Strength Training For Kickboxing: Lightening Fast Kicks!

August 11, 2021

More and more professional and amateur kickboxers are leaning toward strength training to make them better kickboxers. For good reason, whipping those kicks into devastating knockouts takes impressive speed and power.

Kickboxers require high levels of lower-body speed and power. Strength training can be performed on the same day as kickboxing training, preferably after kickboxing separated by at least 6 hours.

Before undertaking a strength training program, it’s important to know the strength and injury profiles of kickboxing so you can laser target your training to reducing the risk of common kickboxing injuries and enhance your performance.

Kickboxing Injury Profile

In striking-based combat sports like kickboxing, injuries are bound to happen. The vast majority of these injuries occur to the head (51%) and the lower limbs (40%) [1]. This is the most comprehensive injury study to date that spans over 16 years of injuries.

The large number of injuries to the legs and head are likely due to the fact the legs are used to both deliver forceful strikes, but also defend against leg attacks.

One way that has been recommended to reduce the rate of injury is to decrease the amount of full-contact sparring and replace it with sport-specific interval training [5].

Kickboxing Strength Profile

Why Do Kickboxers Have Skinny Legs

There is very little research investigating the strength profile of high-level kickboxers. In two studies, elite professional kickboxers of Canada and Portugal displayed peak torque (rotational force) of the quadriceps during knee extension at fast and slow speeds much greater than elite wrestlers and college football players but slightly lower than sprinters and jumpers [2,3].

In regional and national level kickboxers, an average jump height of 39 cm has been found [4]. There seems to be higher than Olympic wrestlers and Judo athletes but on par with BJJ athletes.

Unfortunately, this is all of the current evidence relating to the strength profile of kickboxers. It suggests that kickboxers possess the ability to produce a lot of force quickly with the lower body.

Kickboxing Strength Training Program

From the research, we know kickboxing requires high levels of lower-body speed and power. That means our strength training program needs to be geared towards these qualities. That doesn’t mean we ignore strength.

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Strength, to a certain extent, can provide the foundation for speed and power.

This will be an example of a twice-a-week strength training program that encompasses two distinct phases.

Phase 1

Day 1

Exercise

Sets/Reps

Load

Extensive Jump/Plyo Circuit

Pogos

1-2 x 20

Cell

Jump Squats

1-2 x 10

Cell

Pogos (Forward)

1-2 x 20

Cell

Rolling Hop

1-2 x 10

Cell

Pogos (Backward)

1-2 x 20

Cell

Lateral Jump Squat

1-2 x 10

Cell

Main Strength Work

A1) Squat Variation

3-4 x 3-5

@75-88% 1RM

B1) Incline DB Press

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

B2) Row Variation

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

C1) Romanian Deadlift

3-4 x 4-6

Cell

D1) Calf Raise w/ 3sec Pause At Bottom

3 x 10-20

Cell

D2) Split Stance Med Ball Anti-Rotation Rebound

3 x 10-20/side

Cell

 D3) Hanging Knee Raise

3 x 10-20

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Sets/Reps

Load

Extensive Jump/Plyo Circuit

Split Squat Jump

1-2 x 10

Cell

Single Leg Pogo Forward

1-2 x 20

Cell

Lateral Skater Jump

1-2 x 10

Cell

Single Leg Pogo Backward

1-2 x 20

Cell

Jump Squat

1-2 x 10

Cell

Tuck Jump

1-2 x 10

Cell

Main Strength Work

A1) Single Leg Hamstring ISO Bridge

3-4 x 10-20 sec/leg

Cell

B1) 1-Arm DB Press

3-4 x 5-6

Cell

B2) Chin-Up

3-4 x 5-10

Cell

C1) Single Leg Squat Variation

3-4 x 5-6/leg

@75-88% 1RM

D1) Calf Raise w/ 3sec Pause At Bottom

3 x 10-20

Cell

D2) Band Rotation

3 x 10/side

Cell

Phase 2

Day 1

Exercise

Sets/Reps

Load

Maximal Jumps/Plyos

A1) Continuous Hurdle Hop

2-3 x 6-10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3-4 x 3-5

Cell

C1) Explosive Rotational Med Ball Throw

3-4 x 3-5

3-5 kg

Main Strength Work

D1) Power Jerk

3-4 x 2-5

@70-90% 1RM

D2) Pull-Up

3-4 x 5-10

Cell

E1) Squat Variation

2-3 x 2-5

@75-88% 1RM

F1) Romanian Deadlift

3-4 x 4-6

Cell

G1) 2 legs up, 1 leg down Calf Raise w/ 3 sec Pause

3 x 6-10/side

Cell

G2) Hanging Leg Raise

3 x 10-20

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Sets/Reps

Load

Maximal Jumps/Plyos

A1) Low Box Drop Jump

2-3 x 3-6

Cell

B1) Explosive Med Ball Punch Throw

3-4 x 3-5/side

2-3 kg

C1) Loaded Squat Jump

3-4 x 2-5

30-40% Squat 1RM

Main Strength Work

D1) Single Leg Squat Variation

2-3 x 5-6/leg

Cell

E1) Weighted Push-Up

2-3 x 4-6

Cell

E2) Row Variation

2-3 x 5-6

Cell

F1) Single Leg Prone ISO Hamstring Bridge

3-4 x 3+3+3 sec

Cell

G1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat ISO w/ Calf Raise

3 x 10/side

Cell

G2) Landmine Rotation

3 x 5/side

Cell

Should Kickboxers Lift Weights?

Kickboxers should lift weights to enhance their kickboxing performance in the ring. Gone are the days where lifting weights was seen as making you slow. When a strength training program is designed with the idea of improving reactive ability and high-velocity strength, you will get faster.

When weight lifting is done with a bodybuilding emphasis, that is where problems start to arise. In fact, chronic bodybuilding style training will indeed make you slower.

Is Kickboxing Considered Strength Training?

Kickboxing itself is not considered strength training. Strength training requires generating high levels of force against external resistance. Kickboxing involves throwing and defending strikes with no external resistance.

Some rulesets may allow for a clinch similar to Muay Thai. While training the clinch can develop strength in the clinch, lifting weights will help you develop general strength that can carry over to the clinch.

Why Do Kickboxers Have Skinny Legs?

Big legs don’t do kickboxers any favors. Bigger legs require more oxygen to fuel performance. Meaning bigger legs will generally fatigue quicker. Further, bigger legs don’t move as fast as skinnier legs when throwing kicks.

Kickboxers also won't spend a lot of weight training volume training the legs. Why? Because a lot of leg volume in the gym will negatively affect kickboxing training through fatigue and soreness.

Kickboxing And Weight Training On The Same Day?

Should Kickboxers Lift Weights

You can perform kickboxing and weight training on the same day. This is a form of consolidating your stressors where you place all of your higher stress activity on one day (e.g. sparring, heavy strength training) and your lower stress activities on your lower day (e.g. technical pads).

By doing this, you have built-in recovery days so you can train at a very high intensity on high days, and recover on your low days but still drill your technical kickboxing.

However, you don’t have to weight train on the same days you have kickboxing. If you are only kickboxing two to three times a week, then you can strength train on your days off.

Weight Training Before Or After Kickboxing?

When you perform your weight training is going to depend on the session itself. The general rule is that kickboxing training is the most important so it should be done first in the day. Strength training should then be done later in the afternoon after at least a 6-hour break.

This isn’t always possible. If you work a full-time job and can only make a class in the evening, you will have to reverse this.

But this is only a general rule. Some weight training sessions are highly beneficial for your kickboxing training. For example, low volume, pure power-based weight training sessions can be done before kickboxing – even immediately before and provide performance-enhancing benefit without lingering fatigue.

References

1. Zazryn, T. R., Finch, C. F., & McCrory, P. (2003). A 16 year study of injuries to professional kickboxers in the state of Victoria, Australia. British journal of sports medicine, 37(5), 448-451.

2. Zabukovec, Randy, and Peter M. Tiidus. "Physiological and anthropometric profile of elite kickboxers." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 9.4 (1995): 240-242.

3. Silva, P., Silva, M., Duarte, J., Ahmed, A., Tavares, O., Valente-Dos-Santos, J., ... & Coelho-E-Silva, M. J. (2016). Physical, physiological characteristics and sport goal orientation of top Portuguese kickboxing athletes. Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 11(2s), 34-35.

4. Ouergui, I., Davis, P., Houcine, N., Marzouki, H., Zaouali, M., Franchini, E., ... & Bouhlel, E. (2016). Hormonal, physiological, and physical performance during simulated kickboxing combat: Differences between winners and losers. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 11(4), 425-431.

5. Buse, G. J., & Santana, J. C. (2008). Conditioning strategies for competitive kickboxing. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 30(4), 42-48.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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