Skip Navigation Links

Ask the Author: Sang H. Kim,
author of Complete Kicking

Question: Dear Sang H. Kim, How do you build strength in your legs, also balance for demonstration and control? (I.e) Hold your leg far out above your head for a side kick or high roundhouse without losing stability or balance or simple having no problem being mobile with your legs. I am in Tae Kwon Do and am almost at a full split, but are there any exercises that help develope pure strength in your legs. Thanks in Advance.Michael DiPalermo

Answer from Sang H. Kim:

Dear Michael,

You are not the only one who has this question. Here are those exercises that I have used to improve the strength and balance of my legs.

Before you begin any of these exercises, warm-up for at least 5 minutes to prevent any injury. Do some in-place bouncing, running, jump roping and knee pitching.


Now about exercises to strengthen your muscles.

First of all, in order to maintain your leg in the air, there are a few fundamentals that are required: strong abdominal and thigh muscles as well as the strength of your shin/calf and your toes. Do the following exercises 5 to 8 sets (each set of 15 repetitions) with 30 seconds rest between sets, 3 to 4 times a week, for 12 weeks.

* ** Equipment you need: a set of 3 to 5 Lb ankle weights and 2 foot long piece of 2 x 4 wood

1) Stomach Muscle Exercises

There are three types of muscles that you need to improve: low/middle stomach, side stomach (oblique muscles) and back muscles. They need to be strong enough to hold your leg in the air which is quite heavy proportionately speaking.

a. Exercise #1: Straight sit up (Bend your knee, put your hands on your chest and sit up)

b. Exercise #2: Diagonal sit up (Turn your body to the side when you come up)

c. Exercise #3: Back sit up (Lie on your stomach and raise your torso off the floor)

2)   Thigh Muscle Exercises

There are three major muscles that you need to work out: Quadriceps, Adductor muscles (inner thigh), Abductor muscles (outer thigh), and Hamstrings. Hamstrings and Quadriceps work hand in hand to stabilize your legs. You need to work them for both strength and flexibility if you want to kick high.

a.    Quadriceps (the front thigh muscle)

Exercise #4: Leg extensions

1. Put on the ankle weights

2. Hold a bar (or wall, chair) and slowly raise your leg for the target kick (front, round, side).

3. Do a set of 15 and repeat it with the other leg. (3-5 sets)  

b.    Adductor muscles (inner thigh)

Exercise #5: Scissors

1. Lie on your back with the ankle weights on.

2. Raise your legs two feet and your upper body 6 inches above the floor.

3. Keep your arms in front of you with your elbows bent.

4. Cross your legs in and out slowly  

c. Abductor (outer thigh)

Exercise #6: Leg swing

1. Put on the ankle weights and stand holding a bar or a chair.

2. Stand on one leg and slowly swing the other leg between the chair and the other leg like a pendulum. Do it slowly feeling the effect on your muscles. Go upward very slowly and as high as you can.

d. Hamstrings

Exercise #7: Rear leg lifting

1. Put on the ankle weights and stand in front of a chair holding it with both hands.

2. Bend one knee slightly and raise the other leg backward slowly 15 times.

3. Repeat it with the other leg.

3) Shin/calf/toe exercises

You can work the three muscles groups at one time.

Exercise #8: Heel drop & raise

1. Put the 2 x 4 one foot away from a wall and stand on your toes on the edge of the 2 x 4.

2. Lower your heels back downward toward the floor stretching the Achilles tendons.

Exercise #9: Single heel drop and raise

1. Repeat Exercise #8 with one leg at a time

Exercise #10: Horse riding stance squat

1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.

2. Keep your arms in fighting position.

3. Squat as low as you can as slowly as possible. Breathe slowly. Hold at the bottom for 5 seconds.

4. Come up slowly. Repeat 15 times.  

Now, about balancing. Balance is the ability to maintain your body position both in movement and at rest. There are two types of balance: static and dynamic. Static balance is a stationary object at equilibrium like when you stand upright. Dynamic balance is a body moving at constant linear and angular velocities, a.k.a. balance-in-motion.  


For static balance, pay attention to:

1.Correct head placement

2. Correct eye direction

3. Correct body alignment (this is the key to static balance)  

For dynamic balance, pay attention to details of your movement.

1. Avoid crossing your legs.

2. Keep your knees slightly bent during movement and landing.

3. Take small, quick steps rather than long strides.  

Bottom line:

1. Balance comes from good posture. By aligning your feet, hips, spine and head, you maintain a stable upright posture. Keep your eyes fixed on one spot.

2. The most important sensors are the presence or lack of visual cues. Vision provides your body with a ready means of finding your position relative to the ground. To test the importance of vision, try closing your eyes and standing on one foot. You will feel your body sway and your arms reach out to the side instinctively.

3. Tactile cues are also used to maintain balance. In the pads of your feet are detailed networks of sensors. By sensing the pressure of the ground beneath them, they relay important information to the brain, allowing it to shift your balance as necessary. To test these, try standing on one foot on a soft surface like a mattress or thick mat. As the surface shifts beneath your weight, your body moves in response to the sensations transmitted from your foot pads.

4. Finally, there is the vestibular apparatus, found in the inner ear. The vestibular apparatus controls the "righting reflex," which takes precedence over other sensory and motor systems during disorientation. The righting reflex controls upright posture. Based on input from the visual, tactile and vestibular senses, your body is constantly striving to maintain a specific orientation to gravity. When you lose your balance or become spatially disoriented, your righting reflex takes over to restore an upright posture by first positioning your head, followed by your neck and upper body and finally your lower body.

Conclusion: Chose one target kick (high side kick for instance). Repeat it over and over and eliminate anything that hinders your perfect performance. Keep strengthening the necessary muscles that will help you get better and better.

I recommend the following books for your reference:

Ultimate Fitness Through Martial Arts book
Complete Kikcing book


Sang H. Kim

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sang H. Kim is an internationally respected author of 13 martial arts books, including his new book Vital Point Strikes and the best sellers Ultimate Flexibility, Ultimate Fitness through Martial Arts, Combat Strategy and Teaching: the Way of the Master, and star of over 100 martial arts instructional DVDs and video downloads programs including Self-defense Encyclopedia, Knife-defense, Power Breathing, Junsado Training Series, and Complete Taekwondo Series. He won the 1976 Korean National Championship and was named Instructor of the Year by the Korean government in 1983. As a special agent during his military service, he developed tactical combat methods for hand-to-hand and hand-to-weapon combat for covert operatives.

Related Articles:

Improve Your Flexibility
Heavy Bag Drills
Lower Body Plyometrics

Related Books:

Ultimate Fitness through Martial Arts book
Taekwondo Stepp Sparring book
Complete Kicking book
Taekwondo Kyorugi book
Strength and Power Training Book

Back to the Author Forum

Free Catalog - request yours today Order Today & get
on USA orders over $10