A well-conditioned shin might be your ticket to a spectacular TKO in a fight, on the other hand, a soft shin might get you crippled easily in a fight.
You should know that the more active you are on your feet the more conditioned your shins are.
Running only will naturally condition your shins and build a certain density to your bones, that is why Muay Thai fighters include running into their training program on a daily basis.
The repetitive impact on the tibia and the fibula makes their composition denser.
Have you ever heard of shin splints? Well these are microfractures in the tibia.
Runners, soccer players, and basically all the athletes whose sports rely on running and jumping are more susceptible to shin splints.
Once shin splints go through a correct healing process, the bones automatically become denser and harder, and therefore more conditioned for kicking and checking kicks.
Beginner fighters often think that once their shins are conditioned like Buakaw’s shins or Saenchai’s shins, they will never feel any pain in them.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, your shins will still hurt after a hard fight, if you kick an elbow, a shin, or sometimes even the tip of the hip of your opponent you will still feel the pain afterwards, your shins will still get bruised after the fight.
Even the most veteran fighters suffer consequences after a hard fight, some of them even go on social media and share their bruised shins’ pictures for the public to see what a fighter had to go through.
But obviously, there are levels of pain, the pain that a beginner may feel when kicked in the leg will never equate the pain a veteran feels. The mental aspect plays a role too.
Hard shins for offense
In a fight, you want to be fully equipped and ready to use all your limbs as weapons, if you limit yourself to your fists, you will be depriving yourself of six other limbs you could have used for destruction.
Elbows and feets don’t need conditioning, but the shins do. The ultimate goal is to reach the level of being capable of throwing those bones at your opponent’s bones without caring at all about the impact.
When you get shin on shin with your opponent with equal force, the situation becomes fifty/fifty. But if somehow you throw a sloppy leg kick with less than 100% force you will be at a great risk of getting injured or even breaking your shin.
The internet is full of videos of fighters breaking their legs on other fighters’ legs because of a sloppy kick.
If you have been sedentary your whole life, chances are that you have pillows for shins
If you are new to the fighting world and you haven’t been a very active person in your life, chances are that you have pillow shins, you have to do a lot to catch up with the guys who have been active their whole life, even if they are beginner fighters just as you are.
Muay Thai coaches in Thailand get that a lot, sedentary and out of shape people come to them from all across the world to learn fighting and get into their first amateur fight.
One of the smartest shortcuts that coaches use with these novices is running for miles on concrete, and concrete only. No dirt or grass running, just concrete.
Running on concrete is very hard on the bones and it causes shin splints fast in no time. The shin splints are given a couple of days to heal up then the process is repeated.
Note that this method is not suitable for athletes and long term fighters, as it is very damaging to the knees and hip joints.
Understand the science behind it
Before getting into the different methods specific to fighting for hardening the shins, let’s understand the mechanisms of the process:
By hitting hard objects over and over again, microfractures appear on the bone, the bone goes through the healing process, after a couple of days the bone regenerates itself and builds a layer above these microfractures.
With that process repeated for several years, the bone builds multiple layers and becomes more densified. This process is called cortical remodeling.
Pain tolerance depends on two components:
Biological: Pain receptors in the brain get activated once the pain threshold is reached.
Psychological: Pain tolerance increases when the brain is distracted and not focused on the pain. Pain tolerance is also increased when the pain is not new to the brain, the fact that the brain has already experienced the same pain several times makes it realize that it is not a life-threatening situation, this alone will cause it to not fire any alarm and stay relaxed even when feeling it.
How long does it take to condition the shins?
The process of hardening shin bones is not a short term process, so if you are looking for a “How to harden your shins in a month” solution, then you are greatly mistaken.
This is a long term process, depending on your level of fitness and bone density, your shins can reach their full potential of conditioning within a couple of years of consistent training.
In my experience with my own students, it takes from 2 to 4 years of training before a student can break wooden sticks and baseball bats with their legs.
Bone Mineral Density (BMD), Calcium and your shins
Each individual has a score of Bone Mineral Density (BMD). This is also referred to as Dual energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA).
To spare you the scientific jargon, your nutrition plays an immense role in your bone density.
If your tibia is lacking minerals, no amount of training and conditioning could save you from a potential broken shin.
Calcium is key to the equation, consume food that contains high calcium amounts, fish including the bones, tofu, soy products, green leafy vegetables, nuts, etc.
Please note that the recommended daily intake (RDA) of calcium is 1000 mg per day for young adults and 1200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70.
Going over 2000 mg won’t be of any benefit to you, it actually increases your risks of getting kidney stones.
Vitamin D is also key to your bone density, what supplement can you have better than sunlight.
If you are located in a country with no sunshine throughout the year, then nutrition and supplements are your allies, fatty fish, sardines with bones, mackerel, salmon, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, etc.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 400-800 IU per day which is 10-20 micrograms.
Recovery is the name of the game
If you want to summerize your shin conditioning journey into one sentence it would be: fracture and regenerate.
In all your upcoming years of training you will be creating microfractures then resting to heal them up. That is all!
Don’t get lost with all the training methods out there, rolling glass bottles and wooden sticks on your shin and hitting banana trees like Buakaw, etc. It all comes down to one thing, creating fractures with whatever method and then letting the fractures heal up.
When the microfractures occur, a blood clot forms around, the area also swells up to provide new living cells for regeneration. This process takes up to 5 days.
So if your shin feels weird and beat up after a hard session, don’t toughen it up and train with the same intensity the next day. Give it time to heal and train other techniques or other body parts.
Bag work should be your bread and butter for conditioning your shin, if you can’t hit a heavy bag in full force without caring what could happen, be certain that you will be tucking your tail between your legs the first second your opponent checks your low kick with their shin.
How to kick the heavy bag:
- Bag work should be included in your training regimen at least 3 times a week
Work in sets of 15 to 25 kicks per leg
- All your kicks must be thrown in full force, sloppy kicks are not accepted and will get you nowhere
- Since your kicks are thrown at high intensity, you can combine your shin conditioning session with your cardio session and do it HIIT style (High-Intensity Interval Training)
- The lower part of the bag is harder than the higher and middle part of the bag due to the density of the stuffing. Increase the difficulty of the training by going lower and lower.
- When hitting the bag, make sure to use all parts of your leg in alternance. Hit the bag with the lower shin, middle and higher shin. Hit it also with the part below your kneecap. The kneecap will serve you in defense when checking calf kicks. Chris Widman used his kneecap as a weapon to break Anderson Silva’s shin in half.
Condition the skin too
Most martial arts practitioners focus solely on conditioning the bone and ignore the skin above, which is a big mistake.
If you watch the fight between Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero you will notice a nasty skin cut on Luke’s shin after he clashed shins against Romero. Conditioning the skin of the shin doesn’t mean that this could never happen to you, but it minimizes the chances.
You may be thinking that a cut on the shin is okay, all it needs is to be stitched up like any other cut on the face and everything will be fine. but you couldn’t be more wrong!
Cuts on the shin are more prone to infections than any other cuts on the body, actually Luke Rockhold suffered a major infection in his leg after getting opened up by Yoel’s shin.
How to condition the skin:
- Bag work is good for conditioning the skin, but it is not enough. Look for a wooden dummy or a wooden tree. That’s why you will see a lot of Muay Thai fighters kicking banana trees in Thailand.
- Don’t hit your shin against a metal object
- Make sure that the wooden object is not narrow and sharp. It should have a diameter of at least 8 inches (20 cm)
- Don’t hit it until your skin starts bleeding, and do not keep kicking if the pain is unbearable. Once you feel pain and you notice some redness on the skin stop immediately.
- Allow the skin to recover. Give it a couple of days to regenerate and rebuild itself. Recovery is part of the training process, keep that in mind.
The purpose of hardening the shins is to fight well. Get into sparring and simulate a real fight, let your sparring partner kick you and check their kick with your shin. Kick them back and see the impact of your shin on them.
This does not mean that you should have gym wars to make your shin harder, no! Don’t do that! Stay gentle with your sparring partner and never kick them in full force.
Practicing leg kicks in real time fights will make you accustomed to absorbing pain and still going forward, eating a hard kick and still keeping a poker face.