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I started taking kung fu lessons from my shifu around 2 months back. However, I have yet to achieve a full 180 degree leg split. When I attempt this, my inner thighs and outer hips hurt a lot. I am able to stretch only to 130 degree, so my kicks do not reach the required height as desired by my teacher.

Overall, my kicks do not feel up to the mark and while holding up my leg, I can feel some stiffness. Also, while attempting a kick, I don't feel the degree of smoothness in the movement that my instructor displays.

How do I make this better? I know that, ultimately, training hard and bearing the pain are the only alternatives. But is there something else I can do to make my kicks more graceful and my stretching more pronounced?

Thank you very much for your help in this regard.

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    You also may have the hip structure which prevents 180 splits, period. The angle of your ball-socket joint may prevent it - there's no way to stretch through your bone contacting bone barrier. You may want to talk to a sports trainer or PT to see if that is the case. In which case, you will know that there is a limit and you can work on other areas of your training instead. – Bankuei Apr 10 '15 at 18:15
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I've covered this briefly in another answer, but splits don't help kicks.

You should, in around 6 weeks be able to achieve your maximum kicking height doing dynamic stretches (leg swings).

Each morning, do between 1 to 3 sets of 10 leg swings to the front, side and back. You don't need to force this or feel pain, just swing until you can't swing any further. If you have correct technique, your ability to kick higher should come very quickly.

You won't however see any improvement in a static split, but you will be able to kick over head height which should please your instructor.

If you choose to do splits anyway, goblet squats/front squats as deep as you can will help strengthen your legs in the split position. If done correctly, an increase in the width of these squats will result in a split (a very wide squat is a split after all).

Go to www.stadion.com for references, particularly http://www.stadion.com/flexibility-express/ for splits and http://www.stadion.com/power-high-kicks-with-no-warm-up/ for high kicks.

Both advocate deep squats.

As an aside, I don't train anymore, but can still, at any time kick above head height as a result of the dynamic stretching I used to do. My ability to do a split has diminished however as my strength has declined, it takes me about 3 to 4 weeks of strength training to get back into a reasonable split. I say this as dynamic stretching will be far more useful to you in training and in future than being able to do a split.

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Your master has been doing this stuff for several years (hopefully), so obviously he'll look better at it. It took me a good 6 months to be able to kick above my head and 2 years before I could do a full split. That didn't stop me from being successful in Taekwondo.

You need more than just flexibility for high kicks though. You also need strong core muscles, especially your abs and obliques. Do some crunches (front and side). And do some rows to strengthen your back muscles too while you're at it.

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FWIW, after struggling similarly (and being given many different stretches and training methods to "fix" it) I had an MRI done and found out that my hips are formed in such a way that it is essentially impossible for me to kick above the mid-section from the side. No amount of training could ever overcome this. The only way to fix it would be to have my hip surgically reshaped. It was incredibly frustrating at the time, but now that I know I can focus on techniques that are within my abilities instead of just injuring myself over and over. I'm not sure what style you are studying but I've found that southern styles tend to play to my skill set more than the northern styles (obviously a broad generalization with many exceptions).

Unfortunately, a lot of the martial arts movies give the impression that torturing yourself is the only way to learn "true" martial arts, but that's rarely the case in reality. Finding the balance between pushing yourself and unnecessarily hurting yourself is really difficult, but extremely important.

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  • Oh I see! Thank you for your answer. I might want to go and check up for myself as well. – MathMan Jun 5 '15 at 3:26
  • That is interesting. I would like to see your technique as I never heard of a limitation like this. – Matt Jul 23 '15 at 18:40
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Trying to achieve a full split in just two months is an optimistic goal; I would expect it to take longer.

my inner thighs and outer hips pain a lot.

Immediately I would make a distinction between discomfort and pain. You should feel discomfort, but if you are feeling pain then you need to stop and re-evaluate what you are doing.
Having discomfort in your inner thighs should be expected because you are stretching the groin adductor muscles. I would be careful about experiencing discomfort or pain in the hips - you might have a physiological problem that will impinge on your stretching.

What your Sifu probably hasn't told you is that some people will never achieve a full split no matter how hard they train. You can achieve muscle flexibility but you cannot stretch away physiological limitations.

Overall, my kicks do not feel up to the mark and while holding up my leg, I can feel some stiffness.

To be honest, I would not place much importance on that because holding a kick up or out is an artificial action that you would not do in a real situation. While holding the kick during training can help improve balance and ligament strength, it has very little benefit otherwise. The awkwardness you feel while doing this can also be a result of muscle mass; if your Sifu is only 50kg (110 lb), he will be able to hold his leg out/up a lot easier than someone who is 100kg (220lb).

I know that ultimately training hard...

You should warm up thoroughly before stretching and you also need to remember that stretching damages the muscles, so you need to allow recovery time between stretching sessions (just like you do if you are weight training). Once you attain flexibility, you then need to maintain it, otherwise you will gradually lose it.

Don't forget to read the other stretching related questions.

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I know this is an old question but I'm relatively new to this site and thought I could help.

I can do a 180 degree split if it's front to back but it's still at times difficult to kick an opponent in the head with a roundhouse. What has helped me, believe it or not, is yoga, specifically a pose called pigeon. Pigeon pose
(source: co.uk)

What this does is help get a deep stretch into your hip flexors which will help with kicking height. When fighting I now find it easier to get in a head kick and significantly easier to hit that all important liver kick. You can make the stretch even deeper by leaning down on your forearms on the ground once you feel the pull in your muscle. Hope this helps. Good luck

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  • Sorry, static stretching isn't going to really help kicking height. Dynamic stretching will, static stretching will get you better at static stretching. You probably find it easier to get into a head kick because you've been practicing head kicks (dynamic movement) as opposed to any significant gains from static stretching. However, I think that this is a great exercise to do at the end of a class to help recovery so I have upped it. – Matt Jun 16 '15 at 5:09
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Full split in 2 months? Don't be so hard on yourself, it can take years. Then consider, is there really ever a need in a combat situation to kick that high? Seems like a flowery waste of energy to me.

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  • If you are strong enough, 2 months is plenty of time (if a person is weak, then yes it would take some additional time to build the strength). But this is with only proper split training technique. Although to your point, I personally wouldn't use in a combat situation (even though I can easily kick head height) and it really is for the classroom and certain tournaments in my opinion. – Matt Jun 16 '15 at 5:05

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