I've recently started karate again after a ~5 year haitus, and I am getting pains everywhere, which was expected. These are ok, but there are two that I find concerning.

  1. Pain in back of knee when performing mae geri. This happens when I perform the movement fast, on the snap-back. I think it has something to do with hamstrings. It is a sharp pain.
  2. Pain in outer-hips when performing mawashi geri. This happens at any speed, and the pain arises whenever I am raising my knee to prepare for the snap. I think it has something to do with my hip rotation. It is not a sharp pain, but a dull, almost fatigued one.

Is there any exercises I can do to strengthen these areas of my legs? I know that in the meantime I will need to take it slow and stretch everything, so that my body can readapt to karate.

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    Welcome to the site. This might be the first example of a medical question that I do not want to trash immediately: It is focused, does not ask for medical advise, and seeks technical advise based on martial arts. Thank you. Feb 7, 2018 at 9:18
  • Yes, sorry, I missed the end of the last sentence accidentally. And thank you for the compliment, but I thought these were the standard rules of SE
    – Doc
    Feb 7, 2018 at 10:34
  • Very few new users pay any attentions whatsoever to the help center or standard rules… Feb 7, 2018 at 10:48
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    Recovery is every bit as important as stretching.
    – slugster
    Feb 7, 2018 at 10:50
  • I see. I'm coming from the maths SE which seems a much stricter on their standards. Thanks I am trying to recover, and train once every 3-4 days, with some cardio/stretching/light bag work in between. Problem is that I'm rapidly becoming addicted to karate and I want to train every day again
    – Doc
    Feb 7, 2018 at 13:20

2 Answers 2


I would add, per your details, you should focus on warming up. You didn't say if you warmed up, and you didn't say when you stretched or how you stretch - the devil is always in the details. So perhaps you are warming up; but stretching cold muscles, or using the wrong stretches, is a disaster in the making and often contributes to pain during or after working out.

Your warmup should never, ever, (ever, ever, ever) consist of static stretching. I see so many people arrive for Taekwondo classes, plop themselves on the floor, then go into static stretches consisting of butterflies, hurdler stretches, and splits. Then they go into the ballistic stretches by kicking as high as they can. This is just as dangerous as going into a workout without properly warming up. The only time you might want to start your workout with a static stretch is when you are doing active static stretches your doctor might have ordered as you are on the mend from an injury; but then, your workout will be mild anyway. And still, there is no excuse for not warming up before that anyway. Tom Kurz (see link) and others will eventually have you go into your workout cold (no stretching, no warmup), but there is a science to it unrelated to your question, so I'll leave it at that.

Also, folks in traditional Karate don't really need nearly as much flexibility as we do in contemporary Taekwondo, because, Karate isn't about kicking high. You didn't say what the focus of your classes are like, and if your kicking has you doing them at or near your maximum range of motion, as that could be an indicator you're kicking too high for your conditioning and that you need to focus on more warmup and possibly less stretching.

Kids might not need to warm up much because they're usually active during the day anyway, but we adults often find our jobs (or college) leads to a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, and so, we should be sure we get a strong warm-up before working out. How much warm up depends on your current conditioning, perhaps a doctor can help here. But anything that gets the blood, breathing, and relevant muscles moving faster for several minutes would be the goal.

For me, in my 50's, I circumnavigate the parking lot to my Taekwondo and Aikido schools, both have large ones I walk around. I get there 30 mins early, walk the lot, then go in and do some dynamic stretching (not ballistic, and not static).

If I'm particularly warmed up from soccer practice that afternoon, or I know that I won't be doing high kicks, I might ask a partner to help with PNF / isometric exercises, which are workouts in of themselves.

One caution: whenever you do serious muscle workouts involving calf or thigh, you should be doing static stretches at the end of your workout; this helps alleviate aches the next day, which typically results from a buildup of lactic acid. The quad and calf statics can help squeeze the lactic acid out, and minimize build up which makes you ache later on.

And after any serious kicking, you should give at least a day's rest - no activity except dynamic stretches. This day of rest is how the body heals and is where your flexibility increases.

I find Tom Kurz's materials a great resource on dynamic stretching not only for increasing flexibility, but also for general health and maintenance overall.

Stadion Publishing

Alternatively, you might find PNF more suitable for your lifestyle. Here's a good and recent article on the subject:

PNF Stretching: A How-To Guide

There are tons of articles on both dynamic and isometric stretching, and some even conflict, and many don't agree on what ballistic or dynamic stretching are, so be careful what you read. Tom Kurz does go into anatomy, which is a great way to understand why one kind of stretching is good or bad over another kind, and with that understanding, you can more easily navigate another author's idea of what they mean with the various kinds of stretching.

  • Just a minor point - Ballistic stretching is the bobbing type stretching where you bounce up and down in the stretch multiple times. Dynamic stretching is the type that mimics the movements you are going to start doing. Doing high kicks would be dynamic, not ballistic. (And should be done in increasing amplitude, but as you say, peeps walk in and start kicking away...)
    – JohnP
    Feb 9, 2018 at 17:45
  • Yes... sort of. Ballistic means to use momentum to move the body part (ie, the leg). Dynamic means to use the muscle to carry the leg. Dynamic is always safe, never needs rest periods, and can be used while recovering from being on the mend: it IS your normal workout. Ballistic is like using kinetic energy, while dynamic is like using potential energy. stadion.com/…
    – Andrew Jay
    Feb 9, 2018 at 20:33
  • No, I mean that ballistic, dynamic, static and pnf are actual kinesiology terms for types of stretching. While mostly contraindicated, ballistic (bouncing repeatedly while stretching) does have a few uses. Dynamic is an entirely different method, and is what you are describing.
    – JohnP
    Feb 10, 2018 at 1:35

TL; DR; - Stronglifts 5x5 and therapy devices.

A slight bit of anatomy first.

There are several muscles and tendons running through the back of the knee area (As well as ligaments). The heads of the gastrocnemius (Calf muscle) originate from the condyles of the femur (Lower part of femur just above knee, inside and outside of leg). There is also the plantaris muscle, and the tendons for the hamstrings run through here as well. Any one of these could be causing that pain.

The pain in the outer hips (You don't mention if it is bilateral i.e. both sides or not) could be any number of muscles/tendons, but since you mention it as a dull ache, I would suspect it is the IT (Iliotibial) band, which runs almost directly down alongside the outside leg before crossing in lower down. This is a common overuse area, as it tends to rub over/back on the hip and get inflamed.

A sharp pain is usually indicative of a fresh, happening now kind of injury while a dull ache is more of a long term thing.

Without getting into a possible injury and mechanics, what you want to do is work the strength through the lower leg, as well as flexibility. Calf raises, squats, deadlifts, leg curls are going to be your mainstay exercises. To start, I would highly recommend a program such as Stronglifts 5x5 for overall body strengthening. It hits the major muscle groups, and is a very good beginner styled lifting regimen. Combine this with your stretching. For the lateral hips, you can add lateral leg raises, lateral raises with an exercise band, or they make machines that you can do lateral weight "raises" on.

I would also recommend getting The Stick and a foam roller, as they really work to help break up muscle knots and release tight fascia (Which can also be a proximate pain cause).

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