dynamism in the legs. Leg Swinging is quite effective in increasing the kicking height and can be successfully applied for the front kick or the axe kick.
How to do a forward Leg Swing?
Take up the fighting stance, and take support or a railing or a bar. Ensure light support, do not clench the support. Now swing your left leg up without power and focus on the swing and its dynamism. Once done, let it fall back into place alongside your left foot.
Does weightlifting decrease flexibility in kicks?
No. It doesn’t! However, let’s learn about some insights before jumping to the conclusion. Flexibility training is different from weight training, and both are placed in two different categories.
You undergo weight training when you want to look strong and big whereas flexibility training involves strength of muscles and hasn’t got much to do with the size. Flexibility heavily relies on stretching for the most part.
With that said, there’s a myth suggesting that weightlifting decreases flexibility in kicks.
People, who claim so, might not have adequate knowledge about this subject matter.
Flexibility has got nothing to do with weight training but has everything to do with the muscles & tissues and increase in its size.
If you are good at weightlifting, you know you’re developing muscles and only when you do nothing to maintain its flexibility, will you end up losing its range.
Ironically, strength/Weight training coupled with flexibility can make you a complete beast. Thus, weight lifting does not affect flexibility as many people would like to assume.
Static Stretching Vs Dynamic Stretching for kicks
Flexibility largely depends upon your muscles both large and minute. Aim of flexibility is to ensure that you start working the large muscles and move towards the minute ones.
Starting with side stretching is easier than a front-back stretch. Stretching is fun, and it helps to warm up your body. Having discussed the importance of stretching, let us move towards two important types of stretching:
1. Static Stretching
2. Dynamic Stretching
Static Stretching: Before you do the static stretches, it’s crucial that you warm up before. With no movement involved, these are the ‘’holding’’ stretches.
This form of stretching involves slow and deep stretch often accompanied by singular motion held for more than 10 seconds.
Static stretches are great when you’re gearing for extreme flexibility or have just started stretching. Relax your mind, stay calm, focus on your breaths and take it slow.
Example: Cobra Pose, Chest Stretch, Standing Quadriceps Stretch, Seated Forward Bend.
Dynamic Stretching: As opposed to static stretching, dynamic stretching involves challenging motions and is repeated in sets so that stretch occurs with every motion.
Dynamic stretches may not be deep stretches and thus advisable before warming up the muscles or per se as a warm-up exercise.
Athletes rely on dynamic stretching to loosen up the muscles and joints before a heavy workout to avoid any injury.
Ballistic Stretching: Often scrutinized, Ballistic Stretching is considered to be a stretching that often results in injury. However, gymnasts cannot go without this type of stretching.
These bouncing stretches involve using your body weight and momentum to be converted into deep stretches.
However, most of the martial arts refrain from this type of stretching as it often results in an injury.
Flexible kicks are every fighter’s dream. There are some who are great with jabs, some completely dominant in a clinch and then few who get the job done simply by their kicks.
Flexible kicks though a benefit, take a lot of practice and patience. They work in cohesion with proper stretching and warm-up.
Warm up your body before you practice any kicks because you wouldn’t want to risk your muscle or the tissues.
Take your time; do not rush and follow the principles. When doing static stretching, make sure to go deep and slow, when doing dynamic stretching, ensure that it’s continuous.
Follow the tips above and keep practicing. Most importantly, trust yourself. Sooner or later, not just high kicks, but great results will kick in too.