An Introduction to the Books by Maître Bac
Fencing is a far more rigorous sport than is imagined. It requires a considerable expenditure of energy through powerful, quick movements. Most movements in fencing initiate from a stationary position, thus placing great demands on the neuromuscular system. It is essential therefore, that the fencer not only be strong and flexible, but also have the stamina to perform for extended periods of time.
The aim of physical training is to improve the fencer's level of fitness which in turn improves overall performance. The conditioned fencer will experience less fatigue and be able to execute movements with greater efficiency. Striving for optimum fitness is as important as learning the fundamental actions and postures for performing the more competitive moves. Not only is being physically fit an important part of training but it also helps reduce the incidence of injury.
Individuals vary in their responses to training; some improve faster than others. Accordingly, and remembering that conditioning is inseparable from acquiring technical expertise, it must be coordinated with the fencer's progress. The fencer striving for fitness should begin slowly and with patience. Once improvements are made in his/her general condition, a more rigorous training schedule, specifically aimed towards perfecting the tactical and strategic moves, can be initiated.
It is important to note that fencing is an asymmetric sport. For example, while in play the weapon arm has a different function from that of the rear arm. Similarly, the rear leg and the front leg act according to different stimuli. In spite of the asymmetric nature of the sport, the general exercise program should place equal emphasis on both sides of the body in order to prevent asymmetric muscle development (i.e.- imbalance).
Muscle strength, endurance, power, and flexibility are the parameters that should be considered in an exercise program. Muscle strength is improved by using isometric, isotonic and isokinetic exercises, whereas muscle endurance and power are developed through isotonic and isokinetic exercises. Flexibility is enhanced by increasing the musculotendinous length through passive stretching exercises.
Isometric exercises call for the momentary contraction of a muscle while in a static position. They act to strengthen muscles at the position where the application of the force is specific to the joint angle. Isometric contractions can be used every 20 degrees through the available range of motion to strengthen throughout the full range.
Isokinetic exercises are performed on machines so that an accommodating force at a fixed speed may be applied to the muscle as it moves through the full range of motion. The only drawback of these exercises is that they can be performed only with the proper, often expensive, mechanical apparatus. In isotonic exercises, fixed resistance is supplied by either a part of the fencer's own body weight (calisthenics) or external weights (weight training). Calisthenics or weight training also depend on the raising or lowering of a weight through the range of a muscle's normal motions. When employing one or all of these exercises to build up strength, it is essential to be consistent and to faithfully follow a predetermined program.
The ability to sustain effort over a long period of time, without a lessening in the level of one's performance, is crucial to first rate competitive fencing. Endurance training points toward resistance to muscle fatigue. It is known that a specific exercise will elicit a specific response in training muscles. Therefore, practicing the lunge and foot-work repeatedly until the legs are accustomed to that particular action is necessary to the overall training of a fencer.
The psychological aspect in training is also worth mentioning. The pain and discomfort inevitable at the outset of any training regime will soon be overcome, provided that the fencer begins with the proper attitude. Hence, the will to endure is an important part of any training program.
Another component of the conditioning program is flexibility, or fencing mobility. One must be able to move easily and freely into any of the numerous fencing movements. Stretching should be done slowly and gradually, sudden jerks or bouncing up and down could lead to muscle strains. Supple flexibility allows the power muscles to rotate through their compete radius without being hindered by tightness of antagonistic muscle groups.
To insure that the fencer can initiate sudden bursts of speed, he/she must work on developing his/her aerobic endurance. Fencing involves the production of muscular power of high intensity and short duration (anaerobic power endurance), lasting from thirty seconds to one and a half minutes. Although 90% of the fencer's activity depends on anaerobic capacities of the body, these capacities are developed best once a firm aerobic foundation has been established. In the text that follows these distinctions and priorities will be explained and explored in detail.
As has been said before, it is clear that the best way to minimize the possibility of injury is through proper training. Training for strength and endurance, increasing flexibility, and improving both aerobic and anaerobic capacities can never be stressed enough, as they are all interrelated and collectively contribute invaluably toward the fencer's total improvement.
Before a program of exercises can be presented, it is important to understand the different fencing actions accomplished by the small and large muscle groups. The following chapter contains a brief summary of the muscular systems used during fencing. In some cases, exercises for developing flexibility and strength of particular muscles or muscle groups have been included. These will add some variety to the already diverse training program offered later on.
One must remember that training encompasses a wide range of factors which in turn affect the individual's performance during fencing. Good nutrition, rest, and a positive mental attitude are essential for optimum performance. Basic fitness precedes any tactical strategic application of technique. Hence, if any part of the program is found to be too exhausting or intense for an individual, I recommend that a slower pace to avoid the possibilities of over-training or incurring an injury.
Finally, fencing is a complex sport that demands delicate control of one's body position, appropriate interaction with the other fencer and identification of the options so as to make the most efficacious choice among the alternatives. Because of its complexity, it is not always easy to determine what skills the fencer will want to perfect after completion of his/her general conditioning program. Irrespective of the paths the fit fencer goes on to follow, the art of fencing can be learned and improved only through a well balanced program of conditioning, drill work in the fundamental techniques, individual fencing lessons, and perhaps the most important of all, competition.