Home Science Biology How Kickboxers Get Tougher Bones

How Kickboxers Get Tougher Bones

Photo fighting film actor Tony Jaa / Ong Bak.

Kickboxer’s and Muay Thai fighters go the extra mile when it comes to strengthening their bones. They don’t just drink milk and call it a day. These fighters spend a lot of time in the gym not only strengthening muscle but intentionally breaking their bones.

Muay Thai fighters and Kickboxers train with repeated strikes using the forearms and shins. In Thailand, before the advent of heavy bags, pads and other modern tools, they would kick banana trees and other hard objects to condition their shins.  Many modern day practitioners use bamboo as a striking surface to both deaden the nerves in the shin.  Once the striking is done, the bamboo rods are rolled against the shin to further compress the bone.   This stress also creates micro fractures in the bone that induce repair of the bone material which leads to a more robust honey comb structure that is more resilient to damage.

Bone Remodeling

Muay Thai Kickboxer Buakaw Por Pramuk is notorious for chopping down trees with vicious leg kicks. You may be wondering how breaking bone can cause it to be stronger than it was before. Well, much like scar tissue is more rigid than that of unscarred tissue, bone that has been broken and rebuilt also develops stronger bonds. In fact, unbeknownst to many, your bone is continually absorbed and and redeposited by cells in the body called Osteoclasts and Osteoblasts (respectively). These cells work to both grow, maintain and rebuild your bones throughout your life.  As you age, these cells (like many other processes in the body) begin to slow down and that is one of the reasons why elderly people have more brittle bones.

Knowing how bone is remodeled still doesn’t fully explain the amazing feats these fighters perform throughout their training.  (Some films have depicted Kickboxers training, as they graduate from kicking banana trees they might go as far as kicking the sides of trains, cars, and rocks, however this is largely sensationalized for the big screen and not a practice most sensible fighters would engage in.)  Similar processes used for the shins have also been used for the hands and forearms in both Muay Thai and other art forms (such as Karate). When bones are fully strengthened it allows for clean strikes breaking through stacks of wood, bricks, concrete and even marble.

If not done properly injuries can range from minor cuts and abrasions to stress fractures that can impair training and may even result in debilitating conditions. There are safer ways than the banana tree, which is actually quite soft in comparison to other wood. Fighters today usually do vigorous bag work, pad work and sparring to achieve stronger bones. This will cause natural bruising, swelling, and micro- fractures as well but on a much smaller scale.  Others have been known to use steel rods to roll against the length of their shins and fore arms. With some pressure the steel causes very minor bruising along the bone (essentially also causing micro fractures) which then induces repair.  The advantage here is the force is controlled and risk of serious injury can be minimized.

As always, at SciFighting, we stress safety and caution for anyone who is interested in enhancing their performance. Before engaging in any bone strengthening exercises consult a professional trainer and perhaps even your physician to ensure you are not putting yourself at excessive risk.