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Breaking Through Plateaus: Advanced Techniques for Improving Side Kick Flexibility

As a Taekwondo master and psychologist, I understand the importance of breaking through plateaus in training to reach the next level of performance. One of the most challenging areas to improve in Taekwondo is side kick flexibility. However, with the right techniques and mindset, anyone can break through this plateau and achieve greater flexibility in their side kicks.

The side kick is a fundamental technique in Taekwondo, and it requires a great deal of flexibility to execute correctly. Without proper side kick flexibility, students may struggle with balance, power, and accuracy. Therefore, it’s crucial to improve side kick flexibility to enhance overall performance and progress in Taekwondo.

Common Plateaus in Side Kick Flexibility

Many students experience plateaus when trying to improve their side kick flexibility. They may reach a certain point where their progress seems to stall, and they struggle to achieve greater flexibility. Some common plateaus include:

  • Inability to lift the leg to the desired height.
  • Difficulty holding the leg in place.
  • Limited range of motion in the hip joint.
  • Tightness in the hamstrings or groin muscles.

Advanced Techniques for Breaking Through Plateaus

To break through plateaus in side kick flexibility, students must adopt advanced techniques that challenge their bodies and minds. Here are some advanced techniques that can help improve side kick flexibility:

  1. Static Stretching

Static stretching is a technique that involves holding a stretch in a stationary position for a prolonged period. This technique can help improve flexibility by elongating muscles and increasing blood flow. Students can use static stretching to target specific muscles in the hip joint, hamstrings, and groin to improve side kick flexibility. Should be used after warming up but best used at the end of a workout.

  1. Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves using movement to warm up and stretch the muscles. This technique can help improve flexibility by increasing range of motion and promoting blood flow to the muscles. Students can use dynamic stretching to prepare for side kicks by incorporating leg swings, lunges, and hip rotations into their warm-up routine. Should be done in the beginning of a workout. Best used as part of the beginning warmup exercises. Usually one set of 10 leg swings forward, to the back and to the side should suffice. Sometimes, its helpful to do a second set of 10 to work your way up to your maximum range of motion, especially on those cold winter days.

  1. Resistance Training

Resistance training involves using weights or resistance bands to challenge the muscles and increase strength. This technique can help improve side kick flexibility by targeting the muscles used in the kick, such as the hip flexors and abductors. Students can use resistance training to build strength and increase flexibility in these muscles. Here are a couple of resistance exercises that can help improve your side kicks:

  • Side lunges: Side lunges are a fundamental exercise for enhancing the strength, flexibility, and balance required for Taekwondo side kicks. Incorporating this exercise into your training regimen can significantly improve your kicking technique. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform side lunges effectively:
    • Step 1: Starting Position
      • Stand tall with your feet together.
      • Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and gaze forward.
    • Step 2: Stepping Out
      • Take a wide step to the side with your right leg.
      • Ensure your toes are pointing forward.
    • Step 3: Lunging
      • Shift your weight onto your right leg, bending the right knee while keeping the left leg straight.
      • Lower your body until the right thigh is parallel to the floor.
      • Keep your right knee aligned with your right foot, avoiding extending it past your toes.
    • Step 4: Core Engagement
      • Engage your core muscles to maintain balance and stability.
      • Keep your upper body upright and avoid leaning forward.
    • Step 5: Return to Starting Position
      • Push off with your right leg to return to the starting position.
      • Repeat the movement on the left side.
    • Tips for Maximizing Effectiveness of Side Lunges
      • Perform 8-12 repetitions on each side.
      • Focus on controlled, steady movements.
      • Breathe out as you lunge and in as you return to the starting position.
      • Gradually increase the depth of your lunge as your flexibility improves.
  • Side Kicks: Practicing side kicks against the wall or holding on to a chair or balance bar can be extremely helpful to not only improving side kick strength but also technique.
    • Step 1: Starting Position
      • Stand against the wall or balance bar and hold the wall/bar with your right hand.
      • Rotate your right foot so that your right foot’s toes are facing the wall. Keep about 2-3 feet distance from wall.
      • Lift your left knee into a side kick chamber position.
      • Make sure that your torso is upright and your chin, shoulders, hip and heel of kicking and standing foot are all in a straight line.
    • Step 2: Kicking
      • Extend your side kick and hold. Hold can be anywhere from one second to a minute depending on level of intensity desired.
      • Make sure that you tilt your torso back towards the wall as your extend your side kick. Maintain your chin all the way down to heels in a straight line as your extend your side kick.
      • Rechamber kick & repeat. Try not to rest your foot on the floor for extra intensity.
      • Try one to three sets of 10-25 repetitions.
    • Variations
      • Kick and hold as mentioned above but hold for one minute and then switch legs after each hold. Try 3 sets of 1minute holds on each side.
      • Kick once and pump. Pump your leg up and down ideally near your maximum range of motion/height of kick. Try 3 sets of 10-50 pumps each leg. 
  1. Mental Visualization

Mental visualization involves imagining performing a side kick with perfect form and technique. This technique can help improve flexibility by strengthening the mind-body connection and increasing confidence. Students can use mental visualization to overcome mental barriers and break through plateaus in their side kick flexibility.

Mental visualization is a powerful tool for athletes, enhancing muscle memory and confidence in their techniques. Here’s a brief mental visualization exercise tailored for improving Taekwondo side kicks:

  • Step 1: Find a Quiet Space
    • Choose a quiet, comfortable space where you can relax without interruptions.
    • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Step 2: Deep Breathing
    • Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths.
    • Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
    • Focus on your breathing to clear your mind and relax your body.
  • Step 3: Visualizing the Setting
    • Imagine yourself in a familiar training environment, such as your dojang or gym.
    • Visualize the mats, mirrors, and any other details that make the space familiar.
  • Step 4: Starting Position
    • Picture yourself standing in a ready stance, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hands up in guard position.
    • Feel the stability and balance in your stance.
  • Step 5: Executing the Side Kick
    • Visualize lifting your kicking leg, chambering your kick towards the target.
    • See yourself extending your leg powerfully, foot flexed, striking the target with the blade of your foot.
    • Imagine the control and precision in your movements.
  • Step 6: Impact and Retraction
    • Feel the impact as your foot connects with the target.
    • Visualize retracting your leg smoothly, returning to your ready stance.
  • Step 7: Reflection and Repetition
    • Reflect on the sensation of power, balance, and accuracy in your kick.
    • Repeat the visualization several times, focusing on refining each aspect of the kick.
    • Repeat in similar sets and repetitions you would do in the dojang. Usually sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Step 8: Returning to Reality 
    • Gradually bring your awareness back to the present.
    • Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes when you’re ready.

Practicing this mental visualization regularly can enhance the neurological pathways associated with executing a Taekwondo side kick, leading to improved performance and confidence. Remember, mental training is as important as physical training in martial arts.


Breaking through plateaus in side kick flexibility is essential for improving overall performance and progress in Taekwondo. By adopting advanced techniques such as static and dynamic stretching, resistance training, and mental visualization, students can challenge their bodies and minds to achieve greater flexibility in their side kicks. With dedication, persistence, and the right mindset, anyone can break through plateaus and reach the next level of performance in Taekwondo.

Written by AI & Reviewed by Clinical Psychologist and Head Coach: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D.

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