Fitness Zone – Strength & Conditioning for Fencing

Fitness training programs at our club are led by the highly qualified and experienced Strength and Conditioning coach: Martin Gallyer.
Strength and conditioning is the process of training focused on improving physical qualities such as: strength-power, flexibility, speed-agility, endurance, recovery, and injury prevention… basically improve physical performance and reduce injuries. Fencers need specific parts of all the physical qualities to succeed in competition and to prevent them from getting injured. With greater levels of strength and agility fencers find ‘explosive’ lunge movements and getting around the piste easier, not forgetting more endurance means fencers can perform for longer and endure intense fights and long competition days.

All the training is designed to progress individuals so the type and intensity of fitness training done with our fencers is dependent on the individual level and age of fencers involved in the sessions. As such training might be introductory, general, and (relatively) easy for the novice fencers, or they might be designed to be very tough and very fencing specific for elite fencers (with everything in-between).

In a wider scope fitness training covers an area known as the sports sciences (physiology, biomechanics, psychology, and nutrition). The club has links with numerous professionals who assist us some of which are below:

  • Strength and Conditioning / Fitness: Martin Gallyer BSc MSc ASCC www.HPathletes.com
  • Nutrition: Ady Delaney  www.eatrightuk.com
  • Psychology / Mental skills: Jon Radcliffe

Strength and Conditioning / Fitness -Martin Gallyer BSc MSc ASCC
To define the role of strength and conditioning for fencing we must first look at what strength and conditioning is. Strength and conditioning is the process of training focused on improving physical qualities such as strength-power, flexibility, speed-agility, endurance, recovery, and injury prevention… basically improve physical performance and reduce injuries.

All factors can be trained but it is best to cycle training focusing on a few at a time during a program.

To design a high quality program that is both safe and effective is a matter of skill where we must consider the physical demands of fencing.

Strength-Power
To produce movement we must produce force from the muscles (strength), to produce fast movement we must use a well-trained nervous system to activate this force production from the muscle. As such strength underlies almost all physical tasks.

Training for strength is normally thought of as something that stereotypical strength athletes would do (weightlifters, rugby players, American football… and so on), and often people think they will get big by strength training. However, there are numerous types of strength training with only one type designed to ‘get big’, these are generally categorised as: Strength-endurance training (associated with muscles working under fatigue), Hypertrophy training (associated with growth and getting big), Maximal strength training (associated with strength increases without growth), and Power/Explosive strength training (associated with fast powerful movements). Fencers should aim to become well-conditioned enough to train explosive strength and strength endurance.

Explosive strength takes time and skill to develop so should only be done under supervision of a strength and conditioning professional who can monitor progressions and exercise technique so injury is avoided, so unfortunately I do not feel it is appropriate to give information that may be misinterpreted and lead to injury.

On the other hand strength-endurance is something that can be done by a number of simple bodyweight exercises. Strength-endurance training is where you would do lots of repetitions (20+) for a number of sets (3-5). These exercises can easily be arranged in a circuit that might include things like a variety of jumps, press-up variations, numerous core exercises, holding a squat position, and upper-body pulls. A typical circuit is 5-8 exercises spending 1 minute at each station before changing to the next exercise.

Flexibility
Flexibility along with strength is a major physical quality that underlies human movement in sport. Put simply, if you are not flexible enough to move joints through sufficient range of motion required in your sport then you cannot complete the skill effectively.

There are numerous flexibility training exercises for each body area. I have found the best methods to be partner assisted exercises where the person being stretched can relax as much as possible during the training and allow a greater stretch. The easiest way to make sure you stretch everywhere is to work from the bottom of the body to the top or visa-versa. Proper flexibility training is not just a warm-up; it is a training session in itself. Stretches should be held for 30-60 seconds and repeated 2-4 times each body part.

Speed-Agility
Speed and agility in fencing is usually done from the fencing position but fencers can find themselves in a number of body positions during a fight. The aim of speed and agility training is to condition the nervous and muscular system to produce force from the muscles in a fast and well co-ordinated way.

A basic speed-agility program should include general short sprints with changes of direction and specific fencing position ‘sprints’. Speed and agility sessions must be done with maximal effort in each sprint maintaining maximum or very close to maximum sprint speed… if these sessions become slow then you are no longer training speed. A typical session may be 3-5 sets (rest between sets = 2-4 min) of 8-12 sprints (rest between repetitions = 1-2 min).
Some drills are below:
‘Suicides’ (can be done normal sprinting, on a single-leg, or in fencing position):
Other examples (again can be done normal sprinting, on a single-leg, or in fencing position):

Endurance
Endurance is not just a word for the marathon runners it can be a specific word. Just because someone has the ability to run for long periods of time does not mean they can fence at high intensity during an entire competition. Therefore we must look in more detail what endurance means to a fencer.

Fencers must have the general ability to work hard for 10 minutes, or in more specific detail they must be able to work 3min intermittent (explosive movements, interspersed with rest) bouts with 1min recovery between bouts. We must also consider heat tolerance and dehydration in the uniform, especially when fencing in hot environments. As such training endurance for fencing is about the ability to maintain a high workload from the fast twitch muscles for explosive movements (specific muscle-endurance), heart and lungs (cardiovascular-endurance), and the ability to preserve body temperature and keep hydrated.

Training for the cardiovascular system while not negatively impacting on fast muscle fibres is hard to do but is still achievable. This is such things as interval training (NOT long-distance slow running). An example of this type of general cardiovascular endurance training for a fencer would be 1 minute hard work periods (e.g. run 200-300 meters in 1 min) with 1 min rest periods… a typical session would be 25-30 min (12-15 work intervals). You may consider using the fencing position for specific adaptations during the work intervals, and using fencing dress to replicate training under heat stress. For even more specific endurance sessions you may choose to train using intervals based on fencing 3 min work: 1 min rest.

Muscle-endurance can be trained in circuits, see the strength section where this has already been discussed.

Recovery and Injury prevention
Recovery should be integral to any program. During a training cycle days should be set aside for recovery, while over the longer-term during the year there should be a cycle dedicated to allowing the body to recover. There are numerous recovery methods and exercises available also such as: pool sessions (mainly stretching in a pool), hot and cold water treatments, massage, etcetera. Recovery would also include adequate nutrition for exercise.

Injuries are either originated in an instantaneous event (acute onset injury), or due to stresses and strains over a period of time (chronic onset of injury). Almost all injuries are caused because the tissue was not strong enough to cope with the demands placed on it (either due to the tissue not being strong enough, or due to fatigue). Proper training will actually reduce the chances of injury anyway because stronger bones and muscles with greater endurance capacity are less likely to fail under stress than a weaker untrained tissue that will likely fail.

Summary
Please feel free to use this brief overview to assist with your training.

One-on-one and group sessions are available so if you wish to enquire about having coached sessions or working through a program then please use the contact details provided.

Many thanks

Martin Gallyer BSc, MSc, ASCC
High Performance Athlete Support Systems

UK (Martin Gallyer): +447941989904 martin.gallyer@HPathletes.com
T&T (Ronald Rogers): +1 868 462 6846 ronald.rogers@HPathletes.com

Fitness Zone – Strength & Conditioning for Young Athletes

Process is also relevant for beginner athletes of all ages who are new to physical training (start basic and work up)

Training for young athletes is a subject that has been a specialism for me for some years now. It has been somewhat of a controversial subject over the past few decades with many opinions, hearsay, and little scientific fact. Nevertheless recently there has been a great number of studies investigating the pro’s and con’s of young athlete training with questions centered around:

  • How young is too young?
  • How many sprints are too much?
  • How heavy is too heavy?
  • How fast and how long to push them?
  • Type of program for various age groups (pre-, during-, and post-puberty)?
  • Do children even adapt to training – if not then what is the point?
  • Is training safe – are they likely to get injured (short- or long-term injuries)

The reason that the substantial bodies of research knowledge and key papers endorse youth training is that the evidence coming out stated the children who participated in a well-designed program actually improved their bone mineral density, posture, and co-ordination without putting themselves at risk of injury. Time after time it has been shown that children who train do get stronger, faster, more flexible, and gain a greater exercise capacity. So in fact when comparing young athletes who partake in a well-designed strength and conditioning program vs. young athletes who only partake in games and skills training – the athletes who have stronger muscular, skeletal, and metabolic systems due to the progressive strength and conditioning training are actually less likely to get injured. However beware… injuries occurred when children where unsupervised by an appropriately qualified coach. The general consensus is that training should be taken step-by-step starting from the basics and progress when the athlete is ready to do so (i.e. not a ‘mini adult’ program).

The young athlete program here is one in which each stage is progressive ensuring training loads & volumes are manageable, athletes are pushed without being broken, training is age related and appropriate for the skill of the athlete, sessions are adaptable to fit around training done at club training sessions, and above all the strength and conditioning sessions are supervised by a highly qualified and experienced coach.

The training program model is adapted to the individual and the sport… there are numerous examples of athletes from a range of sports where our athletes have progressed to competing at the higher and higher levels of their game and some even eventually representing their countries at senior level

Overview: The Young Athlete Program

The basic overview is a five stage long-term process starting from basics and working toward the aim of equipping young athletes with the necessary skills and physical capacity to enable them to enter an adult program. Long-term in this sense is potentially a 10-12 year process.

There are a number of things that govern progression to higher levels of training, where each level has certain restrictions for: age, training load and volume guidelines, and the types of exercises used. Before progressing athletes will have to meet given assessment criteria and be old enough to step up training.

Start point – Pre-training Assessment

Athletes will undergo a thorough assessment covering many areas:

  • Anthropometrical stats,
  • Movement quality assessments
  • From basic foundations of movement to sport specific tasks
  • Speed and agility
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Endurance
  • Sport specific testing

The focus for new inductees such as young athletes and beginners is on movement quality, mobility, and basic strength qualities; As training progresses and more and more skills and physical qualities are built then testing can become more complex.

The testing equipment available to our young athletes is the best around, examples include: automated timing systems, jump systems, and high speed slow motion video. Such high-quality equipment compliments the specialist coaching, meaning the test results are as valid and accurate as they can be.

Testing sessions are done at regular intervals to track training.

Stage 1 of program

Regardless of age most athletes will start here as most will have had little or no experience of Strength and Conditioning… start at the beginning.

Here the basics of movement technique, basic ABC’s (agility balance coordination), and kinaesthetic awareness (awareness of what the body is doing). Other exercises will include basic bodyweight exercises, modified bodyweight exercises, flexibility, and light resistance (brooms and bands etc) working on technique during basic movement skills and for relatively high repetitions.

Athletes will learn how to warm-up and cool-down properly in this phase using the new skills they learn. Athletes will feel safe to experiment and challenge themselves in a controlled and enjoyable environment where they can find out what their body is capable of doing.

Established here are significant a portion of the very general foundations of athleticism. Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the FUNdamentals phase.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is the second general foundations phase where athletes will learn the fundamental skill sets required for later more specific training stages.

Training games and drills based on general movement techniques will continue with the addition to build on these foundations with some taught speed and agility mechanics which are more sport focused. Flexibility and mobility will also be maintained from the performance level gained in stage 1.

With the respect to basic strength: as the athletes progress and can start to handle their bodyweight more effectively, simple free weight exercises may be added with the emphasis on technique and light loads with high reps. Typically athletes are banned from the gym until they are 14-16 years old then they go and injure themselves when let in… here the technique learned here in strength exercises will form the technical basis from which to moderately load them when the athlete is ready in stage 3 later.

Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the learn to train phase.

Stage 3

Athletes must show they have shown sufficient skill and physical capacity before progressing to this stage of training and discretionary age restrictions apply before entering this stage of training (training foundations and basic physical capacity must be established).

Here athletes will establish solid training habits building from the fun stages into training that may challenge their perseverance to complete the session and their tolerance to quitting when it gets tough. As a result athletes will learn not to capitulate during training sessions and competition. Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the train to train phase.

Introduced in this phase is the building of foundations of general metabolic endurance capacity (speed-endurance and aerobic endurance) working on metabolic system development. These form the foundations of more game specific endurance in later stages.

In the interim before heavy training loads are used a period of restricted light to moderate loading is used. The introduction of a structured program allows the body to become gradually accustomed to strength-power training loads (over years not weeks)… Young athletes in other systems are often given 6-8 week programs such as what an adult may be prescribed but this is not right, young athletes need time to develop technique, understanding of how to apply the training program in their weekly routine, and a ‘knowledge of training loads’ for strength-power/speed-agility/endurance workouts (what is reasonable to expect of themselves). Exercises will become progressively more free weight based and will start to develop technique with brooms and light loads in more complex training exercises.

Athlete above learning overhead squat (pic needed)

Athlete above learning start position of deadlift (pic needed)

From the basis of some strength we can start with the foundations of light plyometric activity… which will form the basis of skills and physical capacity required for more advanced, specific, and higher-loading plyometric training in later stages. Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the train to train phase.

Stage 4

Athletes by now will have the basic strength via their experience and technical competence with free-weights under some loading, flexibility/mobility, speed-agility movement skills, and a good endurance capacity.

Post puberty athletes are ready to progressively pick up training over a number of years (not straight away) moving toward more advanced programming and increasing loads where by the end of this phase they progress to close to adult loads. Training exercises and drills will become progressively more specific and complex allowing the development of sport specific strength, power, a greater variety of plyometric activity, speed, agility, and more specific metabolic conditioning.

Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the train to compete phase.

Stage 5 – Adult training (male 18+, female 17+)

By this time athletes are ready to enter into an elite senior level athlete training program as they now have a number of key attributes gained from their training history. They now have a sound foundation of technical co-ordination and movement skills in a wide range of gym and field exercises. They have solid foundations of general and sport specific strength-power, flexibility-mobility, speed-agility, and endurance. And they have progressively built up tolerance toward adult training loads and volumes so are less likely to sustain training injuries when full loads and volumes are introduced (again this should be gradual).

Theoretical long-term athlete development models call this phase the train to win phase.

Summary

Within a framework each athlete will develop with an end goal in mind, one which may be years in the future. Quick fixes and short-term training mentalities are often counterproductive to the long-term success of the athlete. Building solid foundations of technique and physical capacity are paramount to both performance and remaining injury free later on when adult loads and exercises are introduced. If you treat a young or beginner athlete the same way you treat an elite athlete (same exercises and or the same loads), the athlete is likely to break down and get injured while at the same time experience fewer gains in performance (due to the fact that sport specific training and elite level training loads are dependent on a foundation of basic levels of physical capacity).

Within the development program all the fundamental core elements of a program are addressed: individualisation, progression, recovery, specificity, and overall program design and training stress. This is a major reason why a number of our athletes progress as they do toward training and competing at higher and higher levels.

One-on-one and group sessions are available so if you wish to enquire about having coached sessions or working through a program then please use the contact details provided.

Train hard and be safe…

High Performance Athlete Support Systems

UK (Martin Gallyer): +447941989904 martin.gallyer@HPathletes.com

T&T (Ronald Rogers): +1 868 462 6846 ronald.rogers@HPathletes.com