Improving Your Fencing Fitness

There are many books on the subject of fitness, but this chapter is intended to be of help to fencers in particular.

A report by a physiotherapist remarked that some fencers at the Seoul Olympics were far more unfit than their fellow countrymen in other disciplines. It has to be admitted that the amount of training fencers do in comparison with other sports very often leaves much to be desired.

Physical fitness is really a measurement of your efficiency in performing your normal tasks. The degree of fitness is influenced by first, genetic structure, and second, environmental factors that is stress, nutrition, rest, etc. There are three distinct areas for development: physique, organic and muscle responsiveness. Physique refers to bone, muscle and fat. Organic refers to heart, lungs, also kidneys. Muscle responsiveness deals with the skeletal and muscle movements.

Muscle responsiveness is made up of four components: flexibility, strength, speed and endurance. Flexibility is the suppleness of the body to move itself through a complete range of movements as close to maximum stress as possible.

Speed is the skill of applying contraction to a muscle through its entire range of motion or a specific position, whether against minimum or maximum resistance. Speed is gathered in a gradual and continuous way.

Endurance is the stress tolerance of a muscle and is measured by the length of time that a muscle can maintain peak performance for a specific work load. To get full range of motion, start with flexibility exercises, followed by strength exercises applied to a full range of movement with the first two, then add speed. it speed affects the first two, develop more on the first two then try speed again. Add to these co-ordination movements with basic patterns, then more complicated ones.

When you can do these exercises, overload them. The first results will show a deterioration, but work at it and on improvement, overload even more. It is like climbing a pyramid. These achievements must then be applied to a skill, for instance, the lungs.

Endurance exercises, like speed exercises, should be applied to all movements, then overloaded and then applied to specific skills. In fencing, point control becomes wayward when the fencer is fatigued. When the muscles are fully toned round a joint, the elbow or knee, the joint will move freely and efficiently. Flexibility, strength, speed and endurance are available to all specific skill movements.

A muscle properly developed has additional benefits; it has better tone, greater efficiency in both contraction and relaxation, better blood flow, greater resistance to fatigue, and a greater tolerance of stress against injury. A programme will give a wider range of movement, improved coordination, agility and balance.

When exercising, muscles must be flexible enough to permit the joints on which they act to have a full and natural range of motion: the intensity of the muscle programme should be gradually increased. Too many people wish to give a strenuous workout at training camps with people who do little or no exercise during the week, which does more harm to the muscles. A proper programme maintains and improves strength. When strength is added to the programme the joints will develop more forceful. controlled natural movement in the new range of motion. You can see this Clearly in skating. When this flexibility/strength side of the programme is improved, so will muscle responsiveness, giving a full range of movement.

It is important to obtain accuracy before speed. Try not to use speed before you have strength and flexibility. A swimmer will go faster if he has strength and muscular flexibility. A fencer who is strongly developed will develop speed. Speed develops sufficient muscular co-ordination to build the skill of fast muscular contraction from one length to another and more important, from maximum extension to muscular flexion.

The final part of the programme involves endurance exercises for specific periods of time or until exhaustion takes over, which is the point at which you become unable to perform the movement in a fluid and cohesive manner. Many fencers fail at the final pool because of the inability to last out. However, you should never work out to the extent that there is no further movement.

Build up with a series of targets. When these targets are achieved carry on to greater targets. I trained in endurance when young, running between six and ten miles a

day from the age of about twelve. This enabled me to develop speed because of muscle strength and flexibility. This stood me in good stead for later life: i am still fencing after thirty years.

As you progress, you can test your range of motion: have you achieved a greater degree of movement? Are you finding the exercise easier? If you are concentrating on strength exercises, add numbers to the time limit set, for example, progress from twenty press-ups in a minute to twenty-five and so on. With speed exercises, set time limits: cover a distance in a shorter time. With endurance exercises, measure exactly how long you can carry on doing an exercise, and then improve it. When you start an overload programme, it is necessary to do a warm-up and a warm-down. This is to step up circulation and stretch all muscles, and the higher trained you are, the more important it is to do these. Many times, you hear of an international athlete pulling a muscle and it is often because a finely tuned muscle needs extra tuning.

Principles Of Training

Most fencers have no idea how to train. The two most common reasons for this are:

  1. The coach does not know.
  2. If the coach knows, the fencer does not want to know.

Readiness

It is no use giving a fencer a programme if he is not ready, otherwise he will give up easily. It is important to set goals goals that are attainable show the ideals and benefits, keep a chart, work together. The fencer must understand the work and frustrations that lie ahead.

Specificity

In fencing, you need to develop specific muscles that fencing activates. Developing muscles that are not used in fencing produces negative effects on muscle that should be used for fencing.

Regularity

It is important to remember that regularity is not how often you do a programme, but for what period of time you perform it, i.e. programmes should start and end at the same time each session. The effect of the physical and psychological training is that it allows you to get proper rest and to prepare mentally for the next session. Programmes can vary, in the numbers a day or week, but keep them regular and consistent. This also helps in measuring progress.

Frequency

This depends on the work load needed and the intensity and response to the work load. The coach should be able to notice whether the frequency should be reduced. Frequency depends on how well the fencer responds to the exercises. Generally, low intensity training in any of the four muscle responses may be per formed several times a day without harm, but as the intensity changes and overloads, greater rest periods are needed. Specific goals and workout times may have to change or remain as they are, but it would be better to establish a new set of goals.

For fencers who have not had a sporting or athletic background, a frequent low-intensity programme should be adopted for a considerable length of time.

Adaptation

‘I am not going anywhere; in fact I seem to be getting worse’, is a common statement among sportsmen. When you do a physical programme, your body has to adjust and condition itself. Therefore, it is not uncommon during the early stages of training to go back in performance.

If you understand this and continue or revise your programme, you will overcome this hurdle and finally make progress. Psychologically, it can become a barrier; approaching the problem from another angle can be helpful.

Some people reach a plateau and then appear to get stuck. This is also another phenomenon of nature.

Progression

Step by step, progress towards a goal. It can be compared to climbing a mountain; it gets harder nearer the top but you can reach it. Do not rush to achieve your goals, but pursue them systematically and attain them degree by degree.

Overload

Stepping up the stress intensity of an exercise to achieve a higher level of muscle response is called overloading.

Increased intensity can be achieved by the fours R’s of exercise. They are:

  • Resistance
  • Repetition
  • Rate
  • Rest

Resistance

The force or weight needed to overcome muscular contraction could be that of a body part or even of the entire body. Greater resistance comes from gravitational or leverage disadvantages, for instance. the resistance exercised before the lungs Strength is measured by the amount of weight a muscle can overcome. Resistance exercises will help.

Repetition

Repetition is the number of times a skill is performed correctly. Increase in the number of repetitions will give you automatic response without having to resort to a thinking process. which leaves you time to concentrate on other problems.

Rate

Rate is the number of repetitions per unit of time. Rate is generally designed to increase stress tolerance and endurance and produces greater flexibility.

Rest

Rest is the time period allocated between different exercises. The harder the stress, the longer the rest. Some marathon runners only do three or four races a year.

Rest should also be a time of relaxation and you should learn to relax immediately. This improves the effectiveness of recovery from fatigue.

The type of rest found in interval training is of shorter periods as the body develops a greater resistance to fatigue.

Paarlauf training is working in pairs: one works full out and his partner relaxes with him. Then they change over, for instance, one fencer attacks, the other defends and then they change over.

Warm-Ups and Warm-Downs

Warm-ups are designed to improve the circulation, progressively stretch the muscles, Improve freedom of motion and finally prepare the body for more vigorous action. When a nerve or a muscle is cold it is more likely to snap, which could cause serious damage. I have seen a shuttlecock hit a person on the head when very cold and cause a stroke. Additional benefits to warming up are the promotion of relaxation and increase of self-awareness in readiness for the future activity.

Warm-downs are a series of short exercises to relax the muscles and promote some immediate removal of fatigue. They aid in reducing muscle soreness that may follow a work out.

Flexibility

Flexibility aids a range of motion and muscle responses. Flexibility should not be used as part of a warm-up programme. Movements then become awkward and jerky in varying degrees and as a result, the fencer is likely to have difficulty in being consistently fluid in his actions. Lack of flexibility often produces over-tense muscles. Tight muscles also cause pressure on the blood vessels and prohibit the blood flow. This prevents oxygen from reaching all the cells, thus limiting the performance especially in endurance tasks, like a complete day of fencing.

If your arm gets tired holding the sword, pump your arm a few times (bend it backwards and forwards). This helps pump oxygen into the muscle. Flexibility exercises are important, especially after an injury or sprain, or even after a major operation. Flexibility produces:

  1. Strength, speed and endurance through the whole range of motion and greater gains in all three.
  2. Improved ability to practise and also learn a skill.
  3. Greater efficiency in performing a skill. Improvements in co-ordination, agility, quickness (including quickness of the mind).

With flexibility, a muscle can move through its entire length easily and efficiently. When all muscles round a joint are flexible, the joint can move through its complete range of movement.

Exercises

There are three types of exercise: rhythmic, static and exercises to encourage pain resistance.

Rhythmic

Rhythmic exercise includes flexibility exercises in their simplest form: arm circles and leg swings and serve as a mild warm-up. Do rhythmic exercises just to keep trim in the off-season so as to keep fluidity of movement.

Static

Static exercise means staying in a set position for a given time. Static exercises can be done in pairs and can also be done without a lot of equipment. You can work to your own ability. Simply select an exercise, for example, arm extension. Learn how to perform the extension properly, then using the principles of exercise, set out to achieve your goals in Speed, endurance, strength and flexibility. The following points should be remembered:

  1. Perform correctly, but do not try to make progress too rapidly.
  2. When stretching your limb muscles, make sure you stretch the opposing ones.
  3. If one set of muscles is particularly tight, stretch the opposing ones first.
  4. Use a complete stretching programme. Do not confine it to one area because one muscle group is related to another. For example, back muscles are related to the leg and shoulder muscles.
  5. Always precede flexibility exercises with simple calisthenics so as to stimulate circulation. Skipping is useful because it also brings in co-ordination and speed with endurance. Heart rate should be brought up to 100 beats per minute before starting flexibility exercises. Lastly, keep warm. Warmth enhances the benefit of exercises.

Pain Resistance

Stretch pain will cause tension and discomfort. Recognize it as a feedback from your body and use it to your advantage. In your mind have a pain tolerance of 1-10. When you first use a stretch programme allow yourself a low tolerance. Over several days, gradually increase the intensity of your effort and pain tolerance.

At all times, pay attention to the kind of stretch pain you experience. By paying attention to this, pain will identify the needs of the muscles. You will be able to recognize the difference between tension, pains that are relaxed, pains that need rest and pains that can be exercised. As you get to understand muscle pain, your ability to make progress in exercise you were afraid of doing improves; you will be able to relax away pains that stopped you from proper exercise, and exercise pains that you once thought were injuries. If you are able to recognize symptoms, you can prevent injuries before they happen and also gain greater confidence in performing a movement skill.

Relaxation

Learn to relax while stretching. Breathe normally; do not hold your breath; relax your way through an exercise and go on with the exercise. Concentrate and develop your ability to perform a specific task. Hold for short periods of time, but never longer than ten seconds and increase the number of repetitions of the exercise. Perform the excerses standing, seated and lying down. Keep the exercise programme flowing.

Concentration

When doing exercises, do not let outside factors interfere with what you are doing.Try concentration exercises or body control exercises. While the pupil stands on guard, the coach can help him to develop concentration by deliberately trying to distract him; the pupil must focus on the task in hand.

Do Not Bounce

A professional coach when told it is not good to bounce said: ‘I’ve always done it and it is good enough for me’. Because he thought it was good enough for him, he had the answer. Why shouldn’t you bounce? it does not allow the muscle to sustain the stretched length and benefit from it. it activates the stretch flex, thus causing the muscle to contract, rather than adapt to the stretched length. This promotes the opposite desired effect of shortening the muscle instead of lengthening it. Bouncing is dangerous. lt can cause injury.

Resistive Flexibility

Resistive exercises not only improve flexibility. but also strength. Choose a partner of similar size, build and strength to yourself. Perform the exercises properly and to the best of your ability. Use a complete stretching programme and keep warm while stretching. Keep your clothing on and work in a warm area. Always stimulate circulation first. Perform exercises smoothly; do not jerk or snap the movement. Start with short ranges of motion building up to longer ranges of motion. Do not start at the tight area, work up to it. Start with low pain range, stretch, then increase. Start with low resistance,work up to a higher level. Concentrate on your work. Pay attention and plan your progress.

Basic Movement Combinations

Fencing, like boxing, deals with a combination of foot and body movements. Not enough emphasis is put on the pattern of movements.

  • Running long strides
  • Running short strides
  • Backward running
  • Side stepping

Pattern running – Combine forward, backward, side step in lined drills over prescribed patterns, which include reverses, veers, directional changes and circles. Use lines, cones and bodies as markers.

Jumping Skills

Hops – Single leg, double, alternate.

Jumps for distance – Single leg, double, for standing single leg, double, vertical. Running long jump. Concentrate on balance. Tuck jump. Pike jump. Straddled toe jump. Jump with twist. Set out pattern of jumps in sixty seconds. Repetitions.

Skipping Rope – Single leg. Double leg. Running while skipping. Count the number of skips in one minute.

Balance Skills

  1. Single leg balance. Foot to knee, hold for ten seconds. Leg to side, front and rear, keep body as upright as possible.
  2. Hand and leg balance (frog balance).
  3. Moving balances (handstand).
  4. Single and double-leg hops over lines or obstacles.

Reflex Orders

From running around. on command get to ‘get set‘ (on guard) position.

Drills For Quickness And Agility

Tuck jump on landing; spring 5 yards. Straddle jump on landing; run backwards 5 yards. Jump with full twist, sprint 5 yards and then jump again with full twist on landing; go into lunge position. Full twist right, sprint 5 yards, full twist left, Sprint 5 yards; assume on guard position. Full twist right, tuck jump, full twist left, pike jump, sprint 5 yards.

Agility Drills

Twisting run followed by forward sprint. Backward run followed by forward run. One-leg hop, followed by sprint, followed by two-leg hop.

Back crab circle once left, once right, front crab once.

Front crab once followed by sprint.

Post Drill

You will need four cones placed in a square:

Run to cone 1 – place right hand on cone and circle right.

Run to cone 2 – place left hand on cone and circle left.

Run to cone 3 – place right hand on cone and circle right.

Run to cone 4 – place left hand on cone and circle left, then sprint to finishing line.

This drill improves balance, speed, acceleration and also quick change of direction.

Muscle development exercises combined with concentration on basic movements will develop total fitness in a fencer. The fencer will learn about human movement and also avoid injury. The fencer will acquire suppleness, elasticity and maximum range of movement. Muscular control will improve and also co-ordination. Very importantly, he will be nimble and light on his feet.

The programme, kept fresh, exciting and competitive will improve your mental attitude, which in turn includes self-discipline, confidence, determination and poise.

Co-ordination

A useful exercise to improve co-ordination of the feet is a Philippine dance. For this, you will need two swords, body-width apart and placed on the floor, and a partner. Your partner should tap them twice on the floor, then bring them together, keeping the blades parallel. In the meantime, you have to step in and out before they come together. Start by having the right foot in the air over the gap in the blades. On the word ‘go’, place the right foot down, then up. As you place the right foot down on the outside of the sword, lift the left foot up and down in between the blades, lifting it Up before the blades come together. Repeat going back, face the person with the blade.

To improve co-ordination of the arms, have both arms to the side. Lift right hand to shoulder. Lift left hand to shoulder; at the same time, right hand goes straight up. Left hand goes up; at the same time, right hand comes back to shoulder then left hand. AS left hand comes back to shoulder right hand goes out to front, then left hand comes back to shoulder, right hand comes back to shoulder, left hand goes out. As left hand comes back to shoulder, right hand goes out to side. As right hand comes back to shoulder, left hand goes out to side. Right hand goes down, left hand comes back to shoulder and then goes down to side.

Bad co-ordination in fencing results in poor performance. A study of physiology will show that each muscle and joint, if moved in co-ordination, will result in a smooth, relaxed action giving full speed, strength and balance.

Fencing needs the added skill of the separation of the arm and leg movements. It might seem very laborious doing various exercises with the foot and arm, but these should not be done in a robotic manner. It is important to understand the reasons behind the movements, such as extending the arm at different times in order to become aware of timing with the action in relation to the legs. For example, practise extending the arm:

  • Before a step.
  • On the movement of the first part of the step. On the second part of the step with the rear leg.
  • At the beginning of the lunge.
  • At the end of the lunge.

With all movements of co-ordination, you should try and get into bout situations, so it is important to link these together to make smooth movements. Too great a separation will inhibit the final result.

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