Fencing Well Being & Health

Medical diagnosis and treatment is best left in the hands of experts, as a little knowledge can be dangerous but there are things that can be done while waiting for help to come: first ask if there is anyone present with medical knowledge.

Fencing is a sport that has very few injuries and full training reduces the risk still further. There are various factors that influence the chances of sustaining injury.

Age

With increasing age, there is a loss of elasticity of tissue and brittleness of bone. Bruises take longer to disappear; cuts take longer to heal. To stave off the ageing process, conscientious training must be kept up.

Temperament

The average fencer does not like training. Fencers often say that they fence for pleasure and do not mind if they lose, but watch them when they win. It is natural to feel good when aims are achieved. The coach should motivate pupils to greater achievements. Some essential requirements are alertness and quickness of thought, analysis of your opponent, and a tactical brain.

From this comes a variation in approach to a problem and a particular style. Many fencers are very enthusiastic at the beginning and wish to do more than they are capable of. This enthusiasm must be controlled to attain steady improvement.

Life-Style

Smoking

There is a lot of argument for enjoying a smoke; world champions and famous athletes have smoked, but there is increasing scientific evidence to show that smoking reduces physical condition. It is obviously best never to start but determination to stop could also help to develop determination in your fencing.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and not a stimulant. Everything in moderation is fine and socially enjoyable, but the self-discipline of being teetotal is all to the good.

Sleep

For each individual the required amount of sleep differs. In a sound sleep, the mind relaxes and is clear on awakening. There is muscle relaxation and you should feel raring to go. Lack of sleep leads to lack of muscle response and overall physical and mental fatigue.

Over a period of time, you can adapt sleeping habits. For example, a shift worker will be able to sleep during the day. Fencers between rounds can relax and nod off.

A fencer might not realize, especially at the Olympic games, that if he is used to living in the country where it is peaceful, staying in an Olympic village can be disturbing.

The type of bed in which you sleep is also a factor influencing quality of sleep. At a hotel, the bed might be different, so your skeleton rests differently and certain muscles remain tense, thus the feeling that the bed is uncomfortable, which results in certain limbs being stiff and aching. The criteria for rewarding sleep is not necessarily the amount, but the quality.

Drugs

It has been proved that drugs are harmful. Some might artificially improve performance for a time, but later on in life there are many side effects. The most common drugs are those found in tea and coffee. Little is known about the extent to which too much tea or coffee shorten one’s reaction time since there is always a time lag between intention and actual doing.

Diet

Fencing requires a considerable amount of energy. We get energy from the quantity and quality of the food we eat and drink. The higher the quality of food, the better energy we can expel. With young fencers, it is a matter of building the framework of bone and muscle. Sometimes a teenager who has been doing well suddenly has an off period; this is often caused by energy being diverted into the growing process. When choosing a diet, it is important to have sufficient amounts of the following:

  • Calories
  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Salts
  • Vitamins
  • Fluids

Since proteins are not stored in the body. extra protein is wasted. so, for example, steaks are not essential for fencers. but are useful for weight-lifters or boxers for building bulk. When fencing over a prolonged period, one day or two. it is imperative to have an energy reserve prepared.

Fluids are absorbed during activity, so remember to drink plenty and thus prevent dehydration.

If the diet has been properly prepared and the athlete has trained, sticking to that diet, the taking of extra glucose is of no benefit because the body already has ample supplies. Psychologically, a person can enhance his performance by thinking that a ‘carrot will make him see better. But remember that during violent exercise, the stomach does not want to be churning around a lot of food. With adequate regulation of diet, there is a full store of energy when required. in a trained person, it is not used as fast as that of an untrained person.

Nutrition during Competition

Most fencers take food along to competitions or have refreshments there, but they do not give sufficient thought to the sort of diet they should be having the rest of the time. Not all that is liked is compatible with competition. Sensible foods to take along to the competition are: wholemeal bread, butter, peanut butter, dried fruit. raw vegetables, nuts. cheese. bananas.

Fencing leads to a loss of water and certain minerals and carbohydrates are used up: these must be replaced. Perspiration occurs, particularly with the amount of equipment a fencer wears but instead of releasing his clothing. the fencer should cover up. When taking water. small doses are better than large ones.

The body needs protein, to be found in foods such as eggs, milk and fish. it needs vitamins, minerals and iron. Since the brain needs glucose as a fuel, sugar is required; honey is a good nutrient during a competition. These carbohydrates are stored and used during the competition.

Pre-Competition

Three weeks before a competition, load up with carbohydrates. For example, two meals of the day might typically consist of:

Fruit juice; cereal, milk and sugar; toast and coffee.

Small steak; baked potatoes, corn, salads; chocolate pudding; coffee.

Too little is much better than too much. A large meal before and during rounds can hinder performance. Eat easily digested foods and avoid gassy foods.

Four hours before competition:

Baked potato, lean meat, peas, pudding, biscuits and milk.

One hour before competition: chocolate bar, fruit juice.

As most competitions start early in the morning but involve a lot of travelling, it is important to have a good breakfast of fruit juice, cereals with milk, egg, bacon, fried potato, tomato and mushroom, followed by honey on toast and coffee.

Glycogen

Fencing involves bursts of activity and therefore, glycogen is important to fencers. When glycogen breaks down, lactic acid forms as muscles are without oxygen. Shake (pump) muscles in order to restore oxygen. Lactic acid soon becomes evident in a non-fit person. Training helps to keep a lower lactic level, increases work capacity and also reduces recovery time. A trained fencer can maintain lower blood pressure and lactic acid levels during moderate exercise.

Therefore, correct diet and training can enhance the well-being of a fencer and thus improve his performance.

First Aid

St. John’s Ambulance will provide cover in any fencing competition, but at club evenings, it is advisable to:

  1. Know where the nearest telephone is
  2. Have a first aid box with a list of contents.

Contents should include:

  • first-aid book
  • bandages of different widths
  • crépe bandages
  • strapping plaster
  • triangular bandages
  • cotton wool
  • gauze
  • safety pins
  • iodine
  • eye bath
  • jelly for burns
  • collodion (this forms a skin over cuts and limits bleeding)

The coach should try and get to know if any of his pupils suffer from a medical condition. such as asthma or any other disability. Any disabilities should be kept in mind during training.

Injuries

Bruises

Bruises can be kept to a minimum by massaging the affected area. For bigger bruises, apply a cold water compress. If a rib is cracked or fractured, see a doctor immediately and avoid exercise.

Cramp

Cramp is a muscle spasm brought about by an extreme or sudden movement and is a common complaint amongst fencers. To help prevent cramp, warm-ups are important, especially at a cold time of the year. Muscles under exercise require an increase of blood supply to perform well. This blood supply carries oxygen which removes lactic acid caused by fatigue. If the blood supply is restricted to the muscles, lactic acid builds up as the blood vessels contract. A recent meal can bring on cramp as the stomach requires an increased blood supply, therefore, a decrease to the muscles. Likely trouble-stops for cramp are usually the thighs, or less mobile limbs compared to the upper body, or the extreme ends, fingers or toes. Those fencers that grip their toll too hard can finish up with cramp, so it is important to make sure you have the right grip. A tense muscle tires more rapidly than a relaxed one, so coaches should introduce relaxation into their training programmes. To treat cramp in the legs, massage from the direction of the heart. Get the person up and walking so that the blood flows to the muscle.

Unconsciousness

It is not advisable to smack the cheeks or give smelling salts to an unconscious person. Roll a blanket with one end under the person, roll the person over carefully with the blanket, then lift via the blanket on to a stretcher. On no account drag the person. If no stretcher is available and you have to move the person, get alongside, one under the legs, two under the body and one supporting the head and shoulders and lift like a log. it in doubt, leave alone, but put a coat or two over him to keep him warm.

Injuries to the Ankle

A faulty lunge or an unbalanced movement can cause a twisted ankle. The two ligaments most often involved are the deltoid medial ligament or the anterior and it is usually the weaker anterior ligament that suffers. Swelling follows, so water compresses should be administered with the foot kept above the level of the leg. Until you receive treatment, keep your shoe on as it keeps the swelling down and is a support to the foot. Severely torn ligaments take a long time to heal, perhaps over a year, but regular exercises and flexion aid muscular strength and go towards preventing injuries.

The Knee Joint

Many fencers retire because of knee injuries caused by the constant jarring of the lunge. Three bones form the knee joint: the tibia,the femur and the knee cap in front. The lining of the bone surfaces is protected by cartilage. This acts as a buffer when force is used. The knee has two other cartilages which lie on top of the tibia where it comes into contact with the femur, so these cartilages cushion any force when lunging. Lining the joint is a thin tissue called synovium. This provides the fluid which oils the joint and, if injured, expands to cushion the joint and prevent further injury. If at the beginning of the season a swelling occurs, it is because the synovium has been trapped owing to vigorous exercise without proper pre-training. The knee joints will be better able to tolerate incredible demands on them if the quadriceps are in good condition.

If you lunge with your body turned sideways and your foot turned inwards, you could cause damage to the lateral ligaments of the knee joint, causing a forced rotational action to the side of the knee. If the pain is severe, see a doctor, but keep the joint moving.

Injuries to the Cartilages

Not all injuries are related to cartilage trouble but in fencing, with its bent position and often incorrect lunging or movement, cartilages can easily get torn. If they do, see a doctor. He will either trim or remove them. To leave them torn can cause later problems that cannot be cured. Subconsciously, you will use the other leg more, which causes muscle wastage in the bad leg, resulting in loss of balance and also recurrence of the problem. The stability of the knees rests on the strength of the quadriceps so as to cushion any jarring.

Fencer’s Elbow

Pain develops on the inner elbow where the flexor muscles of the wrist are attached. It is a condition that is built up over the years. Massage by an experienced person is advisable, as is prolonged rest.

Rehabilitation

A fencing coach is not expected to have extensive medical knowledge but it is good for the pupil to know that the coach cares and can offer some advice. Swimming is good for rehabilitation as it gives full active muscle contraction, also full active joint movement, important for recovery.

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