Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Improve Your Shitty Kicks (in 3 Steps)!

For a lot of guys, kicking does not come naturally and they tend to focus on punching. The result is many fighters do not fully develop their kicking ability.

This is a damn shame.

Delivered properly, kicks are devastating weapons that can be used to beat your opponent into submission or knock him out in one shot. You can't truly consider yourself a "well rounded fighter" without fully developing your kicks.

If you're ready to get your ass in gear and fully develop your kicking ability, here's my 3 step plan that'll give you awesome kicks in no time!

Step 1 - Strength & Balance

Most guys have shitty balance.

They aren't able to move through space with stability, agility, and power. Their balance is shitty because they aren't as strong as they need to be or aren't strong in the right way. And when your balance is shitty and your strength is inadequate, then your ability to practices kicking is severely limited.

Now, what do I mean by "strong in the right way"? What I mean is, raw strength in and of itself isn't enough to build the kind of stability, agility, and power necessary to create the balance you need to kick properly. Squats and deadlifts alone won't do the job.

Then what can I do to fix the issue?

First off, you need to switch from your standard bilateral lower body strength to unilateral lower body strength training. Unilateral strength training provides you with a greater proprioceptive challenge than conventional bilateral training. Over time this type of training greatly improves your balance and stability. This is perfect training for fighters because virtually all aspects of fight training (stances, punching, throwing, moving, kicking...) are unilateral in nature. I've written about unilateral training a couple times HERE, and HERE.

The next thing I want you to start adding to your training is a drill I picked up when I used to train Tae Kwon Do: Supported Kicks.

Supported Kicks are an excellent and highly specific drill fighters can use to strengthen the weak links in their "kick muscles" and improve their balance. Check out the video for more details:

Step 2 - Flexibility

Another common issue for people who avoid kicking is flexibility.

If you're tight in all the wrong places, then your ability to kick properly will be severely inhibited. That tightness will literally be pulling you in all the wrong directions. You won't feel stable, strong, or agile...and your kicks will be shitty.

The thing about flexibility is that it's a complex beast. Structurally speaking, there is no reason why one muscle has significant flexibility while another lacks flexibility. Flexibility (or lack thereof) originates in the nervous system. More specifically it's your autonomic nervous system that is the problem.

Your autonomic nervous system (or your involuntary nervous system) controls all bodily functions that are outside of your conscious control: heart beat, digestion, perspiration, breathing*, etc... It is also responsible for residual muscular tension. Residual muscular tension (or muscle tone) can be great until there's too much in certain muscles and it inhibits natural movement patterns. When that happens it can lead to pain as well as decreased athletic performance.

Unfortunately, traditional static stretching will do little to help you out. While static stretching can temporarily increase the flexibility in the muscles you stretch, it has a huge down side. You see, traditional static stretching has a tendency to inhibit your ability to move with speed and power. This may be due to the way static stretching affects the elastic properties of the muscle (mechanical) or that static stretching simply decreases muscle activation and reflex sensitivity at the neural level (this is where I'd put my money).

To be clear, sometimes you actually want to use static stretching. For example, static stretching can be used to inhibit certain muscles at certain times. You see this often in lifters who want to improve their squat or deadlift numbers. It is pretty standard protocol to statically stretch the hip flexors in order to inhibit them. When the hip flexors are no longer resisting the proper motion pattern of the lift, the lifter is able to hit new PRs.

Also, you certainly can improve your general flexibility over time with static stretching. You have to make sure you keep it away from your strength and skill training. But static stretching is going to do nothing to help you when your trying to improve your strength or improve a skill.

So, what are you to do if flexibility is controlled by the part of your nervous system that isn't under your conscious control and the static stretching option is out?

Have no fear, I'm here to help and show you some ways around the barriers that pesky autonomic nervous system puts up so you can trick it into giving you more flexibility. Check out the video below as I show you all the right moves you need to improve your flexibility.

Step 3 - Do More Kicks!

The principle of Specificity tells us that you're body adapts very specifically to the demands you impose upon it. So, if you want to get better at doing kicks, then you need to kick more. This is especially true if you're concerned about not just being able to do "pretty" kicks, but if you want to be able to apply those kicks in real world scenarios - like a fight.

This means you've got to prioritize kicking in your training - 
  • kick more during shadow boxing
  • kick more during bag work
  • kick more during pad work
  • kick more during sparring
  • Take some time out of your daily schedule and set it aside just to work on your kicks. 
It really is as simple as that. The more you kick, the more that movement pattern is ingrained into neuromuscular pathways. Over time, this makes kicking something that comes as naturally to you as walking.

Conclusion - 

If you're serious about improving your kicking ability you should start immediately. Great kicks take time to master. The 3 Steps I've outlined above will get you to where you want to go, but only if you start now.

Train Hard,
Josh Skinner

*Breathing is generally considered a function of both the autonomic and the somatic (voluntary) nervous system. It can be thought of as the link between the two and is one of the reasons I consider Qigong and meditation so important for fighters.

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