Often enough in class, you may hear an instructor suggest that you hit the bag harder, but how can you achieve that? Start doing leg presses? Go for a run every day? Protein supplements?
Especially for smaller students – including myself – the idea of having strong kicks may seem like a lofty and distant impossibility. We simply don’t have as much muscle as some of the bigger students, how could we possibly kick as hard? We may never be able to match raw muscle strength, however there are various ways to increase power while maximising the amount of strength available.
- Body positioning
This is fairly crucial to many kicks, especially for turning kicks and side kicks. Over and over again, students are told to pivot their non-kicking foot. For turning kicks, this will allow the hips to line up with the target, allowing the foot to strike without having to be “thrown” as far by the leg, or without the leg having to reach for the target. This means that more power can be committed to the kick itself rather than covering the gap between the leg and the target. Similarly for side kicks, lining up the hips means that the leg can be thrust directly forwards to strike the bag, rather than the leg needing to be adjusted first. Pivoting also allows a transfer of your body’s mass behind the kick, which leads to my second point.
- Using the rest of the body
It would be logical to think that kicks use only the leg muscles, but this is not necessarily true. For extra power in a turning kick, try generating force from the hips, using a good pivot to transfer it into the kicking leg. Your ab and oblique muscles may come into play at this point, adding their strength to that of the quads and calves. As always, a good pivot is vital, otherwise kicking in this manner may strain the non-kicking leg due to the increased twisting from having the hips driven behind the kick. Using the hips can also increase power in front kicks. Once the leg has been brought to the “chamber” position, drive the hips forward as the leg is extended. This commits force from the rest of your body behind the kick. For axe kicks, push kicks and inside crescent kicks, adding the strength of the upper body can have a noticeable effect on the power of the kick. Leaning forwards slightly when throwing these kicks compels the weight of your body to “fall” behind the leg, allowing it to be “pushed” into the target with more force. Bear in mind that this forward movement should not be too large, otherwise balance may be compromised.
- “Centre line”
In the case of push kicks and axe kicks, power can be improved if the kick is thrown from as close to the middle of the body as possible. A good guide for a push kick is to raise the knee to the sternum before releasing the kick, while for an axe kick to drop the leg just as it crosses in front of your chin/nose. In both cases, try to keep the shoulders square on rather than having one dropped back behind the other. Continuing from the previous point of using the rest of the body, once one shoulder drops back, it takes a fraction of the force away from the target. With both shoulders square and directed at the target, the kicking leg will have extra force driving it.
- Staying grounded
Of course, this doesn’t apply to jumping kicks, but with most basic kicks, a great deal of power can be generated just by pushing off the ground. Particularly with push kicks, the distance step with the front foot should be focused forwards towards the target, rather than be a jump upwards. A common analogy is pushing away from a brick wall with your leg while hopping off the ground – you will fly backwards. Timing and starting distance is the key. Aim to land the distance step before the kick strikes the bag, while having enough space to get the kicking leg to your chest first.
Next time you’re in class, try keeping some of these hints in mind and give them a try – they may be the secrets you’ve been looking for.