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Leg Circles Part I – Stretching the Hip Muscles for Higher Kicks

By Paul Zaichik

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles that focus on the hip joint and its muscles. Part 2 of this series will focus on extended length conditioning applied to the leg circle.

The hip joint is located right below the midsection of the body, and any force transfered into a technique must pass directly through it. Everyone from beginner to advanced athlete knows that if you can incorporate the hip into a technique, you can produce more force. In karate this translates into greater impact.

If you can isolate the movers of the hip joint from the other muscles, this allows the body to exploit degrees of freedom in the joint. Exercises which focus on isolating the hip joint also foster long lasting health and stability of the joint.

Leg circles are one of those exercises. This exercise was first introduced byJoseph Pilates. Now the leg circle has found its way into dance, martial arts and other athletic communities.

espite looking simple and straight forward, this exercise is extremely effective for stabilization, isolation and control of the hip joint. As far as martial arts is concerned, incorporating this technique into the conditioning routine has incredible effect on the speed, power and control of kicks, not to mention injury prevention.

o begin the exercise lie down on your back with hands by your sides and both legs straight. Lift one leg toward the ceiling, press your lower back onto the floor (you want to prevent an arch in the lower back) and pull the naval toward the spine.

How low your leg will go (Picture 1) depends on your level of strength, flexibility and control. Lower your leg to the outside. Do not allow your back to shift. Keep the opposite hip on the floor. The whole movement must be in the hip joint. Abdominal muscles only stabilize the movement. (Picture 2)

Now lower the leg and bring it parallel to the other leg. The moving leg should be a few inches away from the floor. Again try not to lift your lower back off the floor. (Picture 3)

Now bring the leg up and over the other leg. This part of the movement stretches the outside of the hamstrings. Most martial artists tend to focus on the inner hamstrings stretches, and this exercise may be a good way to bring balance to the back of the leg. As before, do not allow your back or your buttocks to come off the floor. (Picture 4)

Repeat the exercise 5-10 times on each leg. Do not forget to circle the leg in the opposite direction. The speed of the movement depends on your level of conditioning at the moment. Ideally the leg should travel at low to medium speed. This exercise loosens up the muscles surrounding the hip joints. Try stretching the hamstring gently; you may be surprised at the results. (Picture 5)

Part 2

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About the Author:

Paul Zaichik is the founder of the ElasticSteel method of athletic conditioning. Although martial arts training was not allowed in Eastern Europe when he was a child, Zaichik trained in everything he could get his hands on -- fencing, wrestling and boxing. When he later added gymnastics, dance and track and field, he realized that while most athletes were flexible, they could not do full splits or bring their feet above their heads. In comparison ninety nine percent of the gymnasts and dancers can sleep while having their legs in a full straddle. When Zaichik took up martial arts in 1990, his former training allowed him to throw 6 o’clock kicks and do full splits on demand. This led to the development of a system which utilized many Eastern European stretching and gymnastic techniques to meet the needs of the modern martial artist. Zaichik supplemented his experience by obtaining both an undergraduate and graduate degree in Exercise Science and Nutrition. His research and expertise led to the creation of a system of techniques known as ElasticSteel. His website is

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

stretching the hip joints, developing high kicks, karate kicks, stretching, leg muscle stretching

Read more articles by Paul Zaichik

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