Iron bone training is a key part of Kung Fu training but really its usefulness can be applied to all martial arts. It involves the systematic conditioning of the skeletal system so that it becomes tougher and stronger, and less susceptible to damage. It’s something that I’ve practiced for some time and I wanted to pass on my thoughts on some of the best iron bone training equipment that I’ve used.
What is iron bone training?
Iron bone training involves strengthening the bones of the body. This is achieved by repeatedly striking them over a period of time. This is done vigorously but not so forcefully that it causes the bone to crack or break.
Everyone has heard that a broken bone heals back stronger than it was originally. In this case, you’re not trying to break the bone but rather to cause microscopic damage so that, when it recovers, it grows back stronger.
Is iron bone training dangerous?
Clearly if you hit your bone too hard, you can cause it to crack. I found that it was better to be too gentle than too hard. I found that I knew that I’d got the desired effect when the skin would turn a light red colour over the bone I was working on.
On the odd occasion that I struck my bone too hard, I was rewarded with a bruise. This was when I knew I had overdone it.
Anyone that engages in this type of training does so entirely at their own risk. It’s best to start gently and to work your way up from there.
Why is iron bone training useful?
Training your skeletal system in this way means that, in time, it becomes stronger.
From a defensive perspective, kicks and punches are less likely to cause damage. In fact, I’ve noticed that my blocks actually cause the attacker pain. When practicing karate, my Age Uke (rising arm block), strikes my opponent’s forearm with such impact that their next attack in invariably less vigorous.
Iron bone training also makes all your attacks much stronger. Your fists and feet become denser to the extent that it become like rock. This really does turn them into formidable weapons.
Train bones not the joints or muscle
I’m always careful not to hit any of my joints during iron bone training. To do so is not only painful but could also result in significant damage.
I also avoid hitting any of my muscles with this type of training.
It’s also important to train the entire length of the bone and also on it’s various sides. This is demonstrated below in relation to the shin bone:
How long should you undertake iron bone training for
I spend about three minutes on each bone per day and it now forms a regular part of my martial arts training. It’s just long enough until I see the skin turn a light shade of red. For me that’s a signal that I’ve trained for just the right amount of time. Any longer and I could risk actually bruising my skin and the underlying bone.
The benefits of this type of training accrue overtime and its consistency that really makes the difference.
What areas of the body can be trained with iron bone training
Almost all the areas of the body can be trained. The areas I spend time training are:
Shins and forearms – these can be used for both defensive and attacking techniques
Ribs – I train this area so that they will be less susceptible to injury. They provide protection for many of the body’s vital organs and so, my view, is that them stronger can only be a good thing.
Collar Bones – this bone is one of the most delicate in the body and it’s one of the most common bones that break. I’m extremely careful when training this area of the body. You could end up injuring yourself if you hit this area too hard.
Hands – these are used for both blocking and striking. I train various parts of the hand: the knuckles to make them harder for punching; the side of the palm for knife hand strikes, and the fingers for striking techniques.
Feet – similar to the hands, I also train various parts of my feet.
The importance of diet
With the micro trauma you’re inflicting on your body on a regular basis, it’s important that you provide the body with adequate nutrition so that it can repair itself. I made sure I increased my calcium intake in particular by consuming more dairy products.
I’ve tried different types of iron bone training equipment. Here are my thoughts on some of the best:
Canvas Wing Chun Wall Striking Bag
This has to be my favourite striking bag that I’ve used. It’s made of a really heavy duty canvas, which is typical of this type of striking pad. What makes the difference is that each pad is fronted be a leather square. This help to prevent the skin getting grazed on the rough canvas.
The three pads at different heights allow you to practice a variety of strikes meaning you can punch and kick the pad without having to readjust the striking bag on the wall to lower or raise it each time.
I filled the bags with beans which formed a hard and relatively solid target to strike.
For iron bone training, I focus on a particular strike, say palm strike, and do a fixed number using my right hand, before switching to my left hand. I then move on to a different striking move.
The actual number of repetitions will vary depending the area of the body that you’re training. I try to stop whenever the skin on the bone area I’m targeting goes a very light red colour. It’s not enough to bruise and cause damage, but it is enough to trigger a bone hardening response.
I also take the striking pad off the wall and lay it horizontally on a sturdy table. I can then practice my downward knife hand and palm striking techniques.
The striking pad is excellent for training the hands and feet, which are the main striking areas of the body. However, for the remaining areas of the body, a different item of equipment is needed.
My pad cost about $30 but you can check the price here.
Martial Arts Conditioning Stick
Whilst hitting a pad works to condition the areas of the body primarily used for striking, a different tactic should be used to harden the other bone regions of the body.
I use a specially designed conditioning stick to vigorously target my shins, ribs and forearms. I tap up and down the length of the bone, ensuring I hit all the sides of the bone. Again, I spend about 5 minutes working on each area until the skin goes a light red colour. That’s when I know I’ve trained the area sufficiently.
The stick gives you complete flexibility to precisely train the areas of the bone that require strengthening.
The one I use is made of oak and is really quite solid. You have be careful not to hit yourself too hard as it can hurt.
I have noticed, however, that your pain tolerance does improve over time, but I’m always careful to monitor how my skin is reacting to make sure it’s not being bruised. I also ensure I don’t ramp up the intensity too quickly.
I picked up my conditioning stick for about $20 but you can check the price on Amazon here.
I’ve written about the condition stick in more detail here.
In summary, iron bone training is a highly effective way of toughening your body not only to be able to deliver harder strikes but also to protect yourself from injury. It’s an essential, but often neglected part of your martial arts training.