Make your legs strong, powerful and supple

When talking about making your body stronger and powerful, it’s not enough to think only about the much weight you lift and how far or high can you through a medicine ball. 

Producing power and force depends on the size of the muscle, the efficacy of the CNS together with the muscle coordination and the ability of the muscle to produce power and force throughout a different range of motion. 

Using machines in your strength practice allows you to perform the exercises into an isolated, stable environment. This is great if you want to isolate and solely focus on one muscle of you are dealing with an injury. So unless you are a beginner in the strength training or injured, you should stay away from weight machines.

In karate, our lower limbs take a lot of work. They move through various ranges while trying to produce enough force and stability simultaneously. The movent happens in the hip, knee, and ankle joint. And frankly, it happens at the same time, meaning the lack of mobility and flexibility in one joint with reflect on the movement of another.

Body parts are interconnected and function as a whole. Therefore, it should be treated as such. Avoid isolated movements as much as you can, and focus on multi-joint and muscle exercises.

To create a powerful and supple lower body, besides the undisputed back squat and variations of the deadlift, consider implementing these exercises in your strength practice.

Exercises for strong and supple legs

KB swing (one and two arms)

When talking about hip power, KB swing is the first exercise that comes on my mind. In my previous post, I talked about the benefits of using a kettlebell, and how with little creativity, you can make it karate specific.

Have you ever thought of performing KB swings in zekutsu dachi? Have a look how it looks like.

This particular variation of KB swing allows you to load your hips and execute powerful hip hinge movement while moving in Ztnkutsu Dachi, which will result in building powerful glutes and posterior chain. The best part is that the benefit of this exercise is directly transferred to your karate performance. The KB swing might not be karate specific by itself, but putting it in this context, it is.

Kettlebell Swing

Pistol squat 

This is a unilateral movement (such most of karate movements) that does not only help you build powerful legs but it’s doing it by challenging your stability and mobility. This exercise exposes your weaknesses related to hip socket, knee, and ankle joint mobility, or better said, lack of it. 

The pistol squat is easily scalable exercise and can be modified to align and challenge the current physical preparedness. Therefore, you can focus on building endurance (aiming for 12-15 rep) or pure strength (staying in a range of 3-5 rep). The intensity can be easily increased by holding a KB or dumbbell in front of the chest while performing the exercise. If you want to make it easier or harder, a simple modification or additional help will do the job. 

Here are a few exercises you can try today at your practice. 

Pistol Squat

Cossack squat (and variations) 

Never judge an exercise by its funny name. Cossack Squat, while challenging the range of motion in your ankle, hip, and back, helps you build powerful legs.

This lateral movement also helps your hips build dynamic flexibility and lateral stability. What I like about this exercise is that it can be easily used for creating maximal force without too much additional weight (such as back squat or deadlift). 

Cossack Squat

Are you challenged by your lack of mobility while doing these exercises?

Do not get disappointed. You are not alone. From my perspective, I find ankle mobility the most challenging aspect related to successfully exerting these exercises. For me, It’s alway’s been difficult to maintain a low stance (especially Neko Ashi Dachi) and keeping the heel on flat on the ground.

Both Cossack and Pistol squat might pose the same demand. For this reason, I would also like to share some additional mobility exercises you could introduce as part of your practice.

Foot health and plantar/dorsiflexion

Taking carte about your foot and ankle health will allow you to avoid injuries and improve your performance. By ankle health I mean the ability to perform movements with a big range of motion. Imagine moving for one to another stance in kata with out lifting your heel of the ground or being able to get into a low Neko Ashi Dachi.

Here are some exercises that will help you in having supple lower legs.

Roller calf smash

Pistol squat (mobility and support)

Pistol squat with support/ankle and toes mobility exercise

If you are interested in more exercises that could help build a supple body have a look at the resources below.


Book – Ready to Run – Kelly Starrett and T.J. Murphy

Book – Becoming a Supple Leopard – Kelly Starrett

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