Sunday, October 28, 2012

Top 3 Muay Thai Shin Conditioning Myths Debunked

Man, there is so much outright false anecdotal information out there on Muay Thai. Where to begin?

I'm going to tackle shin conditioning, which is a topic that seems to be a source ripe with serious misinformation. Today, I'm going to debunk the top 3 shin conditioning myths on the Internet that are inaccurate at best, and hopefully help put things straight because shin conditioning is something you certainly don't want to get wrong... see image below.
Note the kicker's point of contact compared to the blocker's. This is why I promote striking with the upper part of the shin.

Myth # 1. Shin Conditioning Kills Nerves
No, no and no. This is not true no matter how bad ass we may imagine it would be to walk around with no active nerve endings, feeling no pain of any kind.

Reality check: The repetitive action of striking heavy bags and pads will, over time desensitize your shins to the impact of striking, but no nerve endings were killed in the making of your toughness. The truth is, you simply get used to it, you become accustomed to the force of the strike. On a physiological level, your legs are still sending pain signals to your brain, but your brain has become conditioned to ignore the signals (to a certain point).

Myth # 2. I Can condition My Shins Faster by Kicking Trees
The fastest way to break your tibia, or if you're lucky, to ensure you can't touch a heavy bag for 2 months is to go out and kick a tree. You also run the risk of looking like a douche. Yes, we've all seen the clip where Buakaw kicks down a banana tree. And yes, the history of Thai's kicking down trees is engrained into our collective Muay Thai conscious, but that was before Thai pads were invented.

Quick history lesson, Thai pads actually came about from downed banana trees. Banana trees are a very soft wood, thus the tree of choice for ancient Thai's to kick. Over time, the tree wood bend and fold over, collapsing very much like it did in Buakaw's video. Someone got the idea to take the remnants of a fallen tree, (the bark and pulpy trunk) and wrap it around their forearms, allowing the fighter to train kicking on moving target. The concept evolved and now we have the modern Thai pad.

Reality check: In order to condition your shins (cause micro-fractures and calcification of the tibia) you need to remember that it takes time: months and months and months of time. you have to strike something softer than you shin bone - something like a heavy bag stuffed with cloth remnants and Thai pads. If you do want to go the route of hitting your shins with a stick or a rolling pin, tap very lightly up and down the shin, and keep it to a max of about 30 taps at a time. This video is a key example of what NOT to do for shin conditioning. Pause the clip at 1:28. See the welts in the inside of his shin, that's not the key point of impact for a strike. Just promise me you won't try that at home.

Contrary to what I see in MMA threads and on Bullshido, small training bags filled with sand are good for conditioning, if you're smart about how to use them. Key tip: start VERY LIGHT, and aim towards the top of the bag (it's softer at the top due to gravity). We employ a strict regimen around supplementing shin conditioning with the sand bag where I teach - and consider sand bags purely as supplemental, not the core of your shin conditioning program.

Myth # 3. Thai Liniment Makes Your Bones Stronger
Nope. It's a topical product that works to increase blood flow, reduce local pain & inflammation where applied. That's it. However, it does smell quite awesome, and anyone who trains muay thai will swear by this stuff, myself included.

Reality Check: According to the U.S. National Institute of Health's, National Library of Medicine, the key active ingredients in Namman Muay is menthol and methyl salicylate, neither of which promote bone growth. Methyl salicylate blocks the production and release of chemicals that cause pain and inflammation, according to Menthol, however, works in 3 ways:
  1. it serves as an analgesic (pain relief), which explains the slight numbing sensation when applied.    
  2. According to an article in,  menthol aids sore muscles through a process called vasodilation in which blood vessels expand and increase blood flow to the effected area, bringing in nutrients and removing waste. 
  3. This one is really cool (oh god, no pun intended). The MDJunction article explains that menthol causes "stimulating thermoreceptors in the skin cells which help your body recognize temperature changes. Your skin doesn’t actually change temperature. Instead, menthol causes a signal to be sent which your brain interprets as cold, relieving the uncomfortable heat of inflammation." 
None of the other ingredients in Namman Muay work to promote bone growth or repair either, sorry. The reason Namman Muay works so well as a topical rub before, during and after training is because - when compared to Western products like Ben-Gay and Icy Hot - Namman Muay contains an active 31% (331ml in 1mL) of methyl salicylate, whereas the other brands mentioned only contain menthol. Fun Fact: you can blame it's orange color on the beta carotene content. 

Namman is pretty pricy when you get it direct from distributors or at your local gym. I buy my liniment from vendors on Amazon. If you want to buy direct, I suggest Competitive Ace. They claim that it's fresher and more effective when you buy direct, and the stuff sold on eBay is God knows how old. I'm still on the fence with regards to that argument.

Repetitive impact on heavy bags and Thai pads will cause microscopic fractures at the surface of the tibia bone, similar to how lifting weights causes micro-tears to the muscle. As a part of your body's repair process, known to some as modeling, calcium deposits will be brought to the site of the micro fractures and will build up through a process called ossification, often confused with calcification (I am a culprit of this one).  Essentially, bone tissue is built up on top of the 'damaged' bone tissue, which results in a more dense bone (see Wolff's Law of Bone Adaptation).

When you see, hear, or read something about training for muay thai or products that make your bones harder, or a training program that will help you achieve a goal quickly, do some research first. Now let's get out there and plant some banana trees!


  1. Great article guys, I like to buy all of my supplements from reputable source. I know other people at my gym who have gotten Namman Muay on those shopping sites which was expired and for which they paid more for shipping on. I think some of them also waited weeks to receive their product.

  2. Great article. I kicked down a banana tree in our back yard for the hell of it after I saw the Buakaw vid last year. It took about 100 kicks on each side. But bags really are much more effective.

    As for liniment, the smaller yellow bottle that fits nicely in hand is what I and most others use. (I don't read Thai yet, but I think the size is 120 cc). In any traditional Thai pharmacy in Bangkok, a bottle costs around 75 baht (aprox. US $ 2.45). So if you see it for $20 a bottle or something, you know it's a rip-off. It's better to stock up on some large bottles in Thailand and bring them home with you.

  3. Note: see this

    Topical application of methyl salicylate can be hazardous if it is smeared over 40 percent of the body, if someone has a skin condition or if another medication interacts negatively with the products, Kearney said.


  4. Does shin conditioning affect growing ?

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  6. I heart this article.Thanks teaching me a lot in just this one article. I am just learning a bit of Muy Thai and had so many concerns and hesitations that I didn't know where to look for this info. My potentially sore muscles in the future, thank you too. :)

  7. Can you condition bones daily?

    1. You want to keep it down to 2-3 times per week. Gotta allow the body to repair & recover.

  8. I've been training in Muay Thai for years. You use your gear: Shin guards for sparring/drilling against another person,, wrist wraps gloves. When conditioning and training on a bag, no shin guard. Never had to roll anything on the shin. In Thailand, they used to kick soft baby banana trees if they didn't have a heavy bag. Anyone who's kicking super hard trees is a moron, and you will not see any champions training like that.

  9. I have to say I completely disagree with the whole kick light bags. Thats great for some people but I smash my shins with metal baseball bats and they are very hard. So yes kicking more dense objects works too. Never been injured either

  10. Stumbled in here. Fantastic article! Not only informative but pleasant to read. Good job.

  11. Excellent article. Glad a well respected Kru sent me here!