Whether you’ve been training for a while, or are just considering taking up a martial art such as MMA, Kickboxing or Muay Thai, you’ll no doubt have noticed that shin guards are one of the main pieces of equipment used in training. Obviously if you’re planning on sparring with kicks then shin guards are usually a must have, but they also open up a whole range of other partner activities, such as Dutch style combination drills. We’ve reviewed a wide range of shin guards so far (head over to our Shin Guard Reviews page), and while they don’t tend to vary as much in terms of features as Boxing Gloves do, there are still a few distinct types, so it’s important to know the benefits of each style.
Here’s a quick run-down on the most common styles of shin guards you may come across.
Striking / Muay Thai style Shin Guards
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If you’re familiar with any of the Thai brands you’ll already know what Striking shin guards are. Striking shin guards are built for protection and so have become a staple of striking training. Striking shin guards can vary heavily from thinner, fitted designs (such as the RDX Leather MMA Shin Guards), all the way up to super thick padded shin guards (like the Apaks Warriors The Iron Shin Protection). Some shin guards come up and cover the knee, while others are sometimes cut lower to sit at the top of the shin. In most cases though you’ll notice they’re generally built with two separate sections for the shin and the instep, with thick straps around the back to secure them in place.
Top King’s Shin Guards are often a firm favourite amongst Muay Thai fans, offering the maximum amount of protection but without feeling overly bulky or heavy.
Grappling Shin Guards
With the rise of MMA, many fighters found a need for shin guards they can use for their MMA sparring, allowing them to go straight from stand-up striking to grappling without the need to take their shin guards off. When using Muay Thai style shin guards, the velcro straps and buckles can easily get caught, and the general thickness can cause problems when defending takedowns, trying to change position, or trying to set up/escape submissions. MMA shin guards are typically much thinner than striking shin guards, with a neoprene back instead of velcro straps to help keep everything in place and no velcro exposed.
Around the foot, MMA shin guards usually have a series of smaller padding sections around the joint, but often end up leaving the toes exposed, as well as having very little knee protection. The Venum Kontact Evo Shin Guards or Hayabusa Pro Shin Guards are probably the best examples of this.
Grappling shin guards are usually really light which is great for those looking for a less bulky shin guard, but there’s often a big trade off in protection and you can usually really feel it when you make hard contact with a knee of elbow.
Hybrid Shin Guards
‘Hybrid’ shin guards usually refer to any shin guards which try and find a good mid-point between both protection and usability in grappling, although usually it’s a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ sort of deal.
There are a number of different products claiming to be hybrid shin guards, and as a result they can vary a lot more. Some, like the Tuff MuayThai Hybrid Shin guards use the padding style of a grappling shin guard with straps and thicker padding like you’d expect from a striking shin guard, whilst others such as the Hayabusa Ikusa Charged Shin Guards go the opposite route, with the knee and instep protection you’d expect from a striking shin guard, with the full neoprene sleeve to hold it firmly in place.
If you’re looking for a shin guard which is on the lighter side with good comfort, but aren’t too worried about grappling, then Hybrid styles might provide what you’re looking for without losing too much in the way of protection.
Competition / Sock Style Shin Guards
Finally you may have also seen Cotton shin guards. They’re often similar in terms of design to grappling shin guards, but usually the padding is even thinner with much less protection. Because of the cotton material, they aren’t as ideal for grappling either.
This is because these sock style shin guards are often used for amateur competition, like Sandee’s Cotton Slip-on Competition Shinguard, because they interfere the least, whilst still being a step up from wearing no shin guards at all. Many fighters do opt to use these in training though, because they’re cheaper to buy, super light weight and many fighters like to use the thinner shin guards to acclimatise their shins to impacts and ‘condition’ them quicker.
This has it’s drawbacks, and while the price is lower they probably aren’t as suitable for a complete beginner, simply because there’s less room for error and it’s easy to injure yourself if you aren’t used to placing your shots well.
When choosing the right pair of shin guards it is important to find the balance which suits you between protection, and mobility. If you want to be safe kick without worrying about hurting yourself, then you’ll probably want a bigger shin guard, whereas if your focus is more on technique or grappling then you’re more likely to be a fan of the smaller shin guards.
That said, if you’re just starting out we’d advise that it’s probably safer to go for more protection rather than less. Landing a kick on an elbow or knee can be super painful if you aren’t used to it, and even leave you out of action for a while if you catch your foot wrong.
Obviously as a review website we’d suggest you go check out a variety of reviews to work out which product fits your preference best, and to be careful with personal recommendations because that person may have different idea from you about what makes a ‘good’ shin guard.