Everybody who trains Muay Thai wants rock hard shins that feel no pain.
But conditioning your shins to that level doesn’t come easy. It’s a long and challenging process.
In this post, I will discuss the benefits of shin conditioning for Muay Thai, show you the best methods to follow, and warn you away from silly mistakes that could lead to injury.
- Why do you need to condition your shins for Muay Thai?
- How to condition your shins
- Which methods to avoid
Why do you need to condition your shins for Muay Thai?
The shins play a vital role in Muay Thai.
They are in constant use during fighting, and can be used with devastating effect when you land kicks into your opponents’ legs, body or head.
They are also a sturdy defensive tool when used to block incoming kicks.
Their only weakness is that they are very sensitive.
If you’ve just started training Muay Thai, you’ll have probably left training with sore shins from just kicking leather pads.
The process of shin conditioning aims to strengthen the bones and reduce sensitivity of the nerves around them – it doesn’t kill the nerves as many people mistakenly think.
How does shin conditioning work?
Nerves – when you take an impact to the shin, the attached nerves send signals to your brain, and that’s how you feel pain. If you take repeated impacts to the shin, the nerves become gradually desensitised and start sending weaker signals to the brain, reducing the amount of pain you feel.
Bones – Impact to the shin also causes micro fractures in the bone itself. With rest and recovery, these micro fractures heal and calcify which increase the mass of the front of the shin, making them bigger and tougher. Similar to how muscles tear and grow in body building.
How to condition your shins
The following methods are safe and effective ways of conditioning your shins.
I have used them over the years to condition my shins, and I’ve watched many coaches and fighters do the same.
Be aware that you will not get rock hard shins overnight – it will take a few months to see results, so be patient.
Kicking the heavy bag
The number one way to condition your shins is by simply kicking the heavy bag… a lot
Jump on the heavy bag and throw repeated kicks at it hard and fast.
You could try 50 left kicks followed by 50 right kicks
100 left followed by 100 right
Or you could do alternate left and right kicks 100 times
Try to kick a heavy bag at least 2 or 3 times a week for best results, and leave at least one day between sessions to allow for rest and recovery.
This may seem a bit simple, but it’s the most widely used and effective way of conditioning your shins.
Sparring is a controlled simulation of a fight, so it’s a great way to condition the shins to the kind of knocks they will take in a real fight.
When your kicks get blocked by your opponents’ shins (and sometimes knees) it can be quite painful when you first start out.
But as you spar more regularly the shins will condition and you will find those connections don’t hurt as much after a few months of training.
Sparring with gear – For beginner to intermediate level you should always be sparring in full gear – at least mouth guard, gloves, groin guard and shin guards. Even with thick a decent pair of shin guards, you will still condition your shins through sparring – trust me, I’ve had the bruises to prove it!
Sparring without gear – If you step up your training to intermediate/advanced level, you can spar without gear. But I must stress that no-gear sparring is not the same is sparring with gear; it’s very light and you shouldn’t be trying to kick the life out of each other. It’s about moving around each other technically an trying to work light combos, and getting a feel for shin to shin contact.
Ok, so this tip might come as a bit of shock, but numerous studies have shown that resistance training such as weight-lifting can increase bone density. And denser bones mean stronger bones.
Being stronger will also help with your all round Muay Thai game so it pays to work strength training into your routine anyway.
So what exercises can you do to increase bone density?
Squats – The humble squat is a great exercise for developing leg, core and back strength, it can be performed with or without weights.
Lunges – Grab a couple of dumbbells and perform forward, reverse or side lunges to work the muscles and improve bone density.
Box jumps – Jumping up onto a box or set of stairs is a great way to train leg strength and gain explosive power.
Tip: When lifting weights for Muay Thai, don’t go too heavy because you don’t want to develop a bulky body builder type physique – you want to be lean, quick and agile. Focus on lower weights with a higher rep range (15-20 reps)
Jogging should be a staple part of your Muay Thai training to improve your cardio health and build stamina.
But it also has the added bonus of increasing bone density over time as the body’s response to pounding the pavement.
If you are just starting out jogging, begin with short light runs and build the distance gradually. Trying to run a marathon right away will be a shock to the system and will cause injury.
Rest and recover
One of the most overlooked parts of shin conditioning is rest and recovery.
The bones and tissue need time to repair, so you need to take adequate periods of rest between training sessions.
For example, if you do a big shin conditioning session on the heavy bag tonight, don’t do it again first thing in the morning – give your shins a day or two to repair.
Also, make sure you get plenty of sleep every night, that’s when the body does most of it’s repair and growth.
Nourish your shins
Nutrition is another area of shin conditioning that doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s very important.
If you don’t provide the body with the right nutrients to repair and build the bones, the micro-fractures will not be able to repair and you will end up doing more harm than good.
Calcium is the building block of bone tissue and vitamin D helps the body to absorb and process the calcium. (There’s more detail about this on Web MD)
Calcium can be found in milk, nuts and leafy greens, whereas as vitamin D can be found in fish, egg yolk and from absorbing sun light.
Bone development supplements
Whilst a healthy balanced diet will provide you with a sufficient level of vitamin D and calcium for everyday life, it’s important to remember that you need more than the average person when conditioning your shins.
To top up your vitamin D and calcium levels, you can also take some fairly cheap supplements to ensure your bones have sufficient fuel to repair properly.
These are a couple that I have used in the past during periods where I was training more heavily than usual.
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If your shins are feeling particularly sore after a conditioning session, the best thing to do is get some ice inside a towel and hold on the affected area for half an hour or so.
I believe the science behind this is that the cold causes blood to rush to the area, which speeds up the healing process – I’m not 100% sure on that but I know it helps to ease the pain.
You can also apply some tiger balm to the affected area afterwards, it’s an excellent pain reliever for all kinds of pain, and handy to have around for muscle strains that are common with Muay Thai. Most fighters keep a small tub in their gym bag.
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Which shin conditioning methods you should avoid
Now that I’ve shown you the correct and safe ways to condition your shins, I want to highlight some of the things you should avoid.
There are a lot of really silly myths surrounding shin conditioning, and lots of people giving bad advice online which could lead to serious injury.
Here’s what you should avoid.
Kicking solid objects
Some people believe that kicking rock hard objects like trees, tables, doors, lamp posts etc. is the quickest way to conditioned shins.
They are wrong.
It’s the quickest way to a broken leg.
Thanks to films like Kickboxer with Van Damme, many of us have been led to believe that you can kick through a tree without injuring yourself.
In the real world, kicking solid objects leads to injury.
Rolling bars on your shin
Similar to kicking solid objects, rolling sharp objects on your shin is likely to cause injury, plus you are not getting any technique training benefits from it, like you would from kicking a bag for example.
Shin conditioning for Muay Thai
Hopefully this guide has given you everything you need to know about shin conditioning for Muay Thai.
The most important point to take home is that shin conditioning is a long and slow progress that will take months.
Be patient, don’t take short cuts, and don’t do anything stupid that might cause an injury and prevent you from walking for a while.