One of the main tenets linking the various disciplines of martial arts together is the idea that we all have a “center” from which our energy and power flow. Located deep within our core, it’s where a martial artist accesses their chi — the life force and vitality that exists within every living creature.
While the concept of chi very much involves the spiritual, the idea that we all derive power from the center of our bodies is also very practical — because our center of gravity is, physically and kinesiologically speaking, the key to generating movement.
“The stronger and more explosively powerful our lower bodies are, the easier it is to accomplish all the actions we take each day, anything from climbing a staircase to picking up our toddlers, as well as in times of duress, being able to deliver a devastating kick to a would-be attacker,” says Teri Jory , Los Angeles–based personal trainer, professional ice skater, fourth-degree black belt and creator of the Poise method. “Having a strong, stable lower body that can generate high-speed power in a flash is an incredible feeling.”
To help harness that incredible feeling for yourself and conjure your own sense of chi, try Jory’s lower-body workout, designed to help you get stronger, faster and more centered.
Warm up with 50 to 100 heel and toe raises on a stair or platform, followed by either jumping rope for two minutes or 300 jumping jacks.
For heel raises, place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes on the edge of the stair and your heels hanging off the edge. With your arms at your sides, on your hips, or holding onto the banister or wall, maintain an upright posture as you raise your heels as high as you can, then lower them back down to a full stretch.
For toe raises, turn around so your heels are on the edge of the stair and your toes are hanging off the edge. With your knees slightly bent, arms again at your sides, on your hips, or holding onto the banister or wall, raise your toes as high as you can, then lower them.Exercise Sets Reps Roundhouse Kick 3 8 slow/20 fast (per side) Front Kick 3 8 slow/20 fast (per side) Split Squat Jump 3 8-20 Swiss-Ball Glute Bridge – superset with – Swiss-Ball Hamstring Curl 2 — 2 6 — 10-20
Equipment: None needed, although you can use a heavy bag
Teri’s Take: “Roundhouse kicks increase your explosive power, strength and speed. They work the hip flexors and quads as you ‘chamber’ the kicking leg, and during the kick, the lower-leg muscles engage to straighten and re-chamber. While balancing on the standing leg, you are engaging the core.”
How-To: Assume a “fighting stance” — start with your feet parallel to one another and shoulder-width apart, and then step back with one foot while keeping the other forward, with the toes of your back foot set at a 2 o’clock position. Keep your knees loose, your elbows bent to protect your chest, and your hands closed into a fist and raised in front of your chin, which should be down as your eyes face forward.
From the fighting stance, you’ll practice kicking the air (or a heavy bag, if you prefer that and you have one available). The steps are below, although keep in mind that you’ll want to work on doing them all in one fluid motion:
Repeat eight times slowly, then 20 times quickly with each leg.
Equipment: None needed
Teri’s Take: “Front kicks work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and core, increasing explosive power, strength and speed. It is easy to learn — and a great self-defense tool if directed at an attacker’s groin or knee.”
How-To: Assume a fighting stance as described above for the roundhouse kick. For these, instead of pivoting into the kick, you’ll bring your back leg straight forward. Drive up with your back-leg knee while generating power from your core, bringing it forward. Balancing on your plant foot, you’ll snap your lower leg, contacting the bottom of the bag with your shoelaces (or if kicking the air, picture contacting the groin area of an attacker). Bend that knee and bring the leg back to return to the fighting position.
Repeat eight times slowly, then 20 times quickly with each leg.
Equipment: Possibly two 5- to 8-pound dumbbells, if desired
Teri’s Take: “ Split squat jumps help to improve conditioning, flexibility and endurance because of the muscular coordination required. The split squat jump targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves — it’s especially helpful for building up the muscular structure that supports the knee.”
How-To: Get into a lunge position by taking a big step forward with your right foot and lower your hips down toward the floor as you bend your front knee. Your back (left) leg should be stretched out behind you, knee elevated off the floor and balanced on your toes.
Your torso should remain upright. From this position, you’ll drive up powerfully through your legs to jump straight upward, getting high enough off the floor to switch legs midair and land softly in the opposite lunge position, left leg forward and right leg back. Lower your hips and immediately reverse direction into the next rep.
Repeat for eight to 20 jumps total.
“A good rule of thumb is to be able to complete five to six repetitions with control before adding weight via dumbbells,” Jory adds.
Equipment: Swiss ball
Teri’s Take: “Your glutes are among the strongest muscles in your body, and when they work in conjunction with your hamstrings, they act to stabilize and extend your hips. Training both muscle groups, as you do with this superset, will help you lift more weight, run faster and jump higher over time, thereby increasing your explosive power, strength and speed.”
Repeat for 6 reps.
How-To: Lie faceup, arms by your sides with your palms turned down toward the floor, legs up and bent 90 degrees with a Swiss ball under your heels.
Place the bottom of your feet on top of the ball, rolling the ball toward your glutes and, engaging your lats and core for stabilization, drive through your heels to raise your hips into the air until they are aligned with your torso while your head, shoulders and upper back remain in contact with the floor. Hold that position for a two- or three-count, then slowly reverse to lower your glutes down to the floor.
Repeat for six reps total.
How-To: On the final rep of the glute bridge, keep your hips high — don’t lower them to the floor — and straighten your legs, rolling the ball away from you. The ball will start in contact with the bottom of your feet but remain in contact with only your heels at full extension. Maintaining control of your body and the ball, slowly bend your knees to roll the ball back underneath your glutes.
Repeat for 10 to 20 reps in total.