Get Your Kicks

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One definition of excellence is the ability to make a difficult task look easy. Professional soccer players are a perfect example of this. With what appears to be a quick flick of their foot, they can send a ball 60 yards downfield and place it on top of a postage stamp. Like most actions in sports, this deceptively simple move is actually a complex process of multiple bodyparts working in perfect conjunction. The key to a powerful kick is not determined just by quadriceps strength, although that is a factor, but is more about using your nonkicking leg, core and even arms to generate maximum power.

Working from the ground up, here are six simple biomechanical tips to put some horsepower into your kick.

The Kicking Foot: “If you want to talk about straight-out power, everything is going to come from the strike point on your foot, which should be around your first metatarsal, which is where your big toe begins,” says Mateus Manoel, MS, CSCS, head fitness coach for Sporting Kansas City (the Major League Soccer franchise formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards.) This is typically where the shoelaces begin, too, so striking the ball with the laces on your shoe is an easy trick to remember.

The Kicking Knee: Just like a boxer wants his elbow as close to completely straight as possible at the moment he connects with a punch, you want your knee as straight as possible at the instant you strike the ball.

The Plant Leg: As you approach the ball, plant the nonkicking leg one foot away and directly to the side of the ball. It should stay slightly bent.

The Hips: With any swing sport, such as baseball or golf, the hips are incredibly important for generating power. As you cock back to kick, your plant-leg hip should externally rotate, meaning the thigh will turn slightly outward. This is what creates that opening position in your hips, Manoel says. As you come through to connect with the ball, your hips will be close to being back to neutral, and then as you strike the ball and push through, your plant-leg hip will internally rotate, turning your thigh inward.

The Upper Body: Assuming you are right-footed, bring your left arm up and away from your body when you approach the ball, as if you’re doing a chest flye. As you strike the ball, your left arm comes across your body and ends up almost touching your right hip at follow-through. “You’re cocked back, your left chest is stretched out, your right hip is stretched out, and as you kick and follow through, your leg is going to come across your body and your arm is going to come across your body,” Manoel says. “You basically create a rubber band from your left hand to your right toe.”

Strength Training: When creating workout programs for his players, Manoel tends to shy away from machines and stick to big multi-joint moves — like the squat and lunge — that hit a lot of muscles at one time. Because his athletes need to build lateral strength, he prescribes a lot of lateral lunges, crossover lunges and multi-planar lunges. He also focuses heavily on moves that develop trunk power, such as cable woodchoppers on the cable machine and explosive medicine-ball throws.