Many martial arts use the instep of the foot for making contact with a kick. In Muay Thai, the shin is used as the impact point for executing a round kick, and also used to block (also known as check) an opponents kick. Given that we are kicking and blocking with our shins, we need to be able to cope with such impact – therefore shin conditioning is very important!
A question I often get asked is how Muay Thai fighters cope with the pain of clashing shins during a fight? Fortunately, adrenaline can do magical things to the body when needed – but this does not mean there is no pain after the fight has finished. When I was fighting, I always had the mindset that I would kick through any of my opponents checks – adrenaline gave me the ability to do such a thing!
Shin Conditioning Facts
Despite being a strong structure, the shin is naturally sensitive. However, correct and safe conditioning will make the shin stronger and reduce contact pain.
It is critical to use proper shin conditioning techniques, otherwise serious and painful damage can result. Shin conditioning does not involve kicking banana trees and steel poles, or rolling hard objects down the front of your shin. Shin conditioning involves kicking Thai pads and lots of heavy bag work. There are no fancy or quick ways to condition your shins – it is a slow process.
The video below provides a good example of the shin conditioning process, performed as a training drill:
Shin Conditioning Process
When you initially start training (and depending on the firmness of the Thai pads) you may receive some minor bruising and possible discomfort for the first 1-2 weeks of training. However, the bruising and discomfort will soon pass, and your shins will become accustomed to the impact.
The next step is to take on the heavy bag. It does not need to be filled with sand – it just needs to be heavy so that the impact conditions your shin without damaging it. Again, when you first start you may receive some minor bruising and discomfort, but as your shins become conditioned, this will pass.
The continual impact of the shin initially deaden’s the nerve, reducing the sensation of pain felt from impact. Additionally, the body responds to the impact by increasing the density of the shin bone, and may also deposit hard calcium in the area, again for further rigidity.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to not rush the conditioning process. There is no use smashing your shin into a heavy bag continuously day after day, if the shin has fresh bruising. Allow your shin to have healing time, and listen to your body through the process. If you have inflammation or lumps, ice is a good remedy, along with rest.
For drills and sparring purposes, a good set of shin pads should be used so that significant impact won’t cause injury. This will also help further condition the shins.
Remember, shin conditioning is a slow and ongoing process. It may take a few years of repeated practice to get the shins as hard as rock.