Roundhouse Kick – How to do the Perfect Roundhouse Kick in MMA & Thai Boxing
The Muay Thai roundhouse kick is a ‘rotational’ kick that has biomechanics similar to a soccer kick. In Thai boxing fighters will use their shins rather than their feet to make contact (and inflict damage) on their opponents. The MMA roundhouse kick has some slight variations but is very similar to the traditional Muay Thai style – depending on the fighter!
Keep Reading to Learn How to Add a Devastating Roundhouse Kick to your Striking Arsenal
Please note –
I highly suggest having a:
- “Feeler kick”, where you throw the kick at 60% and keep defensive with both hands up
- “Power kick” – usually thrown after a punch combo, 100% power with head off centre line to avoid counter
When teaching the roundhouse kick, the symbolic technique of Muay Thai, I think it needs to be broken down into 2 major elements, and maybe another 2 or 3 sub-elements.
1. Turning the standing foot
The main power of the kick, comes from the rotation of the body, rather than the actual kicking leg.
When people think of a kick, they impulsively try to generate all the power from extending the knee – but the bulk of power comes from the rotation of the body and the transfer of weight.
Keep your eye on the fighter’s left foot and how it rotates to the left / counter-clockwise:
If you are kicking with your right foot/leg
The standing left foot should face towards your opponent when you initiate the kick
It should be facing to your left when the kick lands
There are 2 ways to do this –
- The Traditional Way – Rotate on the ball of your foot– (the fleshy bit below your big toe)
- The Unorthodox Way – Step across to your left (& forwards slightly)
The Traditional Way is much quicker, but the Unorthodox Way can generate more power.
It’s also easier and quicker to use the traditional method when ending a punch combination with a kick.
When someone isn’t checking the kick, or when throwing a kick straight off without a set-up, I do like to step across and turn my foot to the side, rather than rotate on the ball of my foot.
Check out my first kick below – the giant leap forwards and to the left, pushes the guy’s feet together (and wrecks his knee)
In the GIF above, you can see that I’m not rotating my left foot on the ball of my foot…
Instead, I jump-step forwards and to the left, to create the rotation in my hips for the kick. I even push off my right foot first, before stepping across with my left foot.
This gives the kick more power, although it does help that my opponent is walking forwards and into the kick.
By stepping across with your left foot as you throw the right kick, you penetrate the opponent’s “centre-line” by a much more significant amount.
By Stepping across and forwards – you load up the hip flexor for additional power
This means that more of your body weight contributes to the power of the kick, and you ‘displace’ more of the opponent’s leg.
The Jumping Technique that I use in the GIF above is a lot riskier however.
You can easily jump head-on into a punch.
I used it in this competition because I could see that my opponent was badly fatigued.
Make sure to set up the kick well if you do use the step-across technique to generate additional power.
2. Hip Extension & Rotation on contact
As you land the kick – extend your hips/straighten your body and keep rotating your hips & upper body
As you land your kick, you should initiate a second movement – push your hips forward so that your body straightens, and rotate your upper body so that it is inline with your hips again.
If you are throwing a right kick, your hips should straighten, and your left shoulder should rotate all the way backwards, so that you are almost looking behind yourself.
Skip to 2:30 of this video:
Not to pick on my friend Lee – this was his first time training, but you can see how his upper-body doesn’t rotate at all as he throws his kick.
In contrast, the other handsome guy in the blue top is rotating his upper body so that his upper body is completely side-on to Lee when the kick lands, and his left shoulder is facing away from him
3. Picture kicking all the way through your opponent’s leg
Imagine your chopping down a tree
You don’t want to make a little 3 inch dent in the tree, you want to chop all the way through from right to left (or vice-versa).
For a leg kick, don’t think about just kicking the leg, think about driving all the way through and through his centre-line (represented by a red line in the pic below).
4. Imagine Kicking down into the leg
Again like an axe, chopping into a tree at a 45 degree angle
On one of my instructional DVDs, the fella says kick down into the leg by ‘pointing your knee where you want the shin to land’
i.e. angle your knee down towards the lower/mid thigh
This works with low kicks to the outside of the lead leg, because of the way the leg is angled outwards – like this backslash \
The lead leg is typically angled outwards slightly, in that the foot is standing wider than the hip on the same side. This allows a ‘downward-angled’ kick to dig in, rather than skip of the surface of the leg.
5. Keep your head off Centre-Line
To avoid a counter from a straight punch – move your head off to the side when you move into kicking range.
This decreases the chances of a punch counter.
Setting up the kick with a jab or a feint, or using it as a counter, is also a way to decrease the chances of you getting caught with a punch.
For example, wait for your opponent to throw a jab – then counter with a kick
Or – wait for him/her to throw a kick – check and counter.
I learned this the hard way when I first went to a Muay Thai gym, everyone was counter kicking and punching me when I was jumping in with big kicks, the would stay in the pocket and counter me.
Roundhouse Kicks to the Calf
Making waves in the UFC at the moment is the calf kick. With less muscle around the ankle and calf, the calf kick can be devastating.
Kicking just below the knee, rather than just above the thigh; the kick can work as a damaging strike or as a sweep.
Calf kick are also regarded as lower risk than thigh or body kicks as they put you less off balance.
Karate Style Roundhouse Vs Muay Thai Roundhouse
The traditional karate style roundhouse kick, is more of a snapping kick, using the leg muscles rather than the power generated from the core and the actual shift of weight.
The karate style carries a lot less power but is arguably the best style for headkicks.
With no ‘load up’ it’s harder to see the karate high-kicks coming and the weight of the shin and foot provide plenty of force to KO an opponent without transferring all of your bodyweight etc into it.
Machida – Looks Low then kicks High – Strikes with the shin
I would suggest however that the powerful style of Muay Thai roundhouse is much more effective for kicking the legs and possibly the body.
Countering a Roundhouse Kick
Countering a kick involves either:
- Catching the leg & sweeping/striking your opponent
- Stepping in with a punch
- Snapping out a front kick
- Checking & then countering with a punch or kick
Whichever counter you choose, it’s always a good idea to condition your shins (and calves) so that you don’t collapse in pain after checking a kick – or so you can throw kicks without snapping your shin when someone checks it
Condition your shins by kicking the heavy bag. Don’t go straight into kicking baseball bats or anything silly, build up slowly by kicking the bag…then try sparring without shinguards.
Sparring without shinguards is actually safer (normally) as everyone tends to kick much lighter!
Taking kicks on your legs, shins and calves is actually the best way to condition your legs to take kicks.
Using Box Jumps & Plyometrics is also a great way to build up your shin strength. The impact and load on the bones will cause ‘bone to grow stronger’ (to put it in layman’s terms – to learn more about Wolff’s law and bone strength click here).
To stop a Muay Thai fighter throwing roundhouse kicks at all, you can attempt to move forwards constantly.
This is a technique that Randy Couture used against Chuck Liddell in their first fight, and Bob Sapp used to use in K-1
He would rush forwards, so that it was near impossible to throw a roundhouse kick – by the time it was thrown, Bob would be in punching or clinch range. To use this tactic you need to be able to counter front kicks and jabs.
In this fight, Bob Sapp Vs Ernesto Hoost, watch how Sapp runs forwards and Hoost moves backwards to keep in kicking range
Fighting a Thai Boxer Who Throws Roundhouse Kicks
If you are a wrestler or a boxer then I would look to:
- Move Forwards to make it difficult for him/her to throw a roundhouse
- Jab with your knee pointing outwards*
- Check the kicks by putting your weight on your front leg & pointing your knee outwards
- Switch stances if necessary
- Threaten a takedown – Even if you just dummy going for a takedown, this will make a ‘kicker’ wary about commiting to a hard roundhouse
*A fighter who likes to kick, will often counter a left jab, with a hard roundhouse to your left leg. You can counter this to a certain extent by stepping forwards & slightly to your left as you throw your jab
Setting Up a Roundhouse Kick
If technique is everything, then the set up is almost everything!
The roundhouse, especially the high roundhouse can be countered with straight punches – and you can easily get caught off balance.
Setting up the High Roundhouse to The Head
A great way to set up for a headkick, is to kick low once or twice i.e. kick your opponent’s legs. Then next time – look low at the opponent’s leg but this time kick high.
Dutch Style Set Up to the Roundhouse
The Dutch style of kickboxing, involves throwing the roundhouse at the end of a punch combination.
A combination for example might be:
- Right Cross, Left Hook, Right Roundhouse
- Jab, Cross, Left Roundhouse (AKA inside leg kick)
- Jab, Cross, Left Hook, Right Roundhouse
Using punches makes your opponent ‘fight on two fronts’ and hides the kick to a certain extent.
Using punches is also a great way to get your opponent to cover up & protect his or her head, leaving an opening for a low leg kick
Throw Feints to set up a Roundhouse
A general tip for setting up a powerful kick is to throw feints. Keep twitching your hips and shoulders to gauge your opponent’s reaction.
You can also consider throwing a ‘feeler’ kick, with a low amount of power, again to gauge your opponent’s reaction.
How to do a High Roundhouse Kick
- Bring your knee up to your chest
- Use your standing foot to pivot on the ball of your foot (the paddy bit below your toes)
- Rotate the standing foot so toes point in the opposite direction to the bag/person you’re kicking
- Lean back
- Drive hips towards bag/person
- Extend leg
The roundhouse can be quite ‘telegraphed’ if you don’t set it up well with punches and feints.
Either way, you should have a go-to-technique if you miss and your kick does not land on target
Roundhouse Into Sidekick
Above is a video of myself, missing a roundhouse by a mile, but the recovering nicely with a sidekick. This is my go-to-technique
Roundhouse into Backfist
This is the common back-up-technique, it carries more risks but it is often an instant KO if it lands.
Exercises to Develop a Powerful Roundhouse
First Ensure you Have a Good ‘Base’ For Kicking Hard & Explosively
To do this develop a strong core with stability ball exercises and unstable surface work. Planks are also good for building a ‘base’ of core strength.
It’s a good idea to build this base to protect your back and spine, before doing explosive rotational drills & kicking which could lead to injury if you have a weak core.
Develop Good Posture
Men beware of ‘anterior pelvic tilt’. This is something I have a big problem with thanks to sitting down all day in work and during the commute.
Again, doing powerful kicks with poor posture will put a strain on your lower back.
Ensure that you correct this pelvic-tilt with lots of hip mobility work.
Other exercises to develop a powerful roundhouse include:
- Hip Mobility Drills
- Dynamic Hip Flexibility drills – leg swings side to side, sumo deadlifts
- Fundamental core exercises – like planks & stability ball work
- Rotational core exercises – like wood chops & rotational planks
- Kicking the heavy bag* – video yourself & watch back for feedback
- Plyometrics* – for explosive legs
- Rotational band exercises* – for explosive hips & core
- Olympics Lifts* – For explosive hips (Start with explosive shrugs)
- Kicking the bag or pads holding a 2kg weight in your right hand (for a right roundhouse – throw this arm down & back powerfully)
*Once you have your ‘base’ of good posture & a strong core, these exercises will quickly develop explosive kicks.
Technique is paramount still, however, never replace good technique with conditioning work. Technique is everything with the roundhouse!
Conditioning Session Example for Developing a Powerful Roundhouse Kick
Power from the kick mainly comes from the hip flexion then extension and the rapid transfer of weight/centre of mass*
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that strong legs mean a powerful kick – it’s all in the explosive hips & core.
5 minutes steady state cardio e.g. Cross Trainer
5 minutes skip
Glute Activation Exercises – e.g. The Bird Dog:
Box Jumps – 3 Sets of 8 Reps
Rest Period of 2 minutes between Sets
Rotational Plyometrics – 3 sets of 30 seconds
Wood Chops – 3 sets of 12 reps (each side)
10 light kicks – Low (10 using each leg. Focus on technique)
10 light ‘body’ kicks
10 light high kicks
10 medium power body kicks – focus on technique
10 x Low Kicks – As hard as possible.
10 x Body Kicks – As hard as possible
10 x high kicks – as hard as possible
KettleBell High Pulls – 2 sets of 8 reps (8 reps on each arm…so 16 reps in total per set).
Kettlebell exercises are great – but you can really damage your back if they are done incorrectly. You ideally need to get a PT or a friend/mentor to show you the technique. Make sure that you are looking fowards and you shouldn’t ‘slouch’ your back. If you can’t get a PT or mentor, then start with a VERY light weight, and film yourself to assess your technique.
*Study here on the mechanics of a powerful kick.
Effective roundhouse kicking performance was characterized by rapid pelvic axial rotation, hip abduction, hip flexion and knee extension velocities, combined with rapid movements of the COM towards the target.
In English this means that you require:
- Explosive hips
- Explosive core (in a rotational axis)
- Explosive/powerful legs to extend the leg
Olympic Lifts, plyometrics and medicine ball drills with rotation are the best ways to develop this type of power. Be careful not to overtrain however!
Other Roundhouse Tips
– Power really comes from the hips – extension and rotation
Olympics lifts help with hip extension; you can use band, hammer and medicine ball exercises to make your hips have more rotational power.
I’ve also noticed on a few Countdown to the UFC videos – people doing jumping/rotating exercises and plyometrics. E.g. face forwards, jump up and backwards and rotate to face backwards:
Technique, Technique, Technique
Remember, the correct technique is crucial for developing a powerful roundhouse kick.
Stay relaxed and loose until you make contact with the opponent.
– Hips rotate first, then the leg follows, then your foot –
As with a hook, when throwing a round kick, think about getting your hips through first, this loads your leg with elastic energy as it whips through after your hip has rotated.
Technique for a Right RoundHouse Kick
- Plant or rotate your standing foot first (i.e. your left foot for a right roundhouse)
- Drive your right arm backwards for extra momentum & keep your left hand covering your face/chin if possible
- Then drive your hips through using the momentum of your right arm (this usually involves leaning back somewhat)
- Then drive your leg towards your opponent
- Then whip your foot through
I like to imagine the stepping & pivoting as one movement – a relaxed movement
Then the second movement is making contacting, driving into the opponent’s leg/body and extending your hips.
Stay relaxed throughout, think about ‘relaxed speed’ not power.
Relaxation & good mobility is key for an effective striking style.
Although hip mobility is crucial for high kicks, you need good posture and therefore good flexibility to train & drill explosive roundhouse kicks without getting injured.
If you sit down all day at work, or drive a lot, you will need to stretch your hip flexors.
With a hook I tell people to imagine throwing a discus, the hand with the discuss comes through after the hips and shoulders. Same for a hook, and kind of the same for a kick.
– Bend your leg and then extend it before it lands. Some people say not to do this, and to imagine your leg as a baseball bat and kick it straight.
If you pause this video at 38 secs though, you can see Ernesto Hoost bends his leg when he kicks:
- Mix up kicks with the superman punch. Make your opponent expect a kick, then throw a superman punch instead
The roundhouse kick is a great weapon to have in your arsenal, whether it’s for MMA, Thai Boxing or even self defence. Not everyone has a KO punch, but with the correct transfer of weight, you can develop a devastating low leg kick roundhouse that will stop many opponents – especially those who are not used to absorbing the impact.
Disclaimer – You should only kick people who have agreed to it
Random Roundhouse Research
Interesting fact – Foot protectors do not reduce the damage caused (at least to a dummy) by a roundhouse karate kick.
Shin Guards & Foot Guards don’t do Much when Kicked in the Head
Fourteen karate experts punched and kicked the dummy. Accelerometer measurements in the 90- to 120-G range indicated that safety-chops (hand protectors) and safety-kicks (foot padding) did not reduce acceleration of the dummy. Ten-ounce boxing gloves mitigated peak acceleration to some extent. Kicks and punches produced accelerations in the same range.
Shorter Distance Means Greater Kicking Force
Comparisons between distance conditions revealed that taekwondo athletes kicked with higher impact force from short distance