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[EXPLAINED] What Are Leg Kicks & Why Do They Hurt So Much?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Leg kicks or low kicks are a crucial part of Mixed Martial Arts.

A leg kick is when you target either the thighs or calves of your opponent, kicking the meaty part of their leg with your hard shin bone. The goal of leg kicks is to reduce the mobility of your opponent by targeting the common peroneal nerve which is extremely painful.

There are 3 main leg kicks you should be training:

  1. Calf kick
  2. Inside leg kick
  3. Outside leg kick

With leg kicks, strikers can limit the movement of their opponent, making them easier targets to hit.

Grapplers use low-risk leg kicks to set up takedowns.

In this article, I’ll look at:

  1. Why leg kicks hurt so damn much
  2. Why they’re so effective
  3. How to properly do leg kicks
  4. How to block them correctly

ALSO READ: [Explained] Boxing Vs Muay Thai | Which Is Better?

How Do Leg Kicks Work?

Leg kicks work by damaging the leading leg a fighter uses, reducing their ability to move in and out of striking distance. Distance control is an important element of fighting and leg kicks allow you to dictate where the striking game takes place.

Leg kicks require very little effort. So you can use it over and over again without significantly affecting your cardio.

You can also do them from a relatively safe distance, making your opponent think twice about moving in to impose their game.

Leg kicks are great for stringing together combos and opening up striking opportunities to the upper body.

ALSO READ: [Self-Defense Guide] What Fighting Style Is Most Effective?

How Do You Throw A Leg Kick?

You do a leg kick with your hard shin because it transfers force from your momentum into your opponent’s thighs or calves very well. The main thing to focus on when throwing a leg kick is the timing, kicking your opponent’s leg before they have a chance to move or block it with their shin.

A clever fighter will do what they can to avoid or deter your leg kick.

Usually by following up your leg kick attempt with a counter straight-right (or straight-left) of their own.

If your opponent times it right, they’ll catch you as you’re off-balanced and your defenses are down.

What Part of The Shin Do You Kick With?

The best part of your leg to kick with is the middle and lower half of your shin. Using this area of your shin allows you to generate a lot of rotational force when kicking. Using the upper half of the shin to kick might damage your knee if the placement isn’t exactly right.

Another risk of kicking too high on your shin bone is snapping your own leg if your kick is effectively checked (or blocked).

This happens because the weight of your lower shin and foot are still moving with the force of your kick when the upper part is suddenly stopped.

It’s actually happened in competition, most notably to Anderson Silva at UFC 168 when his leg kick was checked by Chris Weidman.


ALSO READ: [Explained] Striking Vs Grappling | Which Is Most Effective?

Why Do You Kick With Your Shin?

Leg kicks are performed with the shin rather than the foot because your shin is more durable. Your feet have many small bones that can easily break or fracture when kicking. By using your hard shin bone, you’re able to inflict more pain while reducing the risk of injury to yourself.

There are 26 fragile bones in your foot, none of which have evolved for kicking.

Your shin, however, only has two strong bones that you’re able to condition over time with training.

The tibia and the fibula.

Muay Thai fighters will condition their legs specifically to strengthen their shin bones for kicking.

Some fighters even show off by chopping down banana trees with nothing but the power they’re able to generate with their kick and well-conditioned shins.

Where Do I Aim My Leg Kicks?

The best place to aim your leg kicks is the soft, meaty parts of the leg. Usually the inside and outside of the thighs and calves. It’s important to avoid kicking the hard bone in your opponent’s knees or shins because this would do more damage to your leg than theirs.

As I mentioned before, there are 3 main types of leg kicks you should learn.

Being able to switch between kicks will keep your opponent guessing.

Let’s look at how you throw each of these in more detail:

How To Throw A Calf Kick

The calf kick is probably the most common leg kick used in MMA.

It’s relatively easy and reduces the amount of weight your opponent can place on the leg.

Here is a great example of how to throw a leg kick by Shane Fazen from fightTIPS:

How To Throw An Inside Leg Kick

The inside leg kick can be extremely painful. Especially if you target the common peroneal nerve just above the knee.

By kicking this nerve, you temporarily lose the ability to bend your ankle which severely impacts your movement.

Forcing your opponent to drag their foot until they’ve recovered, if you give them a chance to.

Here’s a good example of an inside leg kick by The Strikers Lab:

How To Throw An Outside Leg Kick

The outside leg kick is another MMA staple.

By switching between the outside leg kick and kicks to the body, you can keep your opponent guessing.

The defense to both these kicks is quite different, so defending it well is difficult.

Here is the great TJ Dillashaw showing us how to do the popular outside leg kick:

How To Block A Leg Kick?

A leg kick is blocked by lifting your leg and checking it with your shin. By turning your shin to face the attacking leg, you can minimize the damage to your own leg while at the same time hurting your opponent. A good alternative to checking the leg kick is to simply move out of the way.

If your leg kick is checked correctly, it can easily break your leg.

It’s happened a few times in competition and is very gruesome to see.

Here’s TJ Dillashaw doing a demonstration with Onnit on how to check a leg kick:

Are Leg Kicks Painful? What Do They Feel Like?

Leg kicks to the same spot are excruciatingly painful. I’d compare it to a dull, debilitating toothache that’s being poked at each time your opponent kicks it. These sharp pains seem to accumulate each time you’re kicked, which is difficult to recover from.

I remember getting leg kicked for the first time. It was while I was training Muay Thai in Thailand.

It didn’t take much more than 3 solid kicks during a relatively relaxed sparring session to the same spot on my calf and I had to throw in the towel.

After just 3 kicks I had to take a week off from training, living on paracetamol and sporting the telltale limp of a leg that’s seen better days.

Why Do Leg Kicks Hurt So Much?

Leg kicks hurt so much because you’re kicking the soft tissue of the leg repeatedly with the force you can generate with your legs. Kicking where the common peroneal nerve runs through the soft tissue with a hard shin sends a sharp and very unique pain signal to the brain.

Once your calf is radiating with the pain from a low kick, all you can think about is how much it sucks and how best to avoid it at all costs.

Even if it means getting the hell out of the ring.

Until the day I felt a leg kick for myself, I wasn’t yet convinced.

Like many others, I considered leg kicks to simply be a great way of opening up other striking or takedown opportunities.

I never thought leg kicks could actually end a fight!

How To Condition Legs For Leg Kicks?

Conditioning your legs for leg kicks is important for both offense and defense.

Ensuring your shins are strong enough to deal with hard leg kicks could mean the difference between continuing the fight and being out for months to recover from a broken tibia or fibula bone (or both).

Some fighters recommend sparring a lot to condition your legs, but sparring has the added downside of being hit.

So you aren’t able to focus completely on building your bone density through repeated kicking, because you’re also having to defend and use your hands and arms more.

Here are the 3 main ways to condition your legs for leg kicks:

  1. Maintain a healthy diet to get your Vitamin D and Calcium for strong and healthy bones
  2. Kick the heavy-bag to strengthen and improve your shin bone density
  3. Exercise your legs to strengthen surrounding muscles and reinforce shin bones

For more information on conditioning your legs for leg kicks, check out this post on Evolve Vacation’s website.

Are Leg Kicks Effective In Street Fights?

Leg kicks are effective in street fights because they’re perfect for keeping an attacker at a safe distance while inflicting pain with relatively low risk. Leg kicks are easy enough to do and don’t require much energy to execute, so it’s perfect for using repetitively until an attacker is deterred.

In a self-defense situation, your main goal is to keep a safe distance between you and your attacker.

Your first strategy should be to get away from danger as fast as possible.

If getting away isn’t an option, then a great next level of defense is the underrated leg kick.

Once an attacker feels the sting of a leg kick, it might prevent them from pushing any closer.

READ MORE: [Self-Defense Guide] What Fighting Style Is Most Effective?

Can You Break Someone’s Leg With A Kick?

Breaking someone’s leg with a leg kick is very unlikely, you are more likely to break your own leg with a poorly executed leg kick. The most common type of damage you can inflict with a leg kick is the muscles or the nerves running through your opponent’s leg.

Leg kicks are not like a knockout punch, taking out your opponent with one leg kick simply won’t happen.

This is not to say that you can’t end a fight with leg kicks, but this can only happen if you focus on kicking the same spot repeatedly and not let your opponent sufficiently recover.

Here’s a compilation of fight ending leg kicks that I think you might appreciate: