Muay Thai is a martial art known as the "art of eight limbs" because it incorporates attacks with the fists, elbows, knees and shins. Because you attack and defend with the shins, you'll find that they get sore and bruise easily at first. However, German anatomist Julius Wolff has some good news for you: His work states that the density of a bone adapts along with the load it is placed under. In other words, you can toughen up your shins through a conditioning routine. If you've ever blocked a kick, you'll find this a welcome concept. Just remember to build up the intensity gradually.
Bag and Pad Work
Although bags and pads are softer than your shin, they still provide sufficient resistance to condition the bones. Some fighters kick harder objects -- banana trees are popular in Thailand -- however, this can be dangerous and is not really necessary, especially for beginners. Thai pads, bag work and the impacts you receive during sparring are all that you need to condition your shins.
The phrase “shin conditioning” implies that you gradually strengthen the shins over time, and that is what you must do for the best results and safety. Initially, your shins will bruise easily, so ease into it with well-used pads and lighter bags. If you're taking extra time out to condition your shins, wear shin pads during training so as not to overstress the bones. Over time, gradually increase the weight of the bags you work on and the power of your kicks. Your shins will strengthen and you'll desensitize to the pain of the impact.
The primary risks of shin conditioning are cuts, infections, damage to ligaments and tendons and in extreme cases, broken bones. You can limit these risks by using shin pads in training, especially when you have existing bruises or cuts -- at least until your shins start to strengthen. You can also reduce your risk by increasing the intensity of the shin conditioning workout gradually and by giving yourself sufficient rest time. Your legs are important. It's worth being safe even if this means slower progress.
To reduce the risk of more serious injuries, always allow sufficient rest between shin conditioning routines. Make sure bruises are completely healed, and if there is any lingering pain from the previous session, rest even more. Schedule your shin conditioning to allow maximum recovery time -- for example, if you train on Mondays and Wednesdays, do it on Wednesday evening. You can speed up the healing process by applying ice to the shin after your conditioning routine.
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