SORE SHINS? CONDITIONING COMES WITH TIME
Take a trip down memory lane with me… You’ve just arrived at the gym for your first ever Muay Thai class. You walk in not knowing what to expect, but feeling excited at the same time.
You wait for class to start. The trainer tells you what to do as you warm up. You learn some basics for the foundation of your journey. You walk up to one of the heavy bags and, using what you saw on YouTube and what you just learned, you throw a kick at the bag. Suddenly, your shin and foot are burning with pain. The bag is soft to the touch, but it feels like you’ve just slammed your leg into a metal pole. Class wraps up and you head home, sore as hell. You might have even woken up the next day with some bruises. You go back to the gym next time for more.
Days, weeks, months pass by. Now you’re kicking the bag as hard as you can and you don’t even flinch. What happened? Why doesn’t your leg hurt anymore when making contact with the heavy bag?
DEADEN THE NERVES
Your body has something called nerves and there are plenty of them all over your body. They are receptors for touch, pressure, temperature, and pain. These receptors exist on your shin and are the reason you wailed in pain the first time you kicked a heavy bag.
Something happens when you continuously apply pain to, for example, your shin – you get used to it. Kicking the bag might have hurt the first few weeks but afterwards, some of the nerves on your shin become numb and eventually “deaden.” After years of training, many people don’t feel much sensation at all on their shin anymore.
The deadening of the nerves is the first step of something called shin conditioning. Shin conditioning is a process that happens as you train, and is exactly what it sounds like: your shins become conditioned to the training and don’t hurt as much. This is very important. Imagine wincing in pain every time you kicked pads or a bag — that would take all the fun out of training!
That’s not all there is to the shin conditioning process. Something that happens as you keep using your shin to kick and block is recalcification. Basically, your shin gets tiny microfractures (don’t worry, not big enough to cause you any serious harm) and your body deposits extra calcium in those microfractures to make your shin harder.
If you’ve been training for a few years, run your finger up and down your shin; you should feel lots of little bumps on it. If you do the same to someone who has never trained before, their shin would most likely be extremely smooth. This recalcification process is also why weight training and exercises where you use your body weight makes your bones stronger.
Because this shin conditioning process is natural and comes with training, there is really no need to do anything else to achieve hard shins, despite what many people say. Some people roll glass bottles/rolling pins over their shins, or even try kicking metal in order to achieve harder shins. These extra methods are 1) not necessary, and 2) can be detrimental to your bones as applying too much pressure can cause serious damage.
You should let your body adjust and heal naturally without doing anything extra. Just training consistently will help achieve harder shins. When people start fighting without gear, the kicking and blocking shin-to-shin or shin-to-body takes this process a step further, as other people’s bodies are much harder than bags or pads.
Shin conditioning is an essential process that happens naturally during your Muay Thai journey. Remember there are no shortcuts in Muay Thai, shin conditioning included! Keep training, be patient, and the shins of steel will come with time.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.