Shin guards (also known as shin pads) are one of the most important fight gear purchases you’ll need for MMA, Kickboxing, or Muay Thai training. Along with boxing gloves, these are a ‘must have’ piece of training gear, especially if what intend to spar.
What Are Shin Guards?
Shin guards do what they say they do: they protect the shins (and feet) of both you and your partner when blocking and performing kicks during training drills or sparring. They can be hard or soft, but either type will be padded to provide comfort and safety.
Why Do You Need Them?
Maybe you’ve watched some YouTube videos and seen these fifteen year olds in Thailand practicing roundhouse kicks against trees – with not a shin guard in sight. They should come with a warning: ‘Don’t try this at home.’ No matter how tough you are, if you hit a tree, or even a heavy bag, full force with unconditioned shins you’ll cry like a baby. Even worse, you might break or seriously damage your leg.
Conditioning your shins happens through frequent impact against something slightly softer than them. (A heavy bag is great for this, as long as you control the force initially). The constant impact causes your bones to become thicker, desensitizing them to pain and making them more resistant to future impacts. You can condition your shins even when wearing shin guards, and some people will prefer to wear lighter ones in order to speed up the conditioning.
However, before your shins are fully conditioned, and for the sake of your training partners, (whose shins might not be conditioned to the same level), you’ll need a pair of shin guards to keep you both safe.
Types of Shin Guards
Three main types of shin guards are used in martial arts. All of them work for Muay Thai, depending on how much protection you want for your leg and foot.
Most people training Muay Thai will choose a hard shin guard that covers both the foot and shin. This protects you against the elbow or shin of your partner, whether you’re sparring or doing training drills. These shin guards can be attached with velcro straps or, more commonly, through a hook and loop system that keep them in place while striking. They have quite thick padding and are usually more rigid around the shin and foot area than shin guards used for grappling or general MMA. This design offers more protection but not much foot flexibility, one of the reasons they aren’t ideal for ground work.
Detachable shin guards
Detachable shin guards are hard and have two parts for the foot and shin, fastened together with velcro. As the name suggests, you can detach the foot protector from the shin protector. This can give you a bit more flexibility and mobility, while still offering good protection to the shins, the most vulnerable part.
It also means you can combine the shin protector with sparring boots, typically worn in kickboxing, karate or other similar styles. (The boots are preferred because of the use of kicks like side kicks and spinning hook kicks, which strike with the heel or side of the foot.) If you’re switching back to Muay Thai, all you have to do is re-attach the foot protector.
Shin guard socks
These soft shin guards provide the most comfort but the least protection. They’re quick and easy to get on, as all you have to do is slide them onto your foot and shin, like a sock. Some will cover only the shins while others will also protect the foot.
Because they’re soft, they don’t provide as much protection against harder kicks, and are therefore not used in Muay Thai much. However, they are quite common in kickboxing or other martial arts using sparring boots due to their comfort and flexibility.
They’re also ideal for MMA and grappling because they’re soft and don’t slip around. However, the elastic on poor quality socks might stretch fairly quickly, making them loose.
Things to Consider Before Buying
What are you using them for?
If Muay Thai only, then the standard or detachable ones are probably your best bet. If you want the flexibility of switiching striking styles, then detachable is the way to go. If you’re also going to be using them for groundwork, go the soft route.
How often will you be using the shin guards?
If you’re only using them once or twice a week, you can get a mid-range pair that should last you a year or two. Whatever you do, don’t go too cheap. They’ll fall apart quickly, won’t offer as much comfort and protection, and will end up costing you more in the long run.
If you’re training often and hard, you might want to consider the more high end ranges. They’re more durable and will provide optimal comfort and protection for the most serious fighters.
The best shin guards will be made of quality leather, as this is more durable than synthetic materials, although the designs might not be as flashy.
How much protection do you want?
Some shin guards offer more protection than others. You might prefer better overall leg coverage, either because you’re starting out or just want to minimize bruising and swelling. Alternatively, you may prefer those providing extra padding to protect you against hard kicks.
Some shin guards offer good ankle protection, although they’re probably more the exception than the rule. This means a lot of people end up enduring the pain and swelling that comes with whacking your ankle off an elbow. Definitely something to consider!
Overall, make sure you get a good compromise between protection and comfort. And don’t choose shin guards that are too bulky, or they’ll affect your mobility.
Finally, remember that it’s not just about you, it’s about your partner too!
How comfortable are they, and are they the right size?
One of the most annoying things in the world is shin guards that don’t fit right. If they’re too big, they’ll be loose, slip around and therefore not protect you well. They’ll also get in the way of your sparring.
Too small, though, and you’ll also lose protection. They may also rub and hurt your foot, or not fasten properly around your calf.
The Final Word
Comfort and protection first, design second.
You might think you look cool in a pair of flashy shin guards, but your training partners will be far more impressed by a pair that work well!