It’s a dilemma that plagues Thai boxers the world over: How do you condition your shins for the demands of the sport? Anyone who’s ever kicked a bag or Thai pads for the first time can relate to the pain and subsequent bruising that shows up along the shin bone.
Conditioning the shins is a necessary part of Muay Thai; it makes the shin block more durable and the angle kick all the more devastating.
Here are our top 7 tips from professional fighters to help you condition your shins:
Padwork is one of the first experiences a student will have in a Muay Thai class. Your partner or coach will hold heavy leather kick pads for you as you learn the fundamental strikes of this ancient martial art.
One of the most powerful strikes in the arsenal is the angle kick, also known as the roundhouse kick. This technique requires the hip to turn over, causing the sharp part of the shin to land on the pads.
This may hurt initially while you learn to deal with the pain. Your shins may even show signs of swelling if they are sensitive or kicking with a lot of power.
As you continue to do your pad work, you can improve the technique and increase the power of your kicks, which will both contribute to shin conditioning. Over time, you will experience less bruising and pain in your legs from training.
Beginners: Attend pads classes at least 2 x a week
Intermediate: Attend pad classes at least 3 x a week
Advanced: Attend pads classes 4-6 x a week
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The heavy bag is another staple of Thai training. These bags are long and wide and typically filled with fabric or sand. If you are starting out, proceed with caution and build up your tolerance by practicing kicks on the bag and pushing yourself close to your threshold.
It’s crucial to turn your hip over on these kicks so that the shin itself is making contact with the bag. It’s a common mistake to kick more up than in, thus missing a large part of the shin and giving you a false sense of security.
As with pad work, you can gradually increase the intensity by increasing power or number of kicks or graduating to a harder bag, like a banana bag filled with sand.
Beginners: Finish class with 10-15 strong kicks per leg. Do another set if you feel able.
Intermediate: Finish class with 15-30 strong kicks per leg. Do 1-2 more sets if you are able.
Advanced: Finish class with 30-50 strong kicks per leg. Try to reach 100 total as a minimum target.
Sparring is another practice that conditions the shins. In Thailand, fighters ‘play spar’ without shin guards, striking and blocking at roughly 30-40% of their total power capacity.
This develops the flow of their striking and strengthens the shins by exposing them to impact in a controlled and much lower intensity than in an actual fight. Play sparring creates the microfractures in the shins that eventually heal and build stronger bones.
Not all gyms allow this type of training, especially for beginners, but an alternative is to use a pair of foam shin pads rather than the thicker leather ones.
These offer less protection to your shins, so you can feel more through them, conditioning your shins more than the often preferred leather ones. Please bear in mind that they are also typically more painful on the receiving end, so it’s best practice to have a good relationship with a willing partner before attempting this.
Beginner: Practice play sparring with a partner wearing foam shin pads at 30% capacity.
Intermediate: Practice play sparring with a partner wearing foam shin pads at 40% capacity or without shin pads at 30% capacity
Advanced: Practice play sparring without shin pads at 40% capacity
It’s essential to fuel your body during your training regimen appropriately. This includes good nutrition and supplementation. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, getting adequate protein, and drinking plenty of water will all contribute to your physical wellbeing.
Sometimes we are unable to get all the nutrients we need from our diet. This can especially happen when our body is under exceptional physical demand. In this case, there are a few recommended supplements to take while you are asking a lot of your body and prevents you from becoming depleted.
Calcium helps to build and maintain healthy bones.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium and the development of bones and teeth.
Other vitamins and minerals that will be of benefit include zinc, magnesium, and vitamin K.
In fact, a full supplement breakdown has been provided in the article “Best Supplements For Boxers.”
Weight lifting is a significant but often overlooked element of shin conditioning. Weight training puts stress on your bones and consequently strengthens them by increasing bone density. Essential lifts for the lower body include the squat, deadlift, and lunges.
Running, also considered a weight-bearing exercise, is another form of shin conditioning that the Thais favor. Fighters usually run twice a day, six days a week.
Additionally, resistance training isn’t limited to solely lifting weights. Strength training for Muay Thai should include various extensive (sub-maximal) and intensive (maximal) plyometrics and other explosive exercises where the impact with the ground will also increase bone density.
Beginners: 1-2 weights sessions a week and 1 x up to 3-mile run.
Intermediate: 2-3 weights sessions per week and 2 x up to 4-mile run.
Advanced: 3-4 weights sessions per week and 2 -3 x up to 5-mile run.
Rest and Recovery
Recovery is rarely mentioned as an essential part of training. This obviously includes adequate sleep and rest between sessions, but for the shins specifically, but there are a couple of methods that can help your body recover quicker from tough conditioning rounds.
Ice your shins as soon as possible if you have any soreness or bruising. This reduces inflammation and helps the muscles in the leg to recuperate faster. By initially reducing swelling, it’s quicker and easier to get back to regular functioning.
Ice baths are one way you can do this.
Massage is another healing technique to support the recovery process. Similar to icing, it reduces inflammation and speeds up the recovery process. Massage can be used a couple of days after pain or stiffness appears to flood the joints and tissues with oxygen and nutrients and maintain good circulation.
All Levels: Ice shins as quickly as possible if pain, bruising, or swelling occurs.
Use massage techniques weekly or as often as possible to keep shins in the best condition while strengthening them.
Finally, patience and honesty will go a long way in this process. It’s impossible to condition your shins overnight, and results will directly correlate with the frequency and intensity of your training. As with anything in Muay Thai, discipline and commitment will take you far.
To a certain extent, you will never be completely pain-free after a shin on shin fight. There are fighters with over 300 fights who can still be seen limping away from the ring. But by following these seven steps, you will find that your shins become stronger over time and will recover much quicker than when you started.