Body hardening, when fledgling Nak Muay (Muay Thai boxers) hear the term body hardening or body conditioning many people think of the Jean Claude Van Damn movie with the giant Thai boxer kicking the support pillar in the stadium right before his fight. People also bring up stories of people kicking down banana trees in Thailand. Things people don’t realize, the first is a movie, and not a very realistic one at that. Second banana trees are not like the trees you will find outside here in America. Banana trees are MUCH softer probably about as dense as a heavy bag.
If a boxer properly conditions him-self they can give and receive full force attacks with minimal harm to themselves. Professional Thai Boxers fight with minimal protective gear, small boxing gloves, mouth guard and a steel cup. They throw huge kicks that connect with the shin bone, crushing knee strikes, and devastating elbow strikes. A common defense to the Thai round kick is to block the oncoming kick with one’s own shin bone.
The process to develop shins of stone takes time. The goal is to increase the strength and density of the bones. This is done by increasing the dynamic load of the bone. Things like running, jumping rope and squats will increase the dynamic load on your legs. Not only will the muscles in your legs get stronger but so will the bones that support them.
The second aspect of shin conditioning is the repeated impact from drilling kicks over and over. While some boxers at one time may have used banana trees as a makeshift heavy bag, all the major boxing camps in Thailand use modern equipment. Boxers do countless rounds on the heavy bag everyday to strengthen their shins, knees and elbows. They also work several rounds with a pad holder on the Thai pads. (Rectangular pads, that are strapped to the trainers forearms) This allows the boxer to not only hone his technique with a reactive target but further conditions his striking weapons.
People, unfortunately, are impatient. Beginning students want to accelerate this process and turn their body into a human weapon as soon as possible. I’ve seen countless youtube videos and forum threads discussing methods to kill off the nerve endings in your shin bones, so you can throw kicks like a pro. This is not what we want to do! Remember our goal is to increase the density of our bones. This takes time, training and proper nutrition. The nerves are important, they let us know when we have exceeded the stress our body can endure. I have heard about and seen horror stories where fighters with improperly conditioned shins, broke their shins during fights. They killed off the nerves so they could endure the impact, but they did not sufficiently strengthen the bone.
As your shin bones get stronger you will be able to kick harder without your nerves sending out pain signals. Your body “knows” your shins are now stronger and that they are in no danger from impacts that would make most men fall to the ground clutching their shins crying. You will still feel it when you push your body to far, and this is good.
A guideline I give my students is to never hit anything with your shins that is as hard as your shins. Don’t hit your legs with sticks, glass bottles or kick trees. Train like the best in Thailand do. Use a mixture or Jumping rope, jogging, pad work, and hitting the heavy bag. Anytime you drill with a partner wear your shin pads. Control yourself when you spar. Hard shin to shin contact will result in a bone bruise. These are very painful and can take weeks to heal. If you get one of these this will greatly interfere with your training.
Obviously a pro fight is the exception to this, but if you are just starting Muay Thai that is a few years away. Most amateur events have the fighters wear shin pads, and this is good. Boxers get to test their skills against a fully resisting opponent, but if they have been training properly they should not be so beat up that they cannot resume training in a week or so. Don’t just train hard, train smart as well.