I can recall back to my childhood one of the worst pains I have ever felt in my life. A little girl kicked me in the shin when I was being a douche to her, and it hurt so bad I cried for hours. This was way before I started training martial arts but I am reminded of it every time I get a kick checked or make a good shin to shin connection with a sparring partner. Shin conditioning is big in many striking arts and can even benefit your grappling. As a beginner, you shouldn’t think about doing anything heavy. It takes a long time to condition your shins, and it can benefit your more to pace yourself. Conditioning your shins is the act of causing micro-fractures on your shins which then heal over with calcium on the tibia. You want to make sure you keep it light so that you don’t do too much damage which would slow down the shins healing process.
You will hear a lot of people say you are deadening the nerves in your legs which reduces the pain you fee. In a sense this is true, but you are really desensitizing yourself to the striking or rolling on the shins. Overtime your shins build up as well as your pain tolerance for impact on your shins. A good combination of physical and mental conditioning can make all of the difference in a fight. It is also important to remember to specify time for healing and restoration. If you are constantly beating the shins down, they will always be weak. Your bones, like your muscles need time to recovery after they have been worked. Conditioning is about the long haul, you don’t want to injure yourself by going to hard and have to slow down your progress while you wait for your injuries to heal. Sometimes beginners think the hard they kick, they better condition their shins will be in the next day. This isn’t the case and you can seriously hurt yourself — start off very slow and feel out your progress.
3 Drills to Condition Your Shins for MMA
Heavy Bag Training
Heavy Bag training is a great way to practice your kicks as well as condition your shins for impact on a heavy target. If you have never conditioned your shins before I recommend you either start with shin guards, or use a softer target like a Wavemaster. Conditioning is about the long haul so be prepared to start light and work your way up. Even if you are just tapping the bag at first, you want to feel the impact on your entire shin including the instep. Even if your sport doesn’t require you to kick with your shin you still may get hit there. Work kicks into the curve of the foot, it fits very well onto a cylindrical bag. Include the mid and upper shin and make sure you are hitting the bag with straight on. You want to make sure you evenly work your shins and get both legs done. I recommend going back and forth with sets of 10 on each leg, and work up to your maximum goal whether it is 50 or 100 per leg for the day.
I am a fan of unconventional training to accomplish the same goal like using a tire to condition your shins for MMA. Many gyms have a stack of tires out back including some rather large one for tire flips and other fun things. A trend I am seeing in a lot of gyms provides some great conditioning equipment. If you watch some training videos in other countries, some of the use only tires and no heavy bags. While it may not be by choice, it is providing them with an edge and a certain level of toughness in their training. I have seen stacks of tires uses as full striking targets and conditioning tools. The best place to start with this one is with an old worn tired that is slightly flexible. A very stiff tire will provide a stiff impact. The rubber offers a nice give you don’t get with a heavy bag and you can even add extra padding on top at first. You can have someone hold it low or up against their body for higher kicks. Remember to start light and work your way up. Be careful doing this one with shin guards on because I have seen the rubber tire grip an older shin pad and rip it up a little bit.
This is a pretty controversial technique to some people and some people say its a waste. I believe the best way to condition your shins for the impact of kicking is to kick a heavy bag. However I also believe shin rolling or tapping provide a different effect and can help to supplement. Now you can’t replicate a shin to shin collision with a heavy bag or pads, but you can with a stick. Rolling helps you build that pain threshold as well as break down the surface of the bone. This is a great way to hit every inch of the area you want to condition. You can start light with a wood stick or glass bottle, and work your way up to something harder. I have seen people use fence posts, steel bars, olympic bars, you can even roll a tire on your shin. Some people start with rolling and use a light stick just to get use to the pain. Remember it is a long process and you can’t condition your shins in a matter of months.
Sparring for Conditioning
Sparring will always be a great way to test your shins and work on general conditioning. However, how much of a sparring match is dedicated to shins? Sparring with MMA Shin Guards will allow you to spar a little harder and take a harder hit. You can get use to checking kicks as well as having your kicks checked. Sparring without shin guards should be avoided by beginners because you are more likely to injure yourself than to improve your shin conditioning. After you have put some time into your shins, sparring without shin guards can give you a feel for what competition will be like and will help you to find your weaknesses. You may still feel the pain but you can practice fighting through and continuing the fight.
Recovery is Key
I really can’t stress this enough. The time you spend resting is just as important if not more than the time you spend conditioning. You are literally causing micro-fractures to your bones and over training can cause injury. If you overdo it, the odds are you will have to take a month or two off. I can recall when I first started training I did like one or two sets two many on the heavy bag just to keep up with everyone who had been training longer. I couldn’t kick for close to 3 months with my right leg because I wanted to keep up. That 3 months set me back pretty far and gave me the realization that it is pretty easy to overdo it. Start off light, if you think you are going too hard you probably are. Spend plenty of time resting and eating right to ensure a solid recovery.