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  • Writer's pictureJosh

3 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Sturdy and Powerful Kicks

Kettlebell exercises for martial arts kicks

Martial arts kicks are a fun and effective way to train the lower body. They challenge the body in a number of ways and create athleticism as opposed to simply strength, as you might experience with a traditional leg day workout. Performing kicks will develop speed, balance and power while in a dynamic environment that also demands the development of precision and muscle control.

However, martial arts kicking utilizes the musculature of the lower body in a very unique way. Many kicks, especially those that require the hips to turn over, can feel very awkward to beginners. Many beginners are shocked to find that the strength they have developed in the past from exercises like squats and deadlifts, doesn't crossover very well into kicks because the stance and angles of muscle contraction are so different.

The answer to this issue is to perform supplementary strength training that is more “sport specific” to kicking. Not only will this prepare you for the specific demands of kicking and help you learn kicking technique, but it will also help you bridge the gap between your current lower body strength and your kicking strength.

The Exercises

I recommend performing the following 3 exercises first with just body weight. Then as you develop basic balance and proficiency in them, move onto using kettlebells. The kettlebells in this case are not being used for their ballistic properties, but instead for their unique rack positions. The unilateral rack position of kettlebells is nearly identical to the martial arts guard position. Where a martial artist keeps the fist close to the chin and the elbow close to the body as protection. This guard position will be strengthened as a bonus in these exercises.

Kettlebell unilateral rack

Also, the unilateral rack creates an imbalance of weight from one side of the body to the other. This requires the core to put in extra work in order to keep the torso upright. In particular, this will unilaterally stress the obliques, QL and paraspinal muscles, all of which are unilaterally tensed during kicking patterns in order to maintain balance. All together this makes the unilateral rack a great sport specific option for kick training.

Standing Hip Abduction

standing hip abduction glute medius exercise

Hip abduction is usually worked by either laying on the ground or standing up with an ankle weight on one leg, which is then lifted in the air laterally. Something similar happens in a kick as the kicking leg lifts laterally into the air during the strike. This is great way to work the gluteus medius muscle which is so heavily needed in kicking. However, the strength needed to lift the leg laterally is fairly minimal. And while it's great to train that ability, the real glute medius strength is needed in the supporting leg.

In the supporting leg of a kick the glute medius must powerfully flex, along side the glute max, to create a powerful thrust from the hip while at the same time isometrically tensing through the kick to maintain balance and create a strong and sturdy base for when the kick lands. Training this type of strength requires hip abduction from the standing leg.

To do this...

*grab a light kettlebell from both horns (though again, I recommend initially trying this as a body-weight drill before moving onto kettlebells) and lift one foot off the ground slightly.

*Then lean forward, holding the kettlebell tightly to the chest, as you hold the non-standing leg behind you as you might during a single leg deadlift.

*Holding this position, you will begin consciously engaging the glute medius of the standing leg as it pulls the pelvis into the thigh. This will cause the other side of the pelvis to raise up into the air. You will notice this position is very similar to many kicking positions. This movement is called “turning the hip over” in martial arts.

*Now simply control the pelvis as you slowly lower it back down before performing the next rep. Try to do this for 8-10 reps on both sides. And be sure to be mindful of the knee on the standing leg. Don't allow the knee to track inward into the dreaded knee valgus position, which can cause lots of damage, especially once you actually start kicking a target.

Step up Knee Strike

Step up to knee strike exercise

This exercise takes the standard step up drill and adds a knee strike. The step up is great for single leg balance, strength and stability while also firing the glutes and hamstrings just before firing the quads, which is the same firing order of most kicks. The knee at the end increases the need for stability and balance while also allowing greater extension of the hip in the standing leg and adding hip flexion to the driving leg.

*Start by finding a sturdy platform somewhere close to knee height or a little lower. This height can increase some as you get more advanced.

*Grab a light kettlebell and put it into the unilateral racked position while standing just in front of the platform. You will want the kettlebell on the opposite side of the leg that will be driving up into a knee strike.

*Step up onto the platform with one foot, and in a controlled manner, use the musculature of that leg to press the body up onto the platform.

*In as normal step up you would stop here and return to the ground. But for this variation you will want to take the non-stepping leg and continue driving it up into a knee strike. Be sure to really feel the glutes of the stepping leg fire as you full extend the hip.

*Now lower the striking leg back to the ground in a controlled manner before also lowering the stepping leg down. Try 8-10 reps and as before, be mindful not to go into a knee valgus position at any point.

Walking Weighted Chambers

Walking weighted chambers for martial arts kick training

The chamber is a position one puts the body into just before the thrust of a kick. Without a proper chamber, the kick won't be set up right and it's unlikely to be performed successfully. For those who are brand new to kicking, this may need to be practiced for awhile at bodyweight in order to insure proper technique. As this drill includes a foot pivot and could really hurt the knee if done incorrectly with weight.

Foot pivot during martial arts kicking

*Start in a split stance position, with one foot in front of the other and both feet pointed forward.

*From here you will take the back leg and drive it forward as you pull the knee up in front of the body around waist height.

*Now you will take the standing leg and pivot it so it faces backwards while at the same time turning the hips over as was done in the standing abduction drill. Be sure to raise the heel of the standing leg off the ground and pivot on the ball of the foot..

*Fully turn over and extend the hips before dropping the chambered leg back down in front of you in a new split stance position.

*Repeat this pattern as move forward with each chamber.

*when you feel your ready to add weight, grab a light kettlebell and put it in the rack position. Keep it in the same position as move forward though 5-10 chambers. Then switch the kettlebell to the other hand and perform another set.

These exercise, when done with conscious control and good form, will take your kicks to the next level. Not only will it help you learn the basic biomechanics behind the kicking skills, but it will also strengthen the specific muscles required, creating a solid foundation for powerful kicks.

In my own experience the difference has been incredible. In fact I avoided kicking with my left leg for years because my right knee (the old surgery knee) was so unstable I couldn't rely on it to support my body during the kick. These exercises have changed that, and now it's as trustworthy as my other knee. In fact, the standing abduction in particular is often a cure for valgus knee which is a primary reason for knee injury in the first place.

I hope these exercises help you out as much as they have me. Feel free to comment below with your experiences and let me know how your training is going. If you are new to kick training and want a great visual aid for you home gym, check out this new martial arts kicking technique poster and support the Mover's Odyssey in the process.

Best of luck with your training my friends!

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