Because you can use both hands and feet to strike in Muay Thai, the opportunities to make contact are much higher than traditional boxing. The major advantage over punching is you strike from a distance, making yourself are harder target to reach.
With kicks being so important in Muay Thai, you must practice using them in a variety of ways. There is no better way to build your technique than by practicing Muay Thai kicking drills.
The most common kicks in Muay Thai are the Teep (which translates as the “foot jab”) and the Tae Chiang, otherwise known as the Thai roundhouse. The Thai roundhouse is one of the most powerful moves in all martial arts, and this is because it doesn’t just use the strength of the quadriceps to derive its power, but the motion of the entire body turning. The roundhouse can be aimed at several different targets including your opponent’s leg, body, neck, or head.
But making the decision to use your legs and using them effectively are two different things. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Practicing kicking drills in the gym is one of the best ways to prepare to use kicking effectively in a fight.
Here is a set of Muay Thai kicking drills which are designed to improve accuracy, speed, power, and overall kicking technique.
Benefits of Muay Thai Kicking Drills
The main goals of any of these kicking drills are going to perfecting your kicking technique. This will involve mastering the specific body movements that you’ll want to employ, and the rest of the drills will be either to help increase kicking power or to help increase kicking speed.
The trick to effectively employing Thai kicks is learning how to set them up right. For example, the Thai roundhouse kick uses the rotational movement of the body. If you can deliver a kick with the entire force of your body turning, this can be devastating in a fight.
Because most of the kicks in Muay Thai are executed using the shins rather than the feet, these drills focus on kicking with the shins as well as conditioning the shins to be a tough kicking surface.
What Gear You’ll Need
Space – If you have a kickboxing gym, you’re all set, everything you need will be right there. If not, you will need some space to practice these drills. For partner drills, you don’t need anything more than a good mat and some kick pads. For the other drills, you will need a space that has a heavy bag, which can even be your garage or basement.
Jump Rope – If you don’t already own a good jump rope, it is time to get one. Skipping rope is one of the very best warmup tools around. Not only that, but it is hard to beat the focused cardio workout you can get from jumping rope. Jumping rope really gets the blood pumping, and your muscles and ligaments loose and ready for the Muay Thai kicking drills.
Thai Gloves – Muay Thai gloves protect your hands (and your partner) from the repeated blows you’ll deliver doing drills. Even if you’re doing kicking drills, it’s highly likely you’ll work in combinations, so gloves are needed. Try not to skimp on the quality of your gloves; they are important to protect yourself and your partner.
Shin Guards – Kicking drills are great for shin conditioning, but the repetitive blows to your shins can be counterproductive. Invest in a pair of quality shin guards to protect you shins and legs over the long term.
Training Partner – Some of these drills can be practiced without a partner, but they will be more physically and mentally beneficial with a partner to work with. If possible, find a partner who is also training in Muay Thai. You can help each other with technique, give feedback, and take turns running the drills.
Heavy Bag – One of the most important ways to condition your shins and to practice your kicking is by delivering kicks to a heavy bag. Kicking a sparring partner is useful as well, of course, but no partner in the world will be able to take as much punishment as a good heavy bag. Having a good Muay Thai Bag at home also gives you more opportunities to practice.
1. Warm-up and Mobility Workout
Although this may seem fundamental, warming up and stretching is an essential part of any training sessions, including for kicking drills. A good warm-up gives your muscles and joints time to limber up and get ready for the more strenuous work of training. Warming up also mentally prepares you to focus on executing your techniques.
Although many practitioners already have a warm-up that they like to use, here is one that we’ve found to be a good starting place. This warm-up may be beneficial to either augment or replace your current warm-up.
Step by Step:
Jumping Rope – Begin the warm-up by jumping rope, counting to 500 jumps. Practice double unders, cross-jumps, and increase your speed to double-time, as you see fit. Jumping rope is a reliable, time-tested way to get your heart pumping and to begin sending blood to your limbs.
Neck Rolls – Muay Thai, like most martial arts, uses many head movements, so keeping your neck limber is essential to staying out of harm’s way, but also avoiding strains and pulls in your neck and trapezius muscles. Drop your head to the front and roll in a complete circle, supporting it in the back. Repeat 10x in each direction, 50 times altogether.
Shoulder Rolls – Shoulder injuries are one of the most common in martial arts, so keeping your shoulders limber is necessary. Roll your shoulders in a large circle forwards, and then backwards. Repeat 50x. Do the same thing, but this time with your arms outstretched to the side.
Torso Twists – Loosening up your back is crucial for flexibility in punching, kicking, parrying, in fact anything you will need to do. Twist to one side 10 times and then repeat in the opposite direction, making sure your movements are smooth and even and that you don’t wrench your back. Do 50 torso twists altogether.
Hip Circles – Opening your pelvis, groin, and hip muscles is essential as well for grounding and powering all of your kicks. Place your hands on your waist and roll your hips around in a circle 10 times, then switch directions and repeat until you reach 50 circles.
Leg/Knee Stretches – Lift your knee to the front, then out to the side, and finally grab your ankle and pull your bent leg up behind you. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do these 25 times for each leg.
Hip Opening – While balancing yourself against a wall or a heavy bag, swing your leg forward and backwards like a pendulum, attempting to engage a full range of motion. Switch legs and repeat on the opposite side. 50 swings with each leg should get you nice and limber.
Tips: Pay attention to the way your body feels. Your warm-up is the perfect time to check in with any pains or tension you might be experiencing. If a certain muscle or area of your body feels tense or sensitive, you will want to give it more attention.
2. “The Handshake” Drill
This drill is great for beginners to practice throwing roundhouse kicks with accuracy. The roundhouse is one of the signature moves of Muay Thai kickboxing, so much so that it has been borrowed for other martial arts. A roundhouse is no good unless it’s delivered with good form. This drill will get you delivering your roundhouses accurately and with adequate power where you want it.
Running the Drill:
Face your partner in a good starting stance.
With your right hand, reach across your body and clasp your partner’s right hand.
With your hands clasped, bring your right leg up as if you’re kicking your partner’s left ribs.
As you’re lifting your leg to kick, make sure that you’re pivoting on your left foot, turning your shoulders to the left, and bringing your left hand up to your left temple.
Repeat this 50x.
Switch sides and repeat.
Tips: This drill is designed to improve accuracy. You don’t need to deliver your kicks with speed or power just yet. Instead, focus on your form, and on landing your kick exactly where you aim.
3. “Turning the Wheel”
Two important aspects of kicking that you’re always trying to improve are how fast you are kicking and how powerful your kicking is. This drill, popular with Muay Thai champions, will help to build up the power in your kicks.
Running the Drill:
Starting with your left hand, throw a hook across your body to an imaginary opponent.
After you throw the hook, bring the opposite hand across your body.
On the way back with the second hand, turn your shoulders and hands over like you’re turning a steering wheel.
As you’re “turning the wheel,” bring your leg with it, kicking the heavy bag with your shin.
Switch sides and repeat.
Tips: This drill will build power in your kicks but can also be used to practice agility. As you’re doing this drill, try switching the height of your kicks between low, body, and head kicks.
4. Roundhouse Drills with a Heavy Bag
Once you’ve mastered the mechanics of a roundhouse kick, as well as a good technique for bringing power to your kick, the next step is to master delivering roundhouse kicks with speed. This drill will help you to master delivering roundhouse kicks repeatedly with precision, power, and speed.
This drill will also improve your balance, core strength, and stamina.
Running the Dril:
This drill can be performed with one partner, rather than two (as shown in the video).
Stand facing your heavy bag, with your partner standing behind it to hold it steady.
Take your opening stance.
Deliver a roundhouse kick to the heavy bag with your right leg.
As soon as you’ve connected with the bag, bring your right foot back to the floor.
Connect to the floor with the ball of your foot, never with the heel.
Deliver your next roundhouse and keep moving.
Tips: While you’re practicing these drills, it’s important to keep your body moving. Try not to stand still any more than you would during a real fight. Keep yourself active and bounce on the balls of your feet. This will also serve as cardio exercise and to build stamina.
5. Body Kick Mobility Drills
One of the most important things that you have to do when delivering a body kick is to turn your hip over as you’re kicking. For most people, this is an unusual movement that we don’t do in daily life, so drilling it to make it second nature can be very helpful towards being able to use this in a match.
Running the Drill:
Kick your leg in front of top hip-height and have your partner grab and hold it there.
Your partner should hold your leg securely, but with enough play that your leg can turn easily.
As you turn the elevated leg, place your opposing hand against your head and the matching arm should push backwards.
Return to the first position.
Repeat 50x with each leg.
Tips: This drill is ideal for practicing the hip turn that is necessary for a body kick but is also a good stretch for your glutes. Make sure that you’re aware of stretching your glutes as you’re doing this one.
6. Heavy Bag Drill for Kicking Balance
This drill is one of the best we’ve found for stabilizing yourself while kicking. One of the most important aspects to a kick, of course, is being able to deliver it while maintaining your balance. This drill will make sure that you’re delivering powerful kicks from a stable base.
Running the Drill:
Stand in front of a heavy bag.
Lift one leg and extend it fully, giving the bag a solid kick.
This initial kick will cause the bag to swing away from you.
With the same leg, deliver a shorter kick to the bag as it’s swinging back towards you to stop it from swinging.
Repeat this 50x.
Tips: Aim for the same spot on the heavy bag each time you make contact. This will not only keep the bag from spinning but will improve your accuracy.
7. Shin Conditioning Drills
One of the most important aspects of kicking in Muay Thai is being able to use your shins both to kick and to check your opponent’s kicks without suffering an incredible amount of pain in the process.
The key to mastering this pain is to condition your shins so that they can receive the impact of kicking and checking kicks with the bones of your shins. The secret to this is that effective shins are those that have been toughened up. In other words, although it may sound severe, you want shins with deadened nerves.
In order to deaden the nerves, you must condition them with impact, but you want to do this without damaging the shin bones themselves.
Running the Drill:
Kick a heavy bag 200x with each leg.
Start by kicking lightly, but halfway through the drill (around your 100th kick) you should be kicking at full power.
Take breaks every so often to massage your shins and keep the blood flowing into them. An effective massage technique is placing straddling your shin with the 2nd and 3rd knuckles of your hand and running that hand down the length of the shin.
If you can, massage your shins with liniment (Ben Gay) before and after you work out.
Tips/Notes: Rumors and tall tales abound in certain segments of the martial arts community about Muay Thai masters who train by kicking trees or that it is helpful to condition your shins with everything from sticks to bottles. Don’t fall for it. These items will damage the bones irreparably, and though they may make you feel tough while you’re doing it, you may live to regret it later in life.