At some point in your MMA training, you’re going to spar with kicks and learn what it’s like to throw kicks, defend kicks and when to do both. The great thing about kicks is their power and accompanying potential devastation, which is also what makes them so difficult to train. Unless you want to spend hours on a heavy bag and guess when you should throw a kick in a real fight, you’ll want to get shin guards in order to train with kicks.
Shin guards, like most other MMA equipment, come in many different styles and have different theories behind why they’re shaped the way they are. There’s the traditional Muay Thai shin guards with thick shins that protect up to your knee, the grappling shin guards which have a neoprene backing the length of your calf, and then there are the hybrids which seek to cover all facets of training.
The biggest things to consider before purchasing shin guards is frequency of use, type of training, and intensity of training. If you’re only sparring once a week, chances are you won’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on shin guards. Likewise, if you’re sparring consists mostly of takedowns and grappling with a few kicks thrown here and there, you’ll want a different style of shin guard than if you were training straight kickboxing or Muay Thai.
Below are the 7 best shin guards on the market and the best uses for all of them.
Fairtex SP5 Shin Pads
One of the originals in Muay Thai and kickboxing equipment, Fairtex has a reputation for reliable, durable equipment that is perfectly suited for the up and coming kickboxer or the the long-time pro. Constructed without metal fastening loops (so they can be used in amateur competitions), the stitch-free design allows a more comfortable fit without the irritation that comes from stitching.
The shape of the guard allows full coverage to the base of the knee without obstructing movement in the ankle. These are the best (for the price) shin guards for Muay Thai especially for those just starting out.
Combat Sports Pro-Style MMA Shin Guards
Designed for the intermediate or advanced MMA practitioner, these shin guards allow the wearer to spar with takedowns without the guard itself slipping around. The neoprene backing helps to keep the shin guard in the same place during takedowns and grappling during sparring or training sessions.
The thick padding allows for near-full power kicks without the high-impact of kicks without shinguards. This means you can spar and train harder while minimizing injury. The best MMA shinguards, these will keep you safe while training hard for your next fight.
Venum Shinguards Kontact Evo
Made almost specifically for MMA, the Kontact Evo provides adequate protection while allowing the most movement possible. Designed as a leg sleeve, the Kontact uses neoprene to keep the guard tight to the shin with padding in key areas. The three separate pads protect the foot, the ankle joint, and the length of the shin which provides protection without sacrificing the natural movement of the foot.
Great for amateur competitions, these shin guards are perfect for any fighter transitioning from amateur competition to professional competition. The thin padding can help condition the shins for fights where shin guards are not allowed. These are some of the best shinguards for MMA.
Combat Sports Storm Trooper Shinguards
The kickboxing-specific version of the Pro-Style MMA guards, the Storm Troopers provide two layers of protection through the middle of the shin. The base layer of protection wraps around the full front of the shin to the base of the calf. A second strip of gel padding is added to the middle of the shin bone itself, allowing a fighter to check kicks at will without damaging any part of the leg.
The most protective of the shinguards listed, the Storm Troopers are slightly heavier however this provides a strengthening of your kicks. Similar to adding weight to a bat for baseball, the shinguards help to quicken kicks when shinguards aren’t used or aren’t allowed. These are the best for higher level kickboxers and the best kickboxing shinguards.
Triumph United Death Star Thai Style Shinguards
A traditional Thai-style shin guard, the Death Stars provide a tremendous amount of protection through the shin and the outer calves without sacrificing much in terms of mobility. The two straps on the back combined with the CoolMax interior make for an extremely durable, non-slip shin guard, perfect for high intensity sparring.
The ankle joint provides ample movement while still offering plenty of protection for those kicks that don’t quite get enough extension or kicks checked low on the shin. The biggest advantage they have is the affordability to protection ratio these shin guards offer. They’ve also received the best shin guard reviews on many MMA sales websites.
Windy Traditional Shin-Instep Guards
A traditional shin guard with a twist, the Windy shin guards follow the traditional, single-layer protection scheme and offer ample (some might say too much) protection over the foot and instep. The inner canvas backing offers a comfortable fit with minimal slippage and movement on your leg.
Made of the highest quality synthetic leather, the Windy shin guards are highly durable and reliable and will certainly last through many, many sparring sessions. These shin guards are great for trainers as well due to the thick padding and non-slip canvas backing. These may be the most versatile shin guards on the market.
Hayabusa Ikusa Recast Shinguards
A great hybrid shin guard, the Ikusas from Hayabusa are best for MMA fighters looking to have high-intensity sparring sessions that include takedowns and grappling. Protection-wise, the Ikusas offer similar padding to the Storm Troopers with a base level of protection and an added strip of gel padding down the middle. This allows the fighter to check harder kicks and throw harder kicks while minimizing potential injuries to both the user and their partner.
A neoprene backing around the calf means less lateral movement along the shin, making them great for grappling and MMA sparring sessions as well. The perfect combination of protection and mobility, the Ikusa’s are great for high-level MMA fighters and those looking to take their training to the next level.
When all is said and done, the best shin guard for you comes down to personal preference and overall fit. Similar to shoes, different brands offer different fits and an large made by Venum may be a different size than a large made by Hayabusa (typically, they’re pretty similar though) so it’s best to try on shin guards before you buy them. A great way to save money is try them on at a store and then purchase them online if you can wait to get them.
In terms of fit, generally you want shin guards to fit snug against your leg without cutting off circulation. You also want some sort of instep protection while maintaining adequate mobility at the ankle joint. The instep guard on most Thai style shin guards have an elastic band the fits over the Achilles Tendon and should be snug but not so tight it creates a lot of tension on the tendon itself. Tension on the Achilles can cause both discomfort and, potentially, serious injury.
One thing many complain about when it comes to shin guards is the length of the instep pad, many preferring longer pads with more protection while others prefer shorter pads along the top of their foot citing comfort and mobility. This debate comes down to use and style of sparring that you’ll be doing.
If you’ll be doing a lot of sparring with takedowns and grappling, the shorter pad may be what you want so you can attempt and secure submissions without having to create extra space for the instep guard. Alternatively, if you prefer sparring without takedowns and grappling or will mostly be training in a striking discipline, the longer instep may be beneficial for those kicks that don’t quite have the right range or against a partner who checks a majority of your kicks.
It comes down to what you want and need out of your instep guard.
If you don’t want to spend the money or you simply don’t spar enough to warrant purchasing your own pair, many gyms have extra shin guards you can borrow. Just remember other people have probably worn them before so if you’re a germaphobe, it’s probably best to buy your own so you feel comfortable when sparring.
There’s nothing wrong with trying out shin pads at the gym and buying a similar style or the same brand but make sure you try several different types of shin guards before settling on one particular set.
Have a different pair of shin guards you love that weren’t listed here? Tell us about them in the comments section.