Leg kicks are an essential part of the MMA striking game. Anyone who underrates or underuses them is neglecting versatile weapons that could help them control or win a fight.
Throughout the history of mixed martial arts, athletes have used low kicks as game-changers in fights. When they’re used well, they can slow an opponent down, compromise their mobility, or even finish them off.
Some fighters avoid throwing leg kicks because they think they can be put them in danger of being taken down, but if you learn to throw them the right way, you’ll reduce that risk and open up an array of options for inflicting damage.
When you’re done, you’ll know how to throw a few types of low kicks – including inside leg kicks and calf kicks – how to set them up, and how not to throw them.
NOTE: All instructions are for an orthodox fighter facing an orthodox fighter.
Outside Leg Kick
We’ll start with the basics and the kind of leg kick that will probably come to mind first – a hard strike with your rear leg to your opponent’s front leg.
The key to this strike is that it must be thrown with enough force to damage your opponent. A leg kick without that power carries a lot of risk for very little reward. Weak low kicks fuel the myth that leg kicks are not safe.
If you do not commit to your strike, you won’t be able to affect your rival, and you’ll give them a great chance to counter. The classic retort is a right cross, and there are countless examples of KOs from that kind of strike.
The second fundamental aspect of this leg kick is that it must be set up. Finally, you’ll need to stay out of danger as you launch your shin toward your opponent’s thigh to minimize any chance of getting caught out.
With all that said, here is a step-by-step guide to the outside leg kick.
- Throw a jab.
Make sure your technique and defense are on point, so you don’t get caught before you even kick.
- Step outside with your front leg.
This takes your head off the center line. That means that as Kyu Sung throws a right cross, Siyar’s head is out of the way.
- Kick with your rear leg and try to connect with the middle part of your shin.
If you strike with the bottom part of your shin or your foot, you could hurt it and compromise your performance for the rest of the fight.
- Aim to land on the same spot on your opponent’s thigh.
Repeated blows to the same space will add up quickly and damage your opponent more efficiently. You can improve your accuracy by keeping your leg muscles loose – it’s the same principle as keeping your shoulders when punching.
- Ensure that the weight of your leg comes down as you kick.
Gravity will add power, and the downward trajectory will make the strike harder to block.
The first step is vital. First, your back leg has to come a long way to hit its target, so it’s pivotal that you give your opponent something to think about to disguise it.
This distraction can also mess up their co-ordination and their plan of attack. If you can make someone hesitate, they can’t react the same way as they would when they are focused on their own offense. It will take a split-second for them to regain that focus, and you can use that to capitalize. Martial arts is about these little moments, and if you don’t use them to your advantage, you’ll put the ball back in your opponent’s court.
Set-up strikes may also make your rival back up. That will make your leg kick more effective because their limb will not be ready to absorb it. When their weight is on their front leg, it will be engaged, so though the strike will hurt, it might not do much damage. If they are moving backward, the muscles will not be ready to absorb the impact from your shin.
With this combo, Siyar puts Kyu Sung on the back foot and capitalizes
- Throw a jab-cross to move your opponent back.
Your punches must be accurate and hard enough to move them.
- Step out and kick as they retreat.
Your strike should land as your target is in the air, and the muscles are loose.
Siyar also shows how you can move into a fantastic position to follow up with a combination.
- Throw a jab.
This does not need to be a significant strike, but it should be thrown with proper technique so your opponent is distracted.
- Follow up with a left hook as you shuffle out to your right side – leading with your right foot.
Turn your wrist as you punch to land with the knuckle on the back of your glove.
- Now you’re at an angle where you’re far away from danger, and you can land a kick on the back of his leg.
The force and angle of this kick lifts Kyu Sung’s leg into the air, putting him out of position and leaving him wide open to more offense.
After the kick, Siyar is perfectly placed to unleash a left hook or uppercut, and then follow up with a right hand and another left. However, Kyu Sung is also a sitting duck for a takedown. What you do with this opportunity should depend on what feels good to you.
Inside Leg Kick
The second leg kick we’ll cover is the inside leg kick. The timing is a little different, but this is another technique that can move your opponent and set them up to get hit with a killer combo.
- Step out with your back leg.
Siyar moves forward and to the side, so he’s off the center line and well away from Kyu Sung’s right hand.
- Kick with your front leg, aiming for the lower part of the thigh.
Once again, stay loose for maximum accuracy. You don’t want to aim too high, kick your rival in the groin, and give them five minutes to rest. Even worse, you could have points deducted or be disqualified.
As before, you’ll need a good set-up for your leg kick, and a right cross is a perfect tool for this one. Just throw it from your orthodox stance, then kick as instructed above.
The inside leg kick will also move your rival’s leg. That will put him off-balance and open him up to be taken down – if that’s part of your game plan. However, as a natural striker, Siyar loves to attack next with a right uppercut if his distance is right. If there is a little more distance between him and Kyu Sung, a one-two is the perfect follow-up combination.
Hardcore MMA fans will have seen a recent rise in the popularity of the calf kick.
The technique was once rarely seen outside of traditional martial arts, but it has become a significant strike in kickboxing and MMA in the past few years. That’s no surprise once athletes saw how it can affect the legs and an opponent’s movement.
The idea of calf kick is to slow down a fast and/or powerful striker. If their front leg is damaged, their ability to move forward and unleash heavy strikes will be reduced. A numb leg will make it hard for them to judge movement and compromise their balance, and that will slow them down.
The approach for this technique will depend on the situation. First, take a look at how to counter an oncoming attacker.
- Step out to your left as your opponent steps forward.
Once again, you need to take your head off the center line to stay out of danger
- Keep your hips back as you throw the kick.
Instead of pushing your hips forward for maximum power as you would for a ‘normal’ leg kick, keeping them back will help to minimize damage if your opponent checks.
- Aim for the meaty part at the top of the calf.
There is nothing wrong with landing elsewhere, but your kicks will be most effective here.
The second approach makes you the aggressor. If your opponent likes to come in and exchange but is flat-footed, you can stop his aggression before it starts by slowing him down.
- Jab and step out at the same time.
Maintain a solid defense and protect yourself from counters on your left side by keeping your chin down.
- Side shuffle and kick, keeping your hips back.
If you end up in a good position, your shin should connect with the back of your opponent’s calf.
This is another strike that will move your rival’s leg way out of position. Once they’re off-balance, they’re just asking to be hit with a combination. Siyar loves to land in a southpaw stance and throw a left uppercut. If that doesn’t get the KO, he follows with a right elbow.
The beauty of these strikes is they will come from angles your opponent cannot see, and those are the most dangerous. If Kyu Sung cannot see what’s coming, he won’t adjust and prepare his body for the impact, meaning he is more liable to be knocked out.
Blocking Leg Kicks
Now you know how to throw a few types of leg kicks, you should practice how to defend them, too.
The classic defense used in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and MMA is the check. Clashing shins may seem hardcore to martial arts novices, but trust us, it’s better to go shin-on-shin than have your thigh chopped up.
You’ve got a good chance of hurting your opponent with this approach, especially if they have bad technique and land with their foot or the lower part of their shin.
This block is simple, but there are some key points to remember.
- Lift your front leg.
For maximum stability, plant your back heel, so your standing foot is flat on the mat. Also, don’t lift too high because some fighters like to kick low and target your standing leg.
- Turn your leg to face outward.
Your shin must face outside, so it clashes with your opponent’s. If it is facing forward, your calf may some of the blow. That could be worse than if you’d not blocked at all.
- Block with the upper part of your shin.
This is the thickest and hardest part of the bone.
Blocking inside leg kicks require a similar approach. Just lift your leg and turn it inward to go shin-on-shin – you’ll have to turn your shoulders, too. If all goes to plan, you will catch the softest part of his shin on the hardest part of yours.
Constant drilling will make these second-nature, but make sure you practice with shin guards! Otherwise, you’ll limp home from the gym.
Countering Leg Kicks
The final lesson of this leg kick masterclass is how to respond after you’ve successfully defended a strike.
The key is to be quick and reply before your opponent puts their kicking leg down. So, as Kyu Sung is moving back into position, Siyar steps forward and attacks with one of these three strikes
- A right cross.
- A left hook.
- A liver shot – after putting his weight on his front leg.
Because you will have turned to your left to check, a strike from your left side will feel more natural and land with a lot of momentum. Also, because Kyu Sung is close to Siyar, he’s in the perfect range to be hit.
By the same logic, a right-sided strike is suitable after checking an inside leg kick. Because you have turned your shoulders to the right to block, you are perfectly placed to unleash your right cross as you turn back.
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