June 1, 2021

We’ve all been there. When we first started Muay Thai (well most of us anyway) – we attempt to throw a kick that sits just outside of our limited range of motion and we feel that painful, pulling feeling in our groin like something is going to rip apart and never be the same again.

Muay Thai is a martial art and sport that requires extreme ranges of motion to execute some of the more advanced techniques such as the body or head kick.

To kick higher in Muay Thai, exercises such as hip airplanes and single-leg Romanian deadlifts develop the necessary hip extension strength and mobility, and hip stability while internally and externally rotating. This new range of motion must be cemented with lots of kicking practice.

What Happens In Our Lower Body When We Kick?

As our base leg plants and drives into hip extension, creating torque from the foot pivoting outward and hip externally rotating, our kicking leg drives through, transitioning from hip extension and external rotation into hip flexion and internal rotation.

In layman’s terms, we are stepping out, turning our foot outward whilst whipping our rear hip (and then leg) forward, turning it over before connecting with our target to make sure the sharp edge/blade of the shin is what’s striking or taking the impact.
As you may see, there are a lot of parts moving simultaneously and to improve the height of a fighter's kick it’s important to address all ranges of motion used in the movement.

For the most part, what holds a lot of fighters back from being able to kick as high as they’d like is an inability to explore the range of motion required without the body feeling unsafe or triggering what’s called a stretch reflex (tightening of muscles to ‘protect’ us from injury).

By the time you finish puberty, your motor neurons are pretty much done with Myelination. This myelin sheath allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells, which essentially means the nerves that run from your brain and spinal cord to your muscles have completed their wiring.

This is very true when we look at a lot of top-level Muay Thai fighters who started training when they were roughly 8 years old – they are deemed to be very flexible because they can effortlessly whip their leg up and kick their opponent in the head – but when asked to do a simple task like touch their toes they struggle immensely to do so.

This is a strong reflection of the neuromuscular wiring programmed into their bodies from a young age.

With all of this being said, it doesn’t mean that we can’t reprogram our body to improve our flexibility/mobility – Neuroplasticity research has shown that we can rewire our sensorimotor system which encompasses all movement processing and helps maintain functional joint stability. It will just take a long period of time, conscious effort, and volume.

3 Exercises To Kick Higher For Muay Thai

Couch Stretch

Our first port of call is to improve hip extension as this helps us to maintain a more neutral pelvis position that doesn’t overload our adductors which attach at the base of our spine and act as secondary hip flexors.

When the pelvis is tilted forward (anteriorly) due to “tightness” in the front of the hip we place our adductors (groin muscles) in a pre-lengthened position which makes it harder for us to lift our leg upward to the heights we want to be kicking without overloading them or triggering a strong stretch reflex.

In layman’s terms, when our hips are “tight”, our groin muscles will also feel stiff and restricted which will limit how high we can kick without feeling pain.

The couch stretch is a great static stretch to improve hip extension.

Wedging your knee in against a wall or hard object, step your opposite leg forward so that your ankle/foot is positioned underneath your knee.

From there, draw your ribcage down by contracting your abdominal muscles and squeeze your glute on the hip you are trying to stretch (same side as knee that is wedged against the wall).

This will create a powerful stretching sensation through the front of the hip and quad.

Try to breathe diaphragmatically (into your belly through your nose) to create a parasympathetic (rest and relax) response and to enhance the effects of the stretch.

Once you have finished this stretch it’s important to understand that the increase in hip extension range of motion is only a temporary one and won’t be long lasting unless you both stabilize, strengthen and integrate that range of motion into your Muay Thai Skills training.

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Hip Airplane

The hip airplane stabilizes the hip joint and spine through internal and external hip.

As mentioned earlier, both external and internal hip rotation are important ranges of motion to have when looking to improve the height of a kick in Muay Thai.

When performing hip airplanes, we are balancing on one leg and firstly internally rotating and then externally rotating our hip whilst keeping our pelvis in a neutral position with our ribcage drawn down and generating the movement from the hip.

This has a great carry over to our ability to kick higher as it improves our perception of stability through ranges used in kicking and teaches us to do so with a neutral pelvis position which, helps us to prevent overloading our adductors (groin muscles) – a common area where people complain about tightness.

Single-Leg RDL

The single leg RDL helps to strengthen hip extension.

Once you begin to feel open through the front of your hips, it’s important to start to strengthen the glutes on each side of your hip to help “lock-in” this range of motion and also to help improve the overall strength of your hips.

Working to maintain a neutral pelvic position, holding a kettlebell in your opposite hand, hinge your hip backward whilst extending the opposite leg back so you are only balancing on one leg.

From there press down into the ground, engaging your glute to drive you back up into hip extension.

Integrating To Muay Thai Kicking

Lastly, we need to integrate. What does this mean? Just get those damn hours in at the gym! At home on the bag, at the park on the pads with your friends. Just drill, drill, drill.

The more repetitions you can get in the better. And over time you will be able to kick higher as your body slowly accommodates to the ranges you are wanting it to function within.

The above three exercises are great. But if you aren’t kicking consistently, you won’t see the transfer to higher Muay Thai kicks.

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”
- Bruce Lee

About the author 

Steve Pipe

Steve was awarded "Best Instructor in Bangkok 2019" and has trained the likes of Superbon Banchamek, Liam Harrison, & Singdam Kiatmoo9 to name a few. He is a high-performance coach who specializes in working with elite-level Muay Thai and combat sports athletes.


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