Have you ever seen the gruesome leg and shin injuries that have happened to the likes of Conor McGregor, Paul George, Anderson Silva, and Chris Weidman in their respective careers in basketball and martial arts? If so, you should know that shin conditioning is one of the most important aspects to consider when engaging in intense physical activities, most especially combat sports that involve striking such as Muay Thai. On the flip side, we have people like Buakaw who has rock-hard shins and can absolutely destroy banana trees on a daily basis.
In this guide, we will walk you through all you need to know about Muay Thai shin conditioning from what science has to say about it to all the different methods to improve your shin's capacity to dish out some pain and to absorb pain. If you want to learn about shin conditioning (Muay Thai), then keep on reading!
What Science Has to Say About Shin Conditioning for the Sport of Muay Thai
1. Understanding the Shin
The shin bone, or known more technically as the tibia, is the larger bone found in each lower leg right next to the fibula (the smaller bone). Both the tibia and the fibula serve as the "structure" or "support" that connects our feet to our knees and the rest of our body.
When executing certain kicking techniques, it is the shin bone (tibia) that receives the brunt of the impact and, without proper conditioning or execution of technique (or simply a misplaced contact or collision point), a Muay Thai fighter may exhibit signs of injury to the nerves or injury to the bone itself.
Unfortunately, the shin area (or lower leg) has a relatively small amount of skin tissue and muscle fibers wrapped around it, which is why the area can easily get cut, bruised, and damaged, more particularly in combat sports such as Muay Thai.
This is why, in understanding the shin, we must learn more about bone density and, more importantly, Wolff's Law.
2. Bone Density, Explained
In a study on the effects of progressive resistance training on overall bone density, it was discovered that weight-bearing exercises, whether it be in the nature of bodyweight training or weightlifting, can provide a so-called mechanical stimulus that can lead to the maintenance and improvement of bone health.
This study examined around 20 research submissions and established that there is a direct and positive relationship between resistance training and the density of the bones. However, it was also determined that there were a handful of studies that stated that there was no significant effect on the density of the bones (but this may be due to the design of these particular studies leading to different results).
Bone density is an important concept to understand because, as mentioned earlier, it is the shin bone (or tibia) that absorbs the damage. Therefore, if you would like to understand shin conditioning from a theoretical standpoint, you must familiarize yourself with ways to increase bone density, adopt weight training, and understand microfractures and bone tissue.
3. Wolff's Law
Wolff's Law, developed in the 1800s by a German anatomist named Julius Wolff, proposed that the state of a bone in a healthy being can and will adapt to the loads under which it is subjected to.
If a particular set of bones receives a particular stimulus or "load," then said bones will eventually grow stronger and adapt in order to resist that form of stimulus or load.
This is exactly what conditioning your shins is all about. If you want to have rock-hard shins like Buakaw or avoid injuries that have happened to great fighters like Anderson Silva, then your Muay Thai training must involve actions that increase bone density.
The Benefits of Shin Conditioning for Muay Thai
Here are a few tips and advantages to the process of strengthening shins in the sport of Muay Thai:
More Powerful Kicks
The pain and suffering will all be worth it in the long run once you are capable of delivering a ferocious, fight-ending leg kick to your opponent to advance to the next stage of the competition.
In improving the condition and integrity of your shins, your in-ring "dance partner" will be at the mercy of your destructive kicks. Plus, you will have the confidence to execute any powerful kick knowing that you have conditioned your shins properly.
Better Leg Checks
Having shin guards on could only do so much during those intense sparring sessions. If you are faced with an opponent who is aggressive with their low kicks and body kicks, your only course of action would be to raise your shin to meet their shin to dissuade them from throwing any more kicks.
Once your shins are properly conditioned, you will have opponents reeling from the pain of every kick they throw in no time.
Lower Risk of Injury
Arguably the most important benefit of conditioning your shins is the fact that the risk of severe injury will be significantly lower than someone who has unconditioned shins.
The hurt and the pain will still be there, especially if you have exhausted your shins and legs in training. But at least you know that you are both mentally and physically prepared for the training and competitive onslaught ahead.
More Frequent Training Sessions
When we started training in Muay Thai, we found it absolutely difficult to go and train again the following day (and even a day or two after that) because of fatigue, soreness, and hurt shins (even with shin pads on).
However, as the months, and eventually, years have passed, our level of fitness, muscle condition, bone condition, and recovery condition have helped us heal faster and power through workouts at a more frequent interval.
How to Condition Your Shins for Muay Thai
There is no one, true, ultimate technique or way to condition your shins in the martial art of Muay Thai. A pair of conditioned shins comes with the repetition of several exercises, habits, routines, and activities, among other factors. Let us take a look at some of the most accepted methods to power through leg strike offense and defense without worry of injury.
Throwing kicks in sparring will help your body, muscle, and bones get used to exposure to contact between legs.
However, we recommend that you and your partner wear pads and the appropriate gear to ensure safety for both fighters in the sparring ring. You will still strengthen your shins significantly, albeit at a more gradual pace.
Heavy bag kicking is one of the most effective, low-risk methods of strengthening the muscle and bones around your shin area. Each kick you throw at a heavy bag will definitely work on all muscles throughout your body and will lead to a better overall physique and mastery of the techniques involved in Muay Thai.
There are lots of different heavy bags. There is a traditional heavy bag, a banana heavy bag, and even a teardrop heavy bag. Try experimenting with various heavy bags and look to check if you could hit them from different angles to improve your kicks and the smaller muscles involved significantly.
However, for a more strict form approach to kicking, we advise executing kicks with either a traditional heavy bag or a banana heavy bag.
Nutrition and Supplements
We are not in the habit of giving supplement tips in general, but when it comes to optimizing your physical and mental state, particularly when it comes to the health of your shins, we would advise taking any calcium-rich supplements or vitamins.
Calcium is scientifically proven to maintain and strengthen the health of bones and assist in rest, recovery, and healing. So, heal up with calcium by drinking a glass of milk or taking in supplements on a regular basis.
Both weight training and bodyweight training have been proven to aid in the condition of your shins. Aside from the traditional kick movements and kick techniques, try working with weights.
You can use a variety of different weights for compound movements such as deadlifts and squats, or perhaps work on more specific muscles by doing weighted reverse lunges or seated curls for legs. Your muscles will be sore tomorrow, but you will be thankful for the actions you have done come fight day.
Shin Conditioning Gear (Rolling Pin, Pipes, or Sticks)
Although there is a great debate as to whether tools such as rolling pins, PVC pipes, and wooden sticks actually work when repeatedly used, we believe that lightly striking your shins with any of the abovementioned tools are good during light intensity or rest days, when you are trying to heal other parts of your body or other muscles from a grueling workout.
Protection (Shin Pads or Shin Guards)
This should already go without being mentioned, but the best approach to protect your shins is to actually have them prepared for intense kicking training sessions.
Shin pads or shin guards will help absorb certain strikes and collisions and will give your lower legs room for their much-needed rest and recovery in preparation for the next intense workout session.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to condition your shins for Muay Thai?
There is no set timeline or period in which your shins can be as strong and powerful as legends like Buakaw. Each body is unique and is built up of different nerves, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles so there really is no definitive answer to this question. However, we can confirm that it would take several years to develop a truly hardened set of shins.
How do Muay Thai fighters condition their shins?
Muay Thai fighters do a lot of exercises, activities, and resistance exercises to improve the condition of their shins. There is no particular focus other than to focus on all the different ways of training. Refer to the section above for a more in-depth explanation of the tested and proven techniques in conditioning your shins (specifically shin conditioning for Muay Thai).
Is Muay Thai bad for your shins?
Muay Thai, just like any stand-up fighting or martial art, involves an increased risk of injury, pain, and soreness for the Thai fighters, whether in training, sparring, or actual competition. In Muay Thai specifically, shin to shin contact is a very common occurrence, and the way to condition your shins involves exposing them in the first place to certain activities that may actually be bad for them in the beginning.
Therefore, we truly recommend focusing on gradually leveling up the intensity and techniques involved in training before jumping into the deep end of training and sparring (especially sparring without the appropriate protective gear).
Is shin conditioning bad?
Shin conditioning is not bad if done safely and gradually. However, in terms of pain, conditioning your shins is going to hurt no matter what. The strength and condition of your shins depends on a lot of factors, including exercise, nutrition, tools or equipment, and understanding the process behind strengthening the bones.
In training (Muay Thai), it's important to keep in mind the details and focus on technique and execution, especially when it comes to kicking (both offense and defense) to have a better outcome when it comes to shin conditioning activities.
Does shin conditioning cause arthritis?
Shin conditioning has not been confirmed to directly cause arthritis. There have been no long-term studies that have analyzed and confirmed the relationship between shin conditioning for the sport of Muay Thai and arthritis.
However, attempting to circumvent the tested and proven methods or shortchanging yourself when it comes to conditioning your shins may lead to complications or side effects down the line.
Muay Thai shin conditioning is no laughing matter. It is a process that can lead any fighter to a lot of pain in the body, muscles, and even the mind. However, if you truly want to be the best possible Muay Thai fighter version of yourself, then you would need to power up and strengthen your lower legs by improving the condition of your shins. If you want to do powerful kicks and effectively check every opponent's leg kick attempt, then it is time to focus and condition your shins and work on proper form and technique.