By Steven Hirsch, 2014
Specifically, training heavy with basic weightlifting exercises like
squats and bench press will benefit the fighter in modern fencing,
historical fencing, martial arts and combat sports.
When I suggest strength training for fencing I frequently hear, “speed
is more important” or even, “it’s not about strength”. A lot of this
objection comes from a misapplication of the concept of specificity.
Specificity is not just one thing - there are different components to
be specific about. And different aspects of training will focus on these
This is why fencing training is not just a bunch of free fencing.
Different kinds of drills allow the fencer to focus on footwork,
bladework, timing, distance etc. The same must be true of the physical
conditioning side of training. We can focus on anaerobic conditioning,
recovery, acceleration, power and so on.
But Squats and Bench Press Aren’t Very Specific
It’s true that the movement pattern for the squat and press are not
specific to fencing actions. (However, they are specific to grappling
actions and historical fencing finds it’s roots in grappling.) But the
movement pattern is only one aspect of specificity. The movements are
bilateral, well-balanced and stable.While fencing actions usually
involve powering off of one leg and the arm motion is either unilateral
or the arms move differently from each other.
The benefit of these basic exercises is that they allow maximum force
production. By taking instability out of the exercise you are not as
limited by the failure point of the stabilizing muscles.
As I’ve discussed before,
force is the determinant of acceleration in our muscles. So increasing
force production increases acceleration. Maximizing force is the
specificity of basic strength because it will maximize acceleration.
Acceleration is of supreme importance in historical fencing - just as it
is with any other sport. Acceleration will put attacks on target
faster. Acceleration put your parries in place faster. Acceleration will
move you around faster - retreats, advances and voids will all be more
effective because of greater acceleration.
Of course, it is also the case that exercises with greater specificity
in movement pattern and requiring more stability are a necessary part of
a complete program. This is why basic squats should be supplemented
with exercises like: split squats, RFE squats, single-leg squats, lunges
and lateral variants. Similar kinds of variations exist for bench
press, deadlift, rows and pull-ups, but those are a topic for another
Basic Strength is the Foundation
Training must begin with foundational exercises. Just as
fencing training begins with basic footwork exercises, so strength
training must start with basic exercises. And just as footwork exercises
never stop in fencing training so must basic strength training always
form the core of the S&C program.
To build up our various sport-specific attributes we must do so upon a
foundation of basic strength. This allows us to produce the best
results. The maximal force production from strength training is refined
to sport-specific actions with additional training and varied exercises.
Joint strength supports the development of maximum power and agility,
while minimizing the chance of injury.
Historical fencing can put significant strain on the body and a variety
of training injuries are possible. Most non-impact injuries can be
prevented or made less likely with strength training. Furthermore, full
recovery from injury requires rebuilding the strength of the injured