What’s a shin? It’s the front of the leg, the part right from the knee to the ankle. Ask any Muay Thai fighter and they’ll tell you about the importance of having a strong shin.
Remember when we told you about Muay Thai’s fighting technique? The 8-point rule? Okay, a quick refresher: Muay Thai uses elbows 2x, knees 2x, fists 2x, and legs 2x. It is a combination of quick attack and defense maneuvers, wherein the fighters use all of these body parts as a weapon and as a shield.
Kicking is one of the most important weapons in Muay Thai, and a strong shin can be the differentiating factor between a good kick, a powerful kick, and a knockout kick. Not only this, but strong shins equal better protection from attacks. Technically, the upper part of the shin is what connects with the opponent’s body. And, to throw impactful kicks, you ought to have a strong shinbone.
Shin Conditioning – The Science Behind it
Unfortunately, newbie trainers think that kicking the crap out of banana trees and building resilience against pain means shin conditioning. There is no point shattering your tibia while knocking everything in your path. However, correct training (and some cool tips) can help you develop shins as strong as bricks…maybe even stronger.
Here’s how it works scientifically – you are already aware of the fact that our bodies have self-healing properties. No, not Wolverine-level, but it can self-condition itself to an extent (till you provide it with adequate rest, repetition, nutrients, and exercise). Balance these four factors and your body adapts to the injuries in a way that it becomes resilient. When you train (sparring, kicking the sandbag, etc.), your shin suffers micro-fractures. And, your body adapts to repair these weak points by adding calcium deposits on top of the damaged tissue. This is called ossification by the white-coat gang (scientists).
Train Hard, Wait Harder
Fact: You can’t get strong shins overnight! There’s no magic fairy to do your bidding.
But, if you train hard and invest time, you will have stronger shins than you can ever have by kicking banana trees. Well, the sparring sessions are the first place to get started. When you first start, it will hurt (so get used to it) as there will be micro-fractures (this is good as the tissues redevelop over time, thus thickening your shin).
You have to be patient, resilient, and persistent. Keep doing it, over and again, and a hundred times more, if you really want to move up the ranks. Now, that we have cleared the “preachy motivation” part, let’s move on with some actual physical training ideas.
Shin Conditioning Tips
Without further beating around the bush, here are some tried-and-tested exercises (and other hacks) for effective shin conditioning. To make it easier, we are breaking the training into 6 important areas –
- Workout (heavy bags, etc.)
- Bone Conditioning
- Weight Training
Before you begin to train, understand which part of the shin is the right choice. As per the legends of Muay Thai, the front-shin area (tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum muscles). To land the perfect blow, you’ll need to rotate your hips. Your workout should include sessions of kicking sandbags and pads. Start with slow kicks and gradually increase the speed. Keep practicing till you land the blow perfectly.
It will hurt a lot initially, but repetition will help the body adapt sooner. Within the 1st year itself, you will be resilient to some amount of pain. The best way for shin conditioning is going slow. Attempt to get results too quickly and you’re just going to end up with broken shins. The trick is to kick something slightly softer than your shins and do it over and over again.
Running should also be a part of your workout regime. In addition to enhancing endurance, it is also known to increase the bone density. Together with the force of gravity, the vibrations from the continuous pounding on the road put bones under pressure and cause the body to overcompensate. And, this results in stronger shins and legs.
This is all about building bone density. There are many ways to achieve it – from the archaic idea of rolling on metal tubes with your shins to weight training. As preposterous as it might sound, rolling on metal tubes is actually a great way to increase bone density without getting into combats.
However, it is important to roll the tube evenly, ensuring every part of the shin is covered. Else, you will end up with many weak points. The other way is to build a schedule of weight training. This will help build organic muscle strength (especially the tibialis anterior). There’s a unique training devised for Muay Thai. Instead of deadlifts, you need to engage in weighed-toe raises.
Yes, you heard that right! Weighted-toe raises. Just stand with your feet apart (shoulder-width), and raise yourself on your toes (like a ballerina), hold yourself for four to five seconds, and slowly lower the body to the primary position. Keep doing it over and again.
A daily dose of sparring is also needed regularly for shin conditioning. It’s about getting used to the bone-on-bone fighting feeling, enhancing your ring reflexes, increasing your stamina, growing your pause time, and learning how to effectively block your opponent’s kicks with your shin.
If you’re new to sparring, we recommend wearing a pair of shin guards. Over time, your shins will harden and become resilient to the pain. The more you spar, the better you will get used to blocking and attacking with your shins, and the lesser it will hurt.
With time, get rid of the pads to partner up with other fighters. Everyone loves a good one-on-one sparring. Keep a constant flow and the kicks mellow. Practice sparring religiously, and you will develop enviable shins.
Amidst all the weights and spars, do not overlook your nutrition. The body can only heal itself when it gets adequate nutrients. Any Muay Thai fighter will agree that nutrition is life. Your body needs the right amount and balance of everything to build stronger muscles and denser bones. If you don’t provide it with enough nutrients, it will start using the fat reserves of your muscles.
A major part of effective shin conditioning is eating ample carbs and protein to strengthen your tissues. It’s not about stuffing yourself with food, it’s about scheduling your meals and moderating the food. Make sure that your meals include Vitamin D, Calcium (almost a 1000mg daily), and other minerals. You can add eggs, leafy vegetables, red meat, cheese, peanut butter, almonds, etc. in your servings for balanced nutrition.
If you want to strengthen your shins, it may be important to include weight lifting in your workout repertoire. It will also help improve muscle mass, coordination, the strength of the connective tissue, and overall strength.
Some common weight training for Muay Thai includes squats and lunges. For squats, use a traditional barbell while maintaining proper posture (keep knees in line with the feet), and for lunges, try dumbbells.
With all these training and sparring, your body must also get time to recover. If you want to keep performing at the peak of your capacity, you need to practice week after week, your body needs to be able to heal –and the most effective strategy is rest. It’s the only way to get your body stronger.
But wait, resting isn’t sleeping instead of training. It means focusing and relaxing your muscles every now and then. Think of meditation or Yoga.
Shin conditioning is a gradual process. There is no shortcut to it. Train hard, eat better, and most importantly, give your body adequate rest. Stay persistent, and it’ll only be a matter of time before you are breaking rib-cages with your shins.
So, SHIN UP, lads!