How To Throw A Leg Kick (Step By Step Guide)

December 10, 2021

Debilitating your opponent’s movement by damaging his legs is usually done with the leg kick. As one of the basic kicks in MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, the leg kick has many different uses. From scoring points and gaging distance to crippling the opponent and even finishing him.

Learning how to throw a leg kick should be your first step when you start kicking in general. There are many different styles of low kick practiced, and each of them has its merit. This guide will teach you the “standard” low kick most commonly used today in MMA and kickboxing.

Where To Kick Someone In The Leg?

The leg is a pretty big target and is split into two main targets – the thigh and the calf. Traditional martial arts like karate and Muay Thai target the thigh. Still, the calf kick was “discovered” in MMA in recent years and has changed the whole meta of stand-up fighting ever since.

The thigh itself is not very small, and there are different points worth targeting. The kick should often land on the bottom of the quad muscle, just above the knee; this is the most damaging spot. Aiming at the top part of the muscle is a perfectly viable option.

The other fundamental separation in leg kicks is between an inside and an outside leg kick. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but the inside leg kick means you kick on the inside of the thigh. The outside leg kick means you kick on the outside of the thigh.

Ideally, a leg kick should land with the middle of the shin, not the instep. The shin does more damage and is much harder to injure than the instep.

How To Throw An Inside Leg Kick

The inside leg kick is almost always thrown to the opponent’s lead leg. It’s a little longer than the outside leg kick and is used more to set up other strikes than to damage the leg. Here is how to throw an inside leg kick:

  • Step slightly forward and out with your back leg to load up the kick and move away from the opponent’s right hand.
  • Pivot on the balls of your back foot.
  • Kick with your left leg aiming at the lower inside part of the thigh.
  • Stay loose and snap the kick, only contacting the muscles at the point of contact.
How To Throw An Inside Leg Kick

A nicely timed inside kick can significantly disturb the opponent’s balance and create an opening for a punch. For example, a classic combo is a left inside leg kick followed by an overhand right or straight right. Trust me; this will land way more often than you think.

If both fighters are in a closed stance (one is orthodox, the other is southpaw), the inside leg kick can be thrown with the back leg as well, still targeting the opponent’s front leg.

How To Throw A Proper Outside Leg Kick

The outside leg kick is the most utilized one by far. Here is how it’s executed:

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  • Step out with the front leg; the foot is facing outwards.
  • Start the movement of the back leg from the hip.
  • Lift your knee with your leg bent
  • In one motion, kick with the back leg, straighten it, pivot on the front foot, and aim to land with the shin. The kick’s trajectory is downwards.
  • Keep your left hand (if orthodox) close to the head. The right hand can be swung down to build more power or extended towards the opponent’s head to obstruct his view.
How To Throw A Proper Outside Leg Kick

The most important part of the kick is the pivot. The power comes from the ground up and is generated through the twisting of the body. Throwing outside leg kicks with the back leg without any setup is dangerous because a good check can be extremely painful for the attacker.

Always try to set up the leg kick with a punch before that, or kick while the opponent is in a compromised position and can’t lift his leg to block.

How To Throw A Calf Kick

The mechanism of the calf kick is almost the same as the thigh kick, but it’s actually easier to throw, can be done from a much greater distance, and is safer. That’s why it is no surprise that the calf kicks have replaced thigh kicks in the arsenal of many MMA fighters.

To throw the calf kick, again step to the outside, pivot on the front foot, and land your shin on the opponent’s calf. Take your head off the centerline to avoid incoming counters. Don’t load up the hips as much as for the high kick. You can still do a considerable amount of damage to the calf without driving your hips forward.

How To Throw A Calf Kick

How To Set Up A Calf Kick

Although safer than the thigh kick, you can still hurt yourself badly on a checked calf kick or expose yourself to a heavy counter. To avoid that, you must set up the kick first.

The calf kick is the perfect answer to a jab if you are on the defensive. Time your opponent coming in and blast their calf while their weight is mainly on the front foot while they throw the jab.

A basic offensive setup for the calf kick is with your jab. Jab and step out simultaneously, then immediately throw the calf kick. You can also shuffle to the outside and open a great angle for the calf kick.

Calf Kick vs. Thigh Kick: Which Is More Effective?

Calf Kick vs. Thigh Kick Which Is More Effective

While both have proven very effective, the calf kick has the advantage. That is because a nerve called the common peroneal nerve is located on the outside of the knee.

It supplies sensation for the outside of the shin and the top of the foot. The calf has a lot less muscle than the thigh and strikes easily damage the nerve to it. Even a couple of kicks there can cause a fighter to lose control over their leg. 

But make no mistake about it. The thigh leg kick is a devastating weapon that has ended countless fights and still plays a significant role in striking.

MMA Leg Kicks: Are They Different To Kickboxing And Muay Thai?

The technique of throwing a leg kick in MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai is the same, but the application is quite different. MMA fighters have adopted a wider and lower fighting stance, designed to deal with the danger of takedowns. This stance, however, makes it much more challenging to check kicks to the front leg because a significant portion of the weight rests on it.

In Muay Thai, the stance is quite the opposite. Fighters stand almost upright, with their lead leg foot barely touching the ground. The light lead leg allows for quick checks, making landing low kicks significantly harder. The calf kick is not unknown in the pure striking domains. Still, its effectiveness is not nearly the same because of the different fighting stances.

Another danger when low kicking in MMA is connected to the ground game. A leg kick can be caught by experienced wrestlers and used to take the fight to the ground. The calf kick again proves to be the better option in MMA because of its quickness and lower position; it’s harder to catch and use against you.

Does Throwing Leg Kicks Hurt?

Does Throwing Leg Kicks Hurt

Unlike most other strikes, the attacker can get hurt worse than the defender when throwing a leg kick. A check to a leg kick means the strike is blocked with the knee or the top thickest part of the shin. This creates a clash between the shin’s weakest parts against the strongest, and the winner of this is quite apparent.

There have been many cases where the tibia and fibula (the two shin bones) completely break after a well-timed check. This is one of the most gruesome injuries in a fight.

If you haven’t already, watch the footage from Anderson Silva, Chris Weidman, and Connor McGregor. It may dissuade you from throwing leg kicks for quite some time.

Still, the leg kick is too valuable a weapon to throw away because it’s dangerous. But to lower the chance of injury, you should always keep a couple of things in mind.

  • Always set up the low kicks. Occupy the opponent’s attention with something else, like a jab or 1-2 before throwing the leg kick. Especially early in a fight, never throw your leg kicks full power without a proven setup, or you might end up like Chris Weidman.
MMA Leg Kicks Are They Different To Kickboxing And Muay Thai
  • Strike with the sharp part of the bone. The shin bone is kind of like a blade, and you can think of it like that. Always pivot on the support leg and kick with the sharp part of the bone. There is a much greater chance of breaking if you land with the flat part of the bone.

Who Has The Hardest Leg Kicks In The UFC?

The UFC has seen its fair share of great kickers, but a few outstanding cripplers have been there. The undisputed king of leg kicks has to be Edson Barbosa. The Brazilian is a walking textbook for kicks and has three official finishes credited to low kicks.

Current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is not known for his powerful leg kicks. Still, if you want to study the best timing and placement of leg kicks, you will have a hard time finding a better precision kicker than him.

And if you enjoy pure viciousness, Justin Gaethje will be your favorite. He just throws every leg kick intending to amputate the opponent’s leg.

Summary

The leg kick is the foundation upon which all roundhouse kicks are built. Learn how to throw a leg kick correctly, and you will have the ability to completely ruin a fighter’s entire game plan by chopping down their whole base. But don’t throw caution away; there aren’t many other strikes that are so dangerous to the attacker as the leg kick.

About the author 

Plamen Kostov

Plamen has been training for the last 14 years in karate and kickboxing, before settling in for MMA for the last 5 years. He has a few amateur kickboxing fights and currently trains with and helps a stable of professional and amateur MMA fighters.


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