Right Stretches for High Kicks with No Warm-Up
Kurtz, author of Stretching Scientifically and Secrets
Read the previous installment
In this article you will learn about the method of developing dynamic
flexibility so you can kick high anytime without any warm-up.
Tom Kurtz, author of Stretching Scientifically,
kicks cold at age 40
What difference does it make how well you kick if you can kick well only
after warming up?
Your kicks, like your punches, are supposed to be your weaponsalways
accessible and ready. You would not carry a gun disassembled, would you?
You would not count on having the time to put it together while facing
And yet . . . how many people practice kicks, especially high kicks,
and can't use them right away without first warming up and stretching?
If you want to increase the height of your kicks and to be able to reach
that height with no warm-up, you need to develop the right kind of flexibilitydynamic
flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is the ability to perform dynamic movements
within a full range of motion in the joints. Kicks are dynamic movements.
Dynamic stretches for kickers are simple leg raises in all directions.
First develop the ability to move your limbs with moderate speed within
a full range of motion in the joints. You should start at a lower extension
(height) to avoid injury from any sudden contraction of rapidly stretched
muscles. Do not throw your limbs; rather, lead
or lift them, controlling the movement along the entire range.
Then, after you have reached nearly your full range of motion, you can
increase the velocity of the limb so the last few inches of its trajectory
will be less controlled but the stretch will not be sudden. Do leg raises
to the front, back, and sides. Make 12 repetitions in every set and do
as many sets as you need to feel you have reached your current limit of
a) Leg raise to the front; b) Leg raise to the back;
c) Leg raise to the side
If you rely on high kicks as your combat techniques and want to do them
anytime without warm-up, you should do dynamic stretches twice a day.
Research has shown the effectiveness of dynamic stretching twice every
day (Matveev 1977). First spend a few minutes in the morning (before having
your breakfast) on the dynamic stretching of your legs and then later
during the day do dynamic stretches again. On days you have your workout,
do these dynamic stretches in the warm-up before kicking. Starting slowly,
you should gradually raise the legs higher, and then you should increase
the speed of your movements. Doing the actual combat kicks in this morning
stretch is not necessary to be able to do them later in the day without
According to Matveev (1977), eight to ten weeks is sufficient time to
develop maximal dynamic flexibility.
Yes, you can have great dynamic flexibility in a matter of a few weeks
and then display it even without a warm-up. All it takes is the right
stretching method. Spending several months on developing your flexibility
and not being able to use it without a warm-up indicates either that the
stretching method you use is incorrect, you are chronically fatigued,
There are several explanations for failing to make progress and being
1) Incorrect methods of teaching skills, which may result in too many
repetitions of a given exercise and chronic local fatigue.
2) Training loads that are too great and not enough rest. If you begin
your workout still fatigued or even sore after the previous one, you are
asking for an injury, or at least you hamper your further progress.
3) The wrong sequence of efforts. If you use the wrong sequence of efforts
(exercises) in a workout or in a set of consecutive workouts, it may double
or triple your recovery time (Kurtz 1994, p. 64).
Now, how about all those static stretchessplits, for exampleso
many people try to do before kicking?
Don't! Never do static stretches before dynamic stretches, kicking, or
any other dynamic movements. For several seconds or even minutes following
any type of static stretch, you cannot display your top agility or maximal
speed because your muscles are less responsive to stimulationyour
coordination is off. Static stretches reduce the force production of the
stretched muscles. This was shown by subjecting calf muscles to several
30-second stretches and measuring their force afterward (Rosenbaum and
Hennig 1995). Maximal force production is impaired for several minutes
after strenuous static stretching (Kokkonen, Nelson, and Cornwell 1998).
If you try to make a fast, dynamic movement immediately after a static
stretch, you may injure the stretched muscle. I explain these and other
reasons in Stretching Scientifically (Kurtz 1994).
In choosing stretches, you should examine your needs and the requirements
of your activity. For example, if you are a kicker, you need mostly a
dynamic flexibility of hips. To increase your range of motion, you need
to do dynamic leg raises in all directions.
The principle of specificity states: Flexibility is specific to the speed
of movement. Flexibility is also position specific, so static exercises
or stretches like splits are not very useful if you want to kick higher
(a display of dynamic flexibility). According to Logan and McKinney (1970)
the principle of specific adaptation to imposed demands in the case of
flexibility means that eventually, either at the end of the first set
of dynamic stretches or in other sets, you should stretch at a velocity
not less than 75% of the maximal velocity used in your actual skill, a
kick, for example.
A common sight in training halls, gyms, dojang, or dojo, is someone standing
and holding up the leg. Such standing, while requiring and developing
static balance and static strength, is not developing dynamic flexibility
nor dynamic strength. It is developing a static active flexibility required
from gymnasts but not something that kickers need. Such leg holding requires
a strong tension of the muscles on one side of the trunk when the lower
back is twisted to this side and pulled forward by the psoas muscle on
the same side. This, if done by someone with insufficient lower back strength
or any back problem, can lead to lower back strain or intervertebral disc
As far as strength is concerned, the specific strength for a kicker is
the strength that lets one pack a wallop in a kick, not to hold up a leg!
Specific strength for kicking is developed by kicking a heavy bag, kicking
into layers of sponge, kicking with bungee cords attached to legs and
doing other dynamic exercises similar to kicking. Strength, just like
flexibility, is specific to the speed of movement, its angle, and range
of motion. This is explained by McArdle, Katch, and Katch (1991). You
cannot learn dynamic skills well by using static exercises, and vice versa.
There is more to throwing high kicks without any warm-up than the right
type of stretching. In the next column you will learn the little
details of kicking techniques that let you kick high and with power without
Read the next installment of this column
Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A. G., and A. Cornwell. 1998. Acute muscle stretching
inhibits maximal strength performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise
and Sport vol 69, no 4, pp. 411-415
Kurtz, T. 1994. Stretching Scientifically: A Guide to Flexibility
Training. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co. Inc.
Logan, G. A. and W. C. McKinney. 1970 Kinesiology. Dubuque,
IA: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers.
Matveev, L. P. 1977. Osnovy sportivnoy trenirovki. Moskva:
Fizkultura i Sport.
McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., and V. L. Katch. 1991. Exercise Physiology:
Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Lea
Rosenbaum, D. and E. M. Hennig. 1995. The influence of stretching and
warm-up exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. Journal of
Sport Sciences vol 13, no 6, pp 481-490.